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The Sea and the Sea of Garbage

Published Aug 16, 2012 12:28pm


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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.


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Comments (20) Closed

@kramdas Aug 17, 2012 08:20am
Vicky bhai, nice work! I took some choice pictures of the piles of garbage lining the posh roads of Lodi Estate right out side the Ford Foundation offices. Why does South Asia (India is no less an offender in this matter than Pakistan, indeed it may be worse!) seem to care so little about how we dispose of waste? My sister, Sagari, a veterinarian, suggests that it may go back to a time when all of our waste was indeed bio-degradable and we counted on goats, dogs, cats, birds and other living beings (humans too!) to dispose of the waste in a manner that made sense. That is no longer true in an era of endless plastic, foil chips packets, and the other detritus of consumption. While you argue that garbage affects rich and poor alike, I would argue that it is the growing consumption patterns of the "haves" that have made garbage in our countries even more of a huge and unsightly issue - Check out Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo on garbage scavengers in Mumbai.
Sumant Aug 16, 2012 03:29pm
Beautifully expressed poetic description of a minor tragedy that it appears effects all of south Asia and presumably all the lower income countries.I missed the picture of the little kids but can imagine them smiling without a care in the world while putrefaction with its pungent odors envelopes them. Great job Ahmed bhai!
Knightrunner Aug 16, 2012 03:08pm
Very witty use of sarcasm. Just my taste. Compliments to the author. I still don't understand, as a nation, what holds our sanitariness back? Lack of education?
muhammadanasabbasjamal Aug 17, 2012 10:08am
And Other Countries will also contact us to take away their garbage if our symbol become garbage and so like New zealand there are more Kiwis as compare to Human Beings similarly we will also have more garbage than Homo sapiens.
A. Khan Aug 16, 2012 02:52pm
Brilliant sarcasm. Unfortunate that in Pakistan, educated and uneducated people are equally to blame for the mountains of trash. Having seen so many times the ejection of trash from some pretty fancy and expensive cars, makes me despair as to when people will have the sense of civic duty that they are equally responsible for keeping their country clean. It is not someone else's i.e. municipal sweepers responsible to tidy up all and sundries trash every day. So much for our religion stating that cleanliness is half the iman.
Muhib Aug 16, 2012 02:44pm
What a mind blowing idea that Pakistan's national symbol should be 'Garbage' : Garbage mentality, garbage laws, garbage security, garbage education, garbage human rights record, garbage politicians, garbage generals and the list goes on & on. We are the kings of garbage.
just_someone Aug 16, 2012 02:23pm
Solid waste disposal is something I had never heard of till I came to the US (I spent my first 20 yrs in Karachi). We dont even have a concept of mass-cleaning/maintenance of garbage. It is hoped that the recent solid waste disposal plant MOU that was signed will come to fruition. WM, the biggest waste disposal company in the US, is making a huge percentage of its income from recycling waste. Bringing in companies with state of the art tech can really help companies make money and help us not liev in what seems to be a dump!
Vaqar Ahmed Aug 17, 2012 03:21pm
You are absolutely right. The lack of proper garbage handling and disposal does impact the poor much more. They have to living in much greater proximity to the sea of stench and decay. My point was more how ubiquitous is garbage in our cities.
Vaqar Ahmed Aug 17, 2012 03:04pm
Hi Sumant, the picture is there now. It got missed out due to some technical hitch.
Vaqar Ahmed Aug 17, 2012 03:02pm
Good point Kavita. The packaging of food definitely has an impact and packaged stuff is mostly used by the haves. However, some of the aspects of "convenience" result in both the rich and the poor producing non degradable garbage. For example the ubiquitous "Shopper" bags used across the economic strata are a huge culprit. Banning such bags will be a huge improvement. Also, there are two aspects to garbage: Hygiene and biodegradability. Any solution needs to address both these issues.
Vaqar Aug 17, 2012 02:30pm
Hi Sumant, the picture of the two little girls was added a bit later due to technical problems. It is now in the the following link:
Cyrus Howell Aug 16, 2012 03:27pm
Just one of Waste Managements truck's has a new vehicle price tag of $120,000. They had better be making a profit.
Mohammad Ataullah Aug 16, 2012 01:18pm
Bring back Mustafa Kamal
Najeeb Omar Aug 16, 2012 07:44pm
Well done Vickie. May we all be spared the agony of our self created hell. Somehow!!!
Agha Ata Aug 16, 2012 08:47pm
At least 5 friends, and one relative told me recently that Karachi is clean like Singapore, the famous Azim-e-Ala of Karachi has cleaned the city like Singapore. It was hard to believe, but I swallowed it. NOW,. having seen these pictures i know exactly what not to swallow. :(
Arif Khan Aug 16, 2012 09:38pm
It may take time, but Vaqar it is people like you who will help change things. Keep clicking and keep writing. Believe in yourself. Once on an early morning visit to the Itwar bazar in Islamabad and was struck by the amount of kachra being cleaned from the day before. I wondered where they were going to dump it all. Must be one such dump. See link below.
danny Aug 17, 2012 12:39am
Just like you I've also thought about it, but not just exactly about garbage but about the dirt/sand/mitti on our roads, sidewalks, parks, just everywhere you go there is 'mitti' and no one really cares about it. I believe it is because since we are born, we hear 'this mitti is our maa', so I guess we don't look at it as something that is 'dirty' and needs removing/cleaning. Now if there is nothing wrong with 'mitti' everywhere around us, the next thing is some garbage on top of it and we do not look at it the way we should. So in short 'mitti is not really our maa' :) .....Keep your city clean, and remove dust/sand/mitti from the roads and eventually there will be no garbage or atleast if the road is clean without any 'mitti' we will atleast take a second look at the garbage.
Syed Afzal Hussain Aug 17, 2012 12:55am
I am also practically tired of seeing around me - lets say most of the time- garbage culture. Now time has come to someone possibly you to stand up and clean up this on going mess around us. I know if someone is solidly determined, change must be brought in. Eventually, we need to keep growing or start dying! Syed Afzal Hussain, Karachi, Pakistan
ercelan Aug 17, 2012 07:59am
why dont we see lots of goats around garbage dumps? have the poor already kept back edibles from the dumps? or the very poor have eaten up edibles in dumps? a community solution would be to dig trenches as landfills?
ercelan Aug 17, 2012 07:32am
Nice pics. length of text made it lose its punch. Exaggeration to compare the noxious density and duration of garbage suffered by the poor with kachra heaped by the servants of the rich or the rich themselves as in Seaview beach. Wait till you drive down the Super Highway or come to Rehri Goth. My own service lane on Sharea Faisel does however display equity, because I and others wont lift a finger about cleaning up the mess.