KARACHI: Following the Chief Minister’s orders about keeping the Seaview Beach open on New Year’s, the situation there was changing with the passing of every minute on Tuesday evening. The vacant beach and empty Abdul Sattar Edhi Road of early evening were fast filling up with people in four-wheel drive sport utility vehicles and cars and on motorbikes as midnight drew near.
Earlier, there were the roasted corn on the cob sellers with their carts, the papadum sellers carrying huge packets of padadums, the ice cream vendors on their bikes and tea sellers with their huge kettles were all gearing up to deal with a huge crowd.
“In just a little while I know there will be so many people gathering here that there won’t be room to stand even,” predicted Zainab Bibi who was killing time by warming her hands on the fire prepared for roasting corn on the cob on an exceptionally cold breeze.
With her was Abdullah, the ice cream vendor. “It is so cold and still there will be people demanding ice cream, I’m sure. So here I am,” he smiled.
There was also Saleem, the popadum seller. “I made more popadums today, around 150 actually, because I know they will be consumed in no time once the beach fills up with people.
In one corner, on a little coal fire, resting on bricks was a huge big kettle with tea brewing but no one there with it. “Don’t worry, the seller will also manifest when the tea is ready,” laughed the ice cream vendor.
Seemi Ishtiaq was there with her husband and children Iman and Azaan. “Me and my husband would have been happy spending a quiet New Year’s eve in front of the television but my daughter Iman here wanted to ring in 2020 at the beach and she is the one who dragged all of us out,” said the mother.
The family of four were braving the beach on their motorcycle. “It is great there there are also no restrictions or bans on pillion riding this year,” she added.
In the background a car FM radio could be heard tuned to the Police station with warnings being aired about reporting any unnamed package anywhere and about aerial firing being illegal.
Despite the beach being kept open, the law enforcement agencies were not willing to take any chances and remained vigilant. There were emergency camps set up at short distances. There were several lady police officers too as some of them. “We are prepared for all emergencies here,” said Lady Police Constable Rida Shakoor as she exchanged a look with her colleague LPC Sakina Khan. “We are not going to allow any aerial firing or drinking on the beach,” said LPC Sakina.
“We are patrolling from Village Hotel to Chunky Monkey and beyond near Mc Donald’s,” said ASI Kiran Bibi.
The shops and malls have all closed early but the eateries are open and expecting big business tonight,” said her colleague ASI Noor Sabah.
There were several cars pulling up as midnight drew nearer. A group of men were performing the Attan dance to traditional Pakhtoon music being played from a white sedan. Zainullah sitting on the roof of the car was happily clicking their pictures. “We came all the way from Quetta to celebrate New Year’s eve in Karachi and we are so happy that the beach is open today, not that its closure was going to keep us away from it,” he laughed.
“Still, it being open has made things easier for us. We are very happy,” he said, adding that there were only five of them there from Quetta and more people from the beach joined in as they started the dance.
Earlier, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah lifted the ban on pillion riding in the city and ordered the removal of the containers from certain roads leading to Seaview with the directives to the police not to harass public and allow them to welcome the new year peacefully and with traditional “Hallagulla”.
Issuing these directives, the Chief Minister has extended New Year greetings to the people of Pakistan, particularly of the province.
He also asked people to pray for the prosperity of Pakistan, national unity and strengthening of democracy in the country. “Pakistan is a most beautiful country on the planet and we all have to make it like a paradise,” he added.
Before his orders, the home department had issued a notification to ban pillion riding, carrying of firearms and aerial firing on New Year night. But then on the directives of the chief minister, the home department withdrew the ban on pillion riding. The administration and the police had blocked certain roads leading to Seaview with containers. The chief minister directed the administration to remove the containers and open the roads for the smooth flow of traffic. However he directed them to manage the traffic by declaring some roads as one-way roads.
Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2020