The Old, the New, and Karachi

So before I write anything else, I just want to know: how have I been getting over 50 hits a day this past week when I haven’t blogged anything new in over a week?? I am one of those obsessive bloggers who always checks site statistics before doing anything else and when I did that today, I was rather confounded. I do have the benefit of being able to view how readers come across my blog via Google but that only accounts for about 1/3 of the hits. Curious indeed. It seems my readership is growing ever so slowly. I is a proud blogger indeed ūüėÄ

So let’s see. I am in Karachi again; I haven’t been in this city in over 3 years and although quite a few things have changed, much has still remained the same. New buildings have sprouted up, there seems to be a designer boutique every few inches, and all these too-posh-for-my-oversized-trendy-sunglasses bistros and restaurants have emerged out of the ground, each boasting it’s own take on taste that’s unique. At the same time that faint trace of sea salt still hits my nostrils every time I go out, the wind picks up every time I get closer to the seaside no matter how scorching hot and sunny it may have been 10 feet away, and yes, I still hide my phone from view and tilt back in my seat every time a motorcyclist passes by my car window.

My visit here is of a different sort. Yes, I will be attending weddings (it’s summer, who DOESN’T attend weddings in Karachi at this time?!) but my main purpose is to get some work experience. I’m lucky enough to be getting that opportunity at a great company, and it’s really changed my view of who I’ve always thought I am. I knew there would be significant changes in me this year, but I didn’t for a second think they would happen in such a manner. A writer is how I’ve always identified myself, and I know that it never going to change. I am never going to put down my pen. But, now there’s this peculiar sense that perhaps I might actually be good at other things too which would also earn me a living. An occupation that thrills me in a different way than writing does, gives an other sort of fulfillment which makes me think that it might not be so bad to have a REAL job. Yes, I too can be corporate. But I always will be a writer.

I like it here. I thought I wouldn’t and that I would been like a visitor on vacation, which is kind of what I am. I’ve never lived here before, and only been here at stretches of time during the weddings of my brother and, later, my sister. But I don’t feel like an outsider. I remember that I used to love the chaat and juice from Flamingo, would salivate over the raja saab paan on Boat Basin, and wasn’t at all bad at bargaining over shoes of mysterious origins at Sunday bazaar. It feels right here, more upbeat than Dubai, more peaceful than Lahore. A good mix, I think. This city of constant evolution and change has that surrealistic feel of paused time for me. And I’ve never been more relieved to simply…stop…and be.

The Frequent Flyer

I find it strange how accustomed I’ve become to airports. Specifically, the Lahore and Dubai airports.
Every few months, it’s the same process.

Try to get done the packing a few days before the day of departure but fail miseraly and end up doing alot of last minute packing till the very end, when you’re just about to step out the door. Leave at least 2 hours prior to flight time (since it’s an international one), all the while fending off anxious calls from home. Despite the fact that I’ve been doing this alone for nearly 3 years now, they still haven’t quite gotten used to the idea that you may actually know what you’re doing. Text a bunch of people goodbye while on your way to the airport, and make a sidenote to call a few of the ones who matter after you’re done at the DutyFree.

Reach the airport and find a porter, since there is no way you’re lagging around a 30 kg suitcase on your own. Try to look sophisticated while checking in so that you can get your seat upgraded, since your father always forgets to get a front seat booked when reserving the ticket. Of course, it always helps to smile alot when the attendant at teh check-in desk is male; alternatively, if it’s a woman, feign some sort of sickness or back ache. Get through baggage control and try not to lose your cool as people keep butting in line; hand a minimal tip to the porter and roll your eyes when he asks for an extravagant sum instead, he obviously assumes you must be some sort of gori/sheikha after seeing you’ve got a blue passport and are headed to Dubai.

Make it through passport control, too used to the typical scrutinising look at the man at the desk, there’s no point wondering why he has to look you all the way up and down and stop for a few seconds just below your neck; you know he would take a picture if he could. This specific instance is the same, be it in Dubai or Lahore; clearly subtlety is dead everywhere.

