I finally succumbed to the curiosity of visiting the much talked about, mother-of-all-townships, Bahria Town, not a very long distance from DHA, Karachi where I live. The occasion looked exciting too: “Unveiling of Bahria Fountain — South Asia’s Largest Fountain” as the SMS on the cell phone promised.
Travelling on ‘Super’ Highway (don’t we have a lesser adjective to describe a highway that is literally a death- trap for thousands of ordinary — even VIP — mortals commuting on it every day?) we drove on at a capricious speed.
When we left our house at 4pm we had no idea what a swarm of Karachiites would be our fellow travellers heading towards the MOAT (Mother of all Townships). On this particular Sunday, everyone in the City of Lights was heading towards the MOAT, since all — the Mahmoods and the Ayazes — were allowed to enter the defensive wall around the castle town.
A leisure trip to the mother-of-all townships becomes a lesson in life
After a two-hour hazardous drive (we saw an oil tanker that had overturned a few minutes earlier on the uneven road) we were finally there — in another world, a paradise on earth, spick and span, beautifully carpeted wide roads with clear markings. Tall brightly-lit electric poles for miles and miles, manicured green patches, attractively designed sculptures, intelligently placed traffic signs and, of course, security guards in smart uniforms at every intersection. In this heavenly environment not only the young and not so young but also the old and the very old in wheelchairs, were present to watch the largest dancing water fountain in South Asia. How many of them can afford to live here, in this MOAT I wondered ... Oh, forget it; everything is not for everyone in the land of the pure.
My first anxious query was, “Is there a public washroom around here?”
“Yes, of course, over there! And you have a food court as well.”
Let me first prepare myself for the hours ahead, I told myself, and stood in the restive line of fellow countrymen (not all of them had weak kidneys I am sure) in front of the ‘Men’ sign. Relieved, I said to myself, “Now I can face the music. Aaye kuchh abr kuchh sharab aaye; us ke baad aaye jo azab aaye.”
An endless wait for the fountain to start dancing began, but there was only a zigzag set of light beams dancing in the sky, interspersed with “testing, testing, check!” emanating from the extra large speakers. A solitary drone hovered above in the night sky, recording the sea of humanity. My ageing back started to ache but there was nothing to rest it on except the curbstone. Ask any senior citizen how painful it is to bend in order to sit on the ground; even more impossible to get up.
I noticed a number of wiser souls leaving the venue but my own wisdom, however, was vetoed by the grandchildren. Lo and behold, the lights were switched off and a sheet of water raised its head and the ‘largest fountain in South Asia’ did start to dance in the night sky — and even those who must have seen such spectacle in Dubai or other cities clapped sportingly. The sight soon lost its novelty and families in greater numbers started to head towards the parking lots. Wisdom at last dawned on the younger members of our group as well. Son-in-law Nayyar and grandson Salman went to bring the cars, not realising that it was almost impossible to locate them in the now darkened parking lot. Every car looked the same. While they frantically searched, panicked gripped at our end too and every other member of the group had this sudden urge to go to the washroom. But the lights had not been switched on since the fountains were still dancing and the few makeshift “Men” and “Women” signs had been swallowed by the darkness. The cars were located after nearly an hour and we hopped in.
Now the final act of the adventure drama started. It soon turned into an ordeal of great magnitude. I can’t recall if I had ever seen a more horrific traffic confusion, a bigger free-for-all, a more ruthless lack of common sense. Vehicles, big and small, tried to outmanoeuvre one another, a large number of them leaving the main road and creating their own diversions in the kutcha, raising mini dust-storms that blinded the motorists and the motorcyclists. It was painful to see parents trying to protect little children from the swallowing dust as their open Suzukis, rickshaws and motorbikes zigzagged forward. Suffice to say that starting our journey from the Dancing Fountain at 10pm we got home at 4am, battered but mercifully in one piece. On the way we kept commenting on the perseverance of our people who, despite knowing that entertainment can soon turn into torment for them, still venture out to provide some moments of recreation and fun for their families. Don’t they know that, though they belong to this country, the country belongs to those who rule over them? Therefore, recreation is a luxury they can’t afford. They seem not to have learnt any lesson from Bagh Ibne Qasim being made inaccessible for them.
Exhaustion at times brings such gloomy thoughts and becomes antidotal to sleep. It is now 6am. The morning newspaper has arrived. On the front page of the Metro section I read the story:
“… Nearly 62 percent of Karachi’s citizens live in informal settlements on 23 percent of city’s residential land … Karachi has over 250,000 vacant developed plots and over 68,000 apartments … an additional 600,000 plots are being developed and/or constructed by the formal sector. None of this new development is for the low income groups … 71.32 percent people live on less than 100 square yard plots …”
Published in Dawn, EOS, April 30th, 2017