Riding public buses in Karachi requires a stomach of steel, expert gymnastic skills, and patience greater than one accumulates during the month of Ramazan. It is, in short, nothing less than a daily nightmare.
Here’s a rundown of how to navigate Karachi’s buses (at the cheap cost of your sanity).
1. Seats, what's that stuff?
If you have ever doubted Pakistan's overpopulation problem, take a ride on a local bus.
Limbs stick, overlap, and adjust themselves in whatever little room there is. Remember, it doesn't matter how many people are already on that bus... you need to have room in your imagination.
2. Throw out your watch
First off, inform your friends and colleagues that you have a habit of arriving fashionably late. Then, download some good games apps on your phone for the half hour you will spend waiting at the bus stop.
Mind you, not all days are bad. Once or twice a year, when CNG stations aren't shut down or there isn't a VIP movement passing by, your bus might arrive at your designated spot only 10 minutes late.
3. Spend less time on your beauty regimen
Remember those hours spent in front of the mirror every morning, so you can feel good at work? Yea, just stop.
If you have finally landed your dream job or that modelling shoot, travelling by bus might not be the best idea. But on days you have to show up to a rock concert, or pretend like you got into a street fight... hop right on!
4. Get with the Drift
Almost all bus drivers are die hard Vin Diesel fans, they will sometimes also imagine starring alongside him in the latest Fast and the Furious flick.
On such days, keep Tokyo Drift on loop on your phone, and get with the driiiiiift.
5. Kill your conscience
If the Good Samaritan in you typically gets put off by drivers breaking signals and speeding, it's time to level up. Bus drivers don't drive so much with impunity, as they do with an invisible blindfold.
Any amateur bus driver can break signals. But screeching to a stop in the middle of the road to pick and drop passengers? Only the best.
6. Hold your breath till the next stop
Let's be honest. There is a reason we drive with our windows pulled all the way up on Karachi streets. The smoke, cigarettes, sweat, blood, tears...
But in fact, buses are the best places to practice your Ujjayi breathing, to avoid the myriads of smells and toxins making their way into your nostrils. Long breaths in, long breaths out.... Or better yet, just don't breathe.
7. Forget your gender privileges
The occasional grope or pinch is not uncommon... and can escalate to more inappropriate forms of accidental touching, and not just if you're a woman. As a male friend put it once, "A man once tried to drill a hole into my shoulder."
Of course, things are far worse if you're a woman. Not only do they have to deal with more men than women occupying their section, there's also that trusty looks-like-it's-about-to-explode cylinder hissing away at them.
8. Come up with a creative hiding spot
With the lack of space and din, public buses are prime training spots for pickpockets looking to make a quick buck (or phone). The standard bus fare is Rs20, and that's all you should carry in your wallet. You really don't need anything else during the commute. Except maybe a taser.
9. Embrace the adventure!
Let's face it. Commuting in cars will never expose us to the kind of real life challenges and character-building exercises a single bus ride will.
Buses also reduce the number of vehicles on the road, reducing not only traffic congestion but also creating a direct positive socio-economic impact.
So why don't we ditch our air-conditioned cars and clean leather seats for the wild and adventurous life of bus-riding — while also saving the environment?
I, for one, cannot wait for the Green Line.
—Illustrations by author.