KARACHI: As dawn broke in the city on Pakistan Day and DSNG vehicles of different TV channels lined up outside the Mazar-i-Quaid’s Bab-i-Iman, 12-year-old Bilal Kaleem, wearing a green and white T-shirt and a matching baseball cap, was striding up to the gates with his father in tow only to find the security personnel posted frowning at them.
“Please sir, when will the gates open?” Bilal asked one uniformed guard through the bars of the gates, only to be informed that he should go back home as the general public was to be allowed in after the VIP visits were over, which could be after 11am. And then, too, they were to enter from the other gate reserved for the public.
Mohammad Kaleem, the lad’s father, interrupted then. “Bhai, my son hasn’t slept a wink since last night and neither has he let us sleep, so excited was he to be coming here. He is just a little boy, can’t you allow him to go up and pay his respects to the Father of the Nation?”
Soon the father and son were joined by a grandmother of three little girls, Ayesha, 10, Alisha, 8, and Zarina, 2, marching up to the gates. “We were waiting outside the public entrance gates for so long until someone informed us that we were to enter through here,” she said, surprised to find the gates closed. “My knees really hurt from all this walking,” she complained.
“We came all the way from Nazimabad in a Qingqi. Their parents didn’t want us to come here. They said we could watch the March 23 celebrations on TV but I wanted them to experience this and feel the joy of this day. We came before my daughter and son-in-law were awake,” the grandmother said, before sitting down on the footpath. “It looks like we will have to wait now.”
Soon, two motorbikes, with silencers removed deliberately, and with two boys riding on each noisily zigzagged past while performing amateur stunts. The bikers were followed by dozens of cyclists pedalling away. Some of them also stopped outside the Mazar gates for selfies and pictures.
“We are Critical Mass Karachi cyclists. We do this every weekend but for March 23 and August 14 we come to the Mazar to pay our respects to Quaid-i-Azam,” said Moosa Shahrukh, one of the bikers while sharing that he was glad that at least the road in front of the mausoleum was open. “It was closed for security reasons last August 14,” he said.
Some of the children who wanted to get a feel of the sports bicycles were helped up on them by the bikers as they made small talk with them about their school and other interests. “Study hard in school and work hard in life,” said one of them to the children before pedalling off and waving goodbye.
Soon the place was buzzing with men from the Special Branch. Men representing all three armed forces also made their presence felt as the gates opened for all, even the media. Sindh Governor Mohammad Zubair, provincial Minister for Planning Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, the mayor, deputy mayor, etc, all went inside to pay their respects and lay wreaths.
As she heard the bugle playing inside, the grandmother waiting on the footpath with more children than the ones she had arrived with then said: “There was a time when all gates to the Mazar remained open. It used to be up to us to decide which gate we wanted to go inside from.”
But Pakistan Day in Karachi was really celebrated at Abdul Sattar Edhi Avenue (the Seaview road) where the entire city, perhaps turned away from all the high-security areas, ended up to enjoy the spectacular air show of Pakistan Air Force aircraft including Mirages, F-16s and JF-17 Thunder.
There were even four people riding on motorbikes to get to the beach. The cars with sunroofs also had spectators standing up through them. All eyes were fixed skywards and if there were any looking in another direction, they were nudged gently to look upwards or they’d miss something.
People on the pavements, with a hand shading the eyes from the sun, marvelled at the action in the sky. The smart ones among them wore caps, and the smarter ones had brought umbrellas with them. Many who were lucky enough to have access to the rooftops of buildings and houses in the area were on them. And below, the place was so jammed that after a while the traffic police just closed the roads for anyone wanting to go beyond Salt and Pepper Village. That’s when it was learnt that the place had also been termed a high-security area, especially after the arrival of the Sindh governor, who happened to be the chief guest on the occasion.
Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2017