A resident removes rains water from his house during heavy monsoon rains in Karachi on July 30, 2019. (Photo by ASIF HASSAN / AFP) — AFP or licensors

Karachi rains took me back to 1995 when water came flooding in and we took turns sleeping on a charpai

Though this year’s rain has brought joy to me, I'm praying for it to slow down, and to stop, before it wrecks homes and lives.

Published 18 Jul, 2020 08:04pm

I have been sitting on my terrace that's unusually big for the size of the apartment that I live in, enjoying the rain, chasing my dogs, and them chasing me in return. I have everything to be grateful for, and today even more so, when as it rains, I find myself able to enjoy it comfortably from the shelter of my home. But the happiness and calm is bitter sweet as my mother mentions the rains of 1995.

Although at that time it had rained in the middle of the night, she vividly remembers it being as heavy then as it was today. We were woken up by our father, and before we could ask him, or even open our eyes, lightning struck, the electricity went off, and in the little torch light that he had managed to grab in five minutes’ time, which back then seemed like an eternity, we saw the devastation that had made him wake us all up.

Through the zigzag tin ceiling, and the few holes in it, the rain water had managed to find a home in our home. And in an attempt to get up, as I put my foot down from the bed to the floor, my lower legs were half deep in the rainwater that had gathered in.

Lots of toys and pans were floating here and there. I was six back then, and my brother was four. As my father was busy with the landlord and the neighbours in trying to open up the drains outside so it could avert the rainwater from entering and flooding the homes in the street, my mother quickly picked my brother and I up, one by one, and told us that we had to keep standing with her on the coffee table that she had brought in as part of her dowry. She was also standing with us on the table but suddenly realised she had forgotten to pick my little sister up from her cradle. She was born that same year in March and was only a few months old.

As my mother got off the table to pick my sister up, the coffee table with just my brother and I atop, started to float. It became our standing boat; we were screaming, with joy I think. My mother quickly grabbed my sister, and got back on the coffee table with us, and after that the table stood still. It was still quite submerged; some 75 per cent of it being underwater.

From there, we had a clear view of the door that my father had left open when he went outside to help open the drains along with our neighbours. This resulted in the rain water having even easier access to enter our home, as well as the garbage from the street and the sewage waste that was floating in the water at the time. We were still safe from it all until our coffee table hadn't completely submerged. I do not have much recollection of what I felt back then. Was I happy that it was raining this much? Did I understand the extent of devastation that had occurred? I don't remember. I remember my mother screaming and asking someone to close our door, being upset at my father for having left it open.

I do not have much recollection of the remainder of that night, of how we got off that table, where we slept or if we did. I remember the next morning, opening my eyes on a wet bed, and a broom in my mother's hand, trying to push the water out of our home, with one hand on her nose because of the stench of sewage waste.

As she saw us wake up, she told us not to get off our beds and stay put. Later that day, we sat down to assess the damage that had been caused, the small damage that concerned us as kids that is. My school bag was found; it was wet, and all my books, and notebooks in it, were completely soiled. Now that I think of it, I'm glad we didn't use ink pens in first grade, or all my class work would have been smudged. As it was, we only needed to get rid of the plastic and brown paper covers on the books and the notebooks, and soak them in the sun by hanging on the rope that we normally used to dry our laundry.

All the furniture made from chipboard that my mother had brought in as part of her dowry; a bed, a dresser, the coffee table, something we called a showcase, which held amma's nice cutlery, pans, and decor pieces made by her, was damaged beyond repair. Her blue rexine couches were also no longer fixable. My father brought in a kabari, a person who buys waste at minimal cost, and all the furniture to him. We did not see a bed, or a dresser, or a couch in our house again until 2013. We survived on a charpai and after we got too big for all three of us siblings to squeeze in on it, we took turns to sleep on it. Our metal cupboard that was salvaged in the rain served as our only piece of storage besides the cardboard boxes and the soiled luggage that our relatives had handed over.

Our birth certificates were soiled and damaged, but my mother hung them in the air to check if they could be salvaged. As soon as they dried up, my mother got them coated in plastic from a nearby photocopy shop so we would be prepared for the next set of rains and floods.

All the houses in our neighbourhood including our landlord's had gotten equally damaged; they all had tin roofs with holes in them, and uneven and weak brick structures that leaked in places. In preparation for the next floods, our landlord decided to raise the floor of the house to 4 feet compared to the street outside as that seemed to be the height the rainwater had reached as it flooded our home.

Over the next few weeks, we lived at our landlord's home after he had put in sand safeguards in it some 4 feet in height, but hadn't yet plastered the floor. And while it was a difficult time for my family, my mom, my brother, and I still tried to find moments of joy in it. Our story of hardship, I feel, still ended on happy notes.

Looking back at that time and the rains these past couple of weeks reminded me of the fate of so many people living in difficult conditions and how they must be suffering. Some of them must be trying to put buckets to put under their roofs to collect the rainwater leaking in, cover their furniture and belongings with plastic, with no time or luxury to enjoy the rain, and only praying that it stops before the little that they have is ruined beyond repair.

And though this year’s rain has brought joy to me, I'm praying for it to slow down, and to stop, before it wrecks the homes and lives of many, like it did ours in the 1990s.


Header image by AFP shows a resident of Karachi removing rainwater from his house during heavy monsoon rains in the city.

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Zahra Hajyani is a PR specialist and manages the Lincoln Corners programme in Sindh and Balochistan. She organises programmes on the issues of Gender Based Violence, STEM and capacity building of marginalised youth. A graduate of the Institute of Business Management, Zahra is an aspiring writer and a feminist who spends her days outside of work with her dogs, Maya and Millie, and her leaves travelling.


The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (12) Closed

Tzaman
Jul 18, 2020 09:45pm
The ever-crying and blame-other mayor has to go. Only then Karachi may get better.
Recommend 0
CU
Jul 18, 2020 09:56pm
So many untold stories. Thanks for sharing.
Recommend 0
Khawaja
Jul 18, 2020 11:06pm
What a shame? The city that produces the most income for the country has to go through this horrendous effect of rain which is supposed to be the blessings from heavens.
Recommend 0
Nursab
Jul 19, 2020 12:52am
Where are all the drainage systems that the past governments promised and allocated funds but never completed the work.
Recommend 0
Laila
Jul 19, 2020 05:42am
This brings back some vague memories for me too. It's horrible how rain can be a force of destruction. We need a better drainage and sewage system. Just floods with rain mixing in with sewage is a health risk and recipe for endemic diseases brought on by Ecoli bacteria such as already common hepatitis. Once your possessions have been in contact with sewage water it has to be tossed out including books, paper, wood, fabrics (anything that can absorb water really). But poor people can't afford to do that. So instead they dry it in the sun and make do but it's still a risk. We have received billions in foreign aid and international loans, yet that money has never been utilized to improve our country, infrastructure, education, healthcare etc. Not even an iota. This is why now even many western aid providers have shut tree door on us. They see there is no improvement despite decades of aid. Now they focus on middleeastern countries, who manage to improve their countries despite corruption.
Recommend 0
Nursab
Jul 19, 2020 09:04am
1995 and now. All these years the ruling stalwarts ignored the basics and built the overpasses that have now come to haunt the city
Recommend 0
Nick, NY
Jul 19, 2020 09:32am
Some one must have make a ton of money on Karachi's non-functional drainage system!
Recommend 0
Haris
Jul 19, 2020 11:34am
I recollect similar stories for each year through 1986 to 1990. I vaguely remember draining rain water out of our home with the help of Dalda Ghee tins. But back then Karachi was still beautiful. Naimatullah Khan and Mustafa Kamal made us proud again of this beautiful city but then... my 5 year old says she hates going to Karachi because it is very dirty and dark at nights! How I wish to tell her that "darling, Karachi is my first love"
Recommend 0
Ali da Malanga
Jul 19, 2020 12:51pm
Well, these people probably haven't experienced the 1977 rains in Karachi.
Recommend 0
baseer
Jul 19, 2020 01:44pm
Very nice... touchy
Recommend 0
Laila
Jul 19, 2020 05:31pm
This brings back some vague memories for me too. It's horrible how rain can be a force of destruction. We need a better drainage and sewage system. Just floods with rain mixing in with sewage is a health risk and recipe for endemic diseases brought on by Ecoli bacteria such as already common hepatitis. Once your possessions have been in contact with sewage water it has to be tossed out including books, paper, wood, fabrics (anything that can absorb water really). But poor people can't afford to do that. So instead they dry it in the sun and make do but it's still a risk. We have received billions in foreign aid and international loans, yet that money has never been utilized to improve our country, infrastructure, education, healthcare etc. Not even an iota. This is why now even many western aid providers have shut tree door on us. They see there is no improvement despite decades of aid. Now they focus on middleeastern countries, who manage to improve their countries despite corruption.
Recommend 0
Mango
Jul 19, 2020 09:24pm
Looks like nothing has changed, what sorry state of affairs.
Recommend 0