ISLAMABAD is a dead city. A lot of research and intellect has already been done to settle the matter once and for all. But just when everyone thought that the issue was done and dusted with and couldn’t be explored any further, a miracle happened which gave a renewed sense of life, hope and prosperity for the denizens of the federal capital. People call it Metro Bus Project. I term it a miracle.
For someone who hasn’t been a permanent resident of the city, I have seen Islamabad a lot. Be it study tours during my school and college days, the hanging out with friends during university days or the work-cum-party trips in the recent past — nothing really changed over the years in terms of attitudes and behaviours.
The buildings became taller, roads became wider and the population increased, but the living pattern of the inhabitants remained what it was — overly organised and systematic; almost robotic.
Islamabad wasn’t a city which came into being over a certain period of time; it was conceived, planned and constructed. And this fact is clearly evident from the behaviour of it denizens.
There are no old traditions or customs associated with this city, the people who have inhabited it generally don’t know each other and mostly they aren’t even interested in doing so.
Islamabad is the city which wakes up with an alarm, goes through its scheduled daily chores and goes back to sleep a few hours after sunset. It’s a daily routine, expect for festivals and events. That’s when the situation gets even worse as the city looks deserted, in total contrast to its neighbouring city Rawalpindi.
Metro Bus has added a couple of hours to life in Islamabad, but with every passing day it is also helping the people of Rawalpindi in (re)claiming the capital ... bit by bit.
The streets turn empty soon after the sunset and even the shopkeepers begin to close down their businesses around 8pm — or let’s say 9pm in summers. If compared, this is the time when people of Karachi or Lahore are planning to head out of their homes for shopping or dinner.
The people of Islamabad generally celebrate indoors; they don’t turn to streets or public areas. That is what the ‘Pindi boys’ do rather famously.
‘Pindi boys’ (or ‘boyses’) is the pejorative term used for the stereotypical slimy-haired, gaudily clothed, Punjabi-accented youngsters of Rawalpindi who journey to Islamabad, usually in large groups of predominantly male friends, to enjoy the sights and sounds of our nation’s capital.
Know more: Islamabad's phobia of Pindi boys
Islamabad’s wide-open boulevards have long served as convenient playgrounds for the people of Rawalpindi, seeking sanative refuge from the narrower streets laden with webs of over-ground electrical wiring. It is no secret that many, if not most, Islamabadis find this casual tourism somewhat perturbing.
But even these Pindi boys used to face difficulties in commuting to Islamabad, but Metro Bus Project proved to be a blessing in disguise for them, and now this ‘tourism’ is on a boom.
One can easily say that the Metro Bus has extended the living time of Islamabad city by at least two hours. The shopkeepers who used to wrap up their business earlier by 8pm are now seen handling customers even at 10pm.
It can’t be said with surety whether the Metro Bus Project has brought any change in the lifestyle of Islamabad’s people or not, but it has definitely brought Islamabad closer and within the reach of the denizens of Rawalpindi — also the ‘Pindi boys’.
Unavailability of any affordable means of transportation has been the biggest hindrance in the connectivity between the two cities, as commuting has been and still remains a very expensive ordeal in Islamabad — except for the Metro.
There is no proper public transport mechanism in Islamabad to cater the daily need of its denizens. People mostly have to rely on private taxis to travel around the city, and that is way more expensive than a taxi ride in any other city in the country.
Even Metro is limited to certain areas so far, but even that limited area is enough for the people of Rawalpindi to explore or rather explode into Islamabad. As it includes shopping malls, business hub and the main markets.
In morning the Metro helps the people living in Rawalpindi reach their offices on time but as the day nears its ends, a whole different lot of people heads toward Islamabad through the same Metro.
These people seem to have no worry on their mind, they are not there for any job or finalise any business deal. These care-free appearing lot is just there to have some fun — as literal as it can get.
The people of Islamabad have long tried to preserve their lifestyle and have taken every step to keep the people of other cities at bay, especially Rawalpindi, as much as they can. But fate had its own way.
Through Metro, the fortune not only provided the people of Rawalpindi with an easy and affordable way to access Islamabad it actually burst the heart of the city right open and dropped them right into it.
Few months back the issue got country’s attention and brought the ‘Pindiboys’ in spotlight when the newly opened Centaurs Mall introduced an entrance fee in the name of ‘crowd control’. According to the mall administration, ‘some’ people were exempted from the fee. But a close analysis of that ‘exempted list’ revealed that almost everyone was somehow allowed free entry into the mall, except for the ‘Pindiboys’.
Manal Khan, a Karachiite who recently visited Islamabad, was of the opinion that one can’t hangout late in the night at public places and restaurants as they all tend to shut down by around midnight.
“So you have to party indoors, at someone’s home. It’s not like Karachi where you can sit for hours at restaurants outside,” she said.
The Metro Bus service runs till 10 in the night, and even the last bus that shuttles from Islamabad to Rawalpindi is jam packed, taking the people back to where they belong — but for how long? One can’t really say yet.
With every passing day, the people of Rawalpindi are claiming the federal capital. It’s rather similar to how the housing authority claims land from the sea in Karachi — bit by bit.
But one can assume that it’s just a matter of time before the culture and lifestyle of Rawalpindi mixes with that of Islamabad to transform into a rather modernised way of living — with which the people of Islamabad can relate more.
Published in Dawn December 29th, 2016