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The Sea and the Sea of Garbage

August 16, 2012

A few days ago I overheard my daughter giving directions to a friend as to how to reach our apartment building.

“You come down on the road that runs in front of the Park Towers. Then turn left near the nursery, you will see an open garbage dump, keep going and cross the second bigger pile of kachra and our building is the first one to the right.”

I found it both funny and distressing that our home is being defined with reference to a garbage pile. On further reflection it struck me that if there is one thing in Karachi that is uniformly distributed to the rich and poor alike it is the garbage.

Whether you live in the most expensive area of Karachi or in the slums, piles of garbage are there to remind you that you are in Pakistan. It promotes kinship and national unity.

Also, it is an open invitation to recycling and it is nature friendly as birds and beasts alike come and feast on it. A large number of humans also use it for profit through recycling.  I am convinced that as soon as plastic “shappar”-bag-eating crows evolve we will be declared the most environmentally friendly country in the world. I therefore recommend that Pakistan’s national symbol should be a pile of garbage.

Armed with this new found awareness and respect for this national symbol I decided to step out from my “next to the garbage dump” apartment and headed out to see how this symbol of national unity was doing in and around Clifton Block III (that, in addition to my humble abode, boasts the presence of Bilawal House, home to the president of Pakistan.)

After crossing the two aforementioned piles of garbage and admiring the birds and cats peacefully sharing nature’s bounty, I headed towards the sea. I was greatly encouraged to see that there was a huge garbage dump right adjacent to the shore. This one was certainly designed as a model garbage dump complete with Pakistan’s national flag proudly flying over it!

Symbols of national pride with the sea in the background. – photo by Vaqar Ahmed

On a more detailed inspection of the model garbage dump I discovered that it was also meant to be a picnic spot.  Part of the surrounding was lush green and a peaceful ravine carrying garbage was curving towards the sea like a long lost lover meeting with the beloved.  This was clearly intended as a vision of paradise.

Garbage heads out to the sea like a long lost lover. – photo by Vaqar Ahmed

However, the designers of the Garbage Park had some hard moral lessons in mind too.  One part of the dump appeared to be a truthful representation of hell. Smoke from burning garbage was billowing out, vicious looking crows were busy devouring what was clearly symbolic of sinners, and then there was the grim reaper himself in the guise of a garbage picker.

Hell on Earth – photo by Vaqar Ahmed

The grim reaper otherwise known as the garbage picker or the recycling machine. – photo by Vaqar Ahmed

Shaken by these scenes of what I may encounter in the afterlife (since I consider myself more a candidate for hell than heaven) I quickly strode away along the beach. It was early morning and the beach was still free from what the popular press calls “the merry makers and revellers”, decorated camels, prancing horses, motor cycles, chaat carts, covered ladies and uncovered men, and other such distractions.

I had not encountered my newly discovered national symbol for some time and I was getting worried that maybe my theory was wrong and would meet the same fate as the water driven car.

Allah be praised, my despair was unfounded. I had come across the compound of a popular fast food place jutting into the sea. I gingerly stepped on the slippery stones leading up to the wall of the restaurant and there it was, in all its glory: plastic bags, plastic bottles, discarded boxes, empty cigarette boxes and other such wonderful human inventions mostly designed to last for a century!

The path to heavenly shores covered with worldly materials. – photo by Vaqar Ahmed

Having enjoyed my little scientific expedition I returned home via the famous Gizri, the lifeblood of Defence Phase 4. There I captured the image of two lovely little girls, most likely children of the cooks and cleaning persons of the palatial houses of Defence, standing in front of a huge garbage dump and laughing away. Is this all we can give to these lovely little kids? The thought saddened me greatly, but then I looked at their laughter and thought: there must be a God looking after them.

Diamonds in the rough – two happy little girls in Gizri. – photo by Vaqar Ahmed

As I got home to my apartment, I saw the sweeper coming out of the gate with a heavy load of garbage. He piled it on top of the kachra heap. Happy Independence Day, I made a silent wish to no one in particular.