With everything stamped and cleared, you finally breathe a sigh of relief and make your way to the DutyFree, in Dubai airport of course. You get through the usual important chores first and buy the chocolates and knick-knacks you always get for the same people every single time. Then, you let out another sigh and start wandering around, aimlessly looking at books and gadgets and colognes, making a mental note about what you could possibly buy as presents for someone when an occasion arises. You buy the trashy mags you love to read on the flight, so you can get your weekly dose of celebrity gossip and high-end fashion trends, and then it’s snack time. As always, you contemplate between having McDonalds fries or a latte from Costa, and try to remember what you had last time so you can choose the alternative this time. You love this little bit of time, when you can sit down somewhere, sip some nice coffee, flip through the book you just bought, and remain oblivious to the hustle-bustle of all the other travellers. It’s like the calm before the storm. They all seem so frantic, and you know that you’ll be exactly like them in time..

At the Lahore airport, it’s a little different, but the hustle-bustle is still the same, maybe that’s a universal rule for airports everywhere: must be jam-packed and busy, or atleast appear to be. There are women with screaming children, young couples who you assume are going to Dubai for their honeymoon, men of all ages hoping to strike it rich in the Arabian city, and of course, the dancing girls of Lahore who are going to do what they do best, entertain the rich ones. There is no real duty free, just a few little stalls that sell odds and ends to vulnerable tourists at outrageous prices. No Costa or Mcdonalds, so you settle for some chai. No books or magazines worth buying, so you open up your laptop and watch an episode of wahtever show it is that you’re addicted to these days. Or you open up a blank document and write a little something, like you’re doing now. Despite the difference in the 2 airports, you manage to have your peaceful me-time, and you shut out all the external noise. You force your mind to become a blank canvas, you push out all the anxious thoughts you have about how it’ll be when you return to Dubai, and you try not to let it bother you that you couldn’t say bye to a few people you really wanted to see before leaving. You also don’t let yourself wonder why it seemed so important for you to see them.

Getting on the plane is usually the most annoying part of the entire process. There’s always an enormously long queue at the boarding entrance, with all the men pushing and shoving up front. Using the power of your gender, knowing that the tide of men will part like the Nile once did for Moses, you make your way to the front and hurriedly board the plane. You settle in and hope and pray as hard as you can that no one sits next to you; you’re not the type who likes to socialise on a flight, and despite the fact that you’ve actually met some interesting people in the commute, you’re not in the mood for it today.

There was a time when you’d get startled during take off and grip the edge of your seat, but it’s become too pedestrian now, so instead you now file your nails. You also can’t be bothered to look out the window as the plane ascends, you know exactly how the lights of each city twinkle, it’s not a new experience for you. You also know not to freak out as the engine roars and grumbles, and the plane starts to bump and shake at intervals. You know now thats it’s a small aircraft, a low-budget flight, so you just try to sleep all the way through. You take a pill and hope your headache, which is another constant travelling companion, will disappear. Soon you’re lost in a dreamless slumber, awakening only when you can feel yourself descending towards the ground. Towards home. Whichever one it may be.

Another bomb blast in Lahore‚Ķand Louis Vuitton at Paris FW

Full calf-length skirts with wide hemlines and narrow bosom-y tops. SO wearable!

It’s going to be quite a dichotomous blog post today.

As the self-explanatory title states, there was indeed another terrorist attack in Lahore today.  Actually there were 2 suicide attacks that occured simultaneously in the same area, RA Bazaar in Cantt (which is basically an army-governed cantonment area that has both residential and commercial districts).  It happened just over an hour ago, at a time when most people were just heading out of their homes to attend the afternoon Friday prayers.  The two bombers were on foot and their main target was a military convoy that was passing through the area.  At least 20 people have been killed, and all main streets in the city have been cordoned off.

What good will it do now to shut down half the city?¬† The government had received threats that there would be militants entering the city but obviously that threat wasn’t taken too seriously.¬† The excuse they gave was that they get such threatening messages all the time.¬† And of course, when a provincial gov’t gets warnings about imminent dangerous events that will harm the populace, the¬†smart thing to do is ignore them right? The result: 2 bomb attacks within 4 days, over 30 estimated lives lost with many more injured, a city under siege and its people numb and wary.¬† But I am not going to get into the semantics of all this again, it frustrates me; I see red and fail to understand the logic behind all this.¬† I have already questioned all this in an old blog post (“Pakistan Under Siege: What do you WANT?”) and I don’t want to sound like a broken record.

Time now to concentrate on the pretty stuff!¬† The Fall RTW collection from Louis Vuitton¬†is GORGEOUSSSSSSSSSSS!¬† Designed by the one and only Marc Jacobs, the collection defined, in my opinion, the essence of romanticism.¬† The original concept was the inspirational decade of the 50s but I think all the clothes, with their soft, muted tones, and flirty hemlines, captured an idea that was more romantic that racy.¬† Calf-length skirts were the main feature,¬†accompanied by cute little coats, and tops that were both conservative and¬†cleavage-bearing.¬† Printed dresses were accesorized with waist-cinching belts that looked anything but severe and leather gloves in matching tones that added to the overall academic aura of the outfit.¬† It was almost like looking at the wardrobe for the next season of Mad Men.¬† The best part¬†about¬†it all was that Marc Jacobs actually used models that have curves!¬† He didn’t stick to the typical norm of using stick-thin pre-pubescent girls that merely act as hangers for the clothes, but rather used older models with bodies wider than a carrot stick .¬† From nearly 50 Elle Macpherson to Adriana Lima, who just had a baby a few months ago, the runway was awash with models who actually enhanced the beauty and sensuality of the clothes.

Some might say that the dull palette of the clothes, the matchy-matchy aspect of the accessories and the barefaced look of the models made the collection look a tad bit insipid but I would disagree.  Versace can afford to be va-va-voom and showcase stuff that is far from ordinary; Karl Lagerfeld can produce a whole collection based on full-body fur suits that no sane woman would want to be seen in; but Louis Vuitton is different.  An underlying essence of the romantic and the sensual radiated through each piece in the collection and Marc Jacobs managed to create an overall ensemble that was both subtle and sexy and true to the nature of the French fashion house.

A pleated leather skirt, and a shiny tailored jacket, what more can a girl ask for!

Bomb blast in Lahore, but it’s no big deal, happens all the time!

I was sitting in the common room this morning,¬†reading one of¬†the many insightful works of al-Ghazali.¬† It was a quiet time, around 8:20 am, and there wasn’t much activity going on in the hostel building, most of the girls were asleep or already in class.¬† The only sound I could hear was the rhythmic swoosh swoosh of the maids’ brooms on the pavement outside,¬† strangely soothing and far more effective than Britney in getting me to concentrate on the reading.¬† I would read a paragraph and jot down anything useful my sleep-deprived mind could derive from it; and so it went, as I read and jotted, read and jotted, until I was almost at the end of the reading.

All of a sudden, 2 things happened at once.¬† I heard a discernable yet muted sound of a loud crash.¬† Simultaneously, the building shook and the windows in the room rattled momentarily.¬† Had I shut my eyes for even a second, I probably would not have even noticed it.¬† It sounded as¬†if it had happened just behind our building yet when I got up to look outside, nothing seemed any different from the way it had been just a minute ago.¬† I didn’t really know what to make of it.¬† I first thought it might’ve have been a tremor, since those are common in thsi region but a mini-earthquake doesn’t make that sort of sound, its usually silent unless a building collapses, in which case it would’ve been a stronger movement that more people would’ve felt.¬† Subconsciously, the thought that it could have been a bomb blast popped into my head, yet there was nothing to prove that anything of the sort had really happened.¬† Had I just imagined the sound of an explosion?¬† Was I hallucinating when I saw the windows vibrating?

Apparently not.¬† That was 4 hours ago.¬† I just received frantic phone calls from my mom and my brother asking me if I was alright because, guess what?¬† That nagging suspicion at the back of my mind was right!¬† There was yet again another bomb blast in Lahore today.¬† The target was a gov’t office, or a ‘secret agency’ and Geo reports on its website ( http://geo.tv/3-8-2010/60629.htm¬†), that was functioning out of the residential neighbourhood of Model Town.¬† Yup, the location’s definitely not so secretive anymore, especially since there’s an 8-feet deep crater at the site of the blast, caused by the car that exploded with the 800 kg of C4 explosives it was packed with.¬†

Around 60 people have been injured, and approximately a dozen have died, one of the casualties being a guy in a