THE Seaview promenade would be strewn with a reflection of puddles. Driving past them, one would often spot slight shades of faded green. The seaside would be flocked by visitors munching on gurya ke baal, greasy samosas, fried fish and papad while riding the ship of the desert – a quick retreat for all who would want to escape the buzz of the city and drain their woes by the Arabian Sea. This is how a Karachiite growing up in the 1990s would remember a trip to the good old Clifton.
Often, weekends would be marked by a trip to the casino building housing the Sindbad where a ladybird carousel ride would be in the air surrounded with delighted occupants. Those looking for an additional thrill would board the bus simulator, which was the most popular spot of the entertainment arcade. Now at the same spot people still hang out in large numbers but at a mall which has replaced the old structure.
The ’90s was an age where smart screens had not distorted an individual’s lifestyle. An exchange of books was a common sight. Book stalls on carts or kiosks were spread across multiple thoroughfares. Be it on an empty ground on a spot next to Gulshan-e-Iqbal’s ‘Tuesday Bazaar’ or kiosks within weekly bazaar’s across the city, students would crowd the stalls choosing which story to step into. Discussions within school premises would revolve around which book from the Full House Michelle or Sweet Valley series was borrowed, and showing off an Agatha Christie mystery. Those were the days when books were read, with bookmarks, train tickets, metro passes often found between the pages, retelling additional tales of the former owner with dog ears leading to a tale of the non-fictional life of the book’s past owner – mostly an additional story would be bought with a borrowed book.
Instead of speakers blaring out crude tunes, one would find kids surrounding stereo cassette players listening to Urdu stories bought from audio cassette shops. The audio stories would build up a mood that would leave the listeners in a reverie making them tread the fictional lanes with Ali Baba Aur Chalees Chor.
Remembering Karachi of just a quarter century ago makes it look like a different city altogether. It had colours, shades and hues that don’t match its current existence. The DNA seems to have changed.
The crisp evening air of that decade was an hour – like the golden hour when the streets would be dotted with cycles, infants in prams, taking a stroll with their guardians, and ladies with their evening snacks heartily enjoying their time discussing the mundane matters with their neighbours, on the park benches. The only worry that surrounded the shoulders of yore was staying out until the sun left its last hues on the horizon or pedalling too fast and tripping over unpaved roads.
Returning home with a few scratch marks, the time-teller would mark out a countdown for Zakoota jinn to grace the TV screen. The power of Bill Batori’s spells worked their magic long before Hermione’s wingardium leviosa. As Zakoota enquired, ‘mjhy kam batao main kya karun, main kis ko khaoon’, the viewers would be wrapping up their homework and devouring the last meal of the day – the limited entertainment sources, as they would now seem, would serve endless hours of joy.
The charm of the brick game or pinball was unbeatable when one would wait for dial-up internet access to successfully gain connectivity to the other side of the world. And just when the connection was secured, and one started chatting on mIRC, a family member could be heard sharing the uncle’s number, waiting for the operator to connect a long distance call to the States. With a stable connection to the West via landline achieved, the internet dreamer’s bubble fell flat.
And the last resort to pacify the anger was to try saving the ball from falling to space – in most minds the recollections of a coloured light platform would pop when a ball was launched on the screen at the press of a space bar. In case of monotony, options would surface in the form of Minesweeper – yes, the 90s had its own version of Minecraft – and solitaire. Once the phone call ends, and access to the internet restored, the dial-up connection failed, again – this time the uncle did not call back, but it was the prepaid card which ran out of credit.
Colours of Karachi were heard at melas – fairs that had steel tracks which would be spotted from afar. As one would stop to get tickets to enter the entryway to food and entertainment, shrieks of excitement could be heard as the rollercoaster’s tyres ran past the steel frame. The few seconds of that childhood pang of ecstasy would only return when the same soul is thousands of miles away in a foreign land hanging upside down on a rollercoaster, reminiscing the days of the past.
Once inside the fair, the kulfiwala’s kiosk pops out of thin air – or so it now seems. Delving into the sugary treat, hits a chord with the nectarous tinge of the Lucky Irani Circus – a travel show that has left entertainers of all ages in awe. The denizens of the city thronged the circus whenever carnival tents would set up a stage in the city by the Arabian. After all, the stunts of the acrobats were not to be missed. No way.
Karachi’s roads were sprinkled with many Ghazi Ki Deewani’s or artwork comprising mythological characters – not only did each public bus hold something for an individual pair of eyes, but words of wit would come in bags thrown out to all those willing to gain the insight.
While one would be beating the clock’s tick to reach the workspace without being marked late, roadside rituals frequently spotted by the residents of the megalopolis included many feeding pigeons, a deed that still goes on today.
Another roadside feast frequently spotted was the local mini version of the Ferris Wheel – a wooden-framed pushcart that had four seats which moved through lanes at the beck and call of the kids. A frequent sight was a queue formation of young dreamers. Each kid would be settled in one of the four available seats of solid colours by the man operating it. After all the seats would be occupied, the thrill of being in the air offered the kids ones cheap thrill long before Sia came into the frame.
A grey-tusked structure stands on the University Road that has been marked and remarked with banners of political parties or sprayed with graffiti, welcoming the passers-by to the Safari Park.
Sweet treats have always maintained a constant in the scenery of the city shrouded in diversity. The swirls of an ice cream cone alone would land many in Mohammed Ali Society – a cone known for its gob smacking coffee and vanilla flavours. If the twirls of an ice cream cone did not sate the sweet buds, the nuts of an ice cream parlour, resounding with the name of a movie beagle, raised the ice cream scale up a grand notch.
The yesteryear was like an unforgettable season. A season marked by playlists that were customised in CD shops. All those humming the popular tunes of the day were seen getting them burned in audio CDs. It was a period when with a click, the latest movie or drama did not start playing. For that alone, one needed to drive and get a move cassette on rent. Most days, the movies which were all the rage were found to have been rented out already, making a buff wait anxiously to get their hands on the VHS cassette to be watched on video cassette recorders.
With Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo and Donatello leaving their marks in the minds of the STN/ NTM viewers, and Camp Candy and The Jetsons marking the afternoons in most homes, the 1990s was an era stamped with homey glitter.
As for cities, they have a distinct personality. They have a voice to them, a scent to them, a character which builds and fades as the metropolitan ages. As it grows, it sheds its hues, and takes up pigments that give it a DNA that is unmatched to any other of its kind. Karachi of the 1990s had a fragrance. For those who would like to take a whiff just need to queue up and take a glance through the memory’s filter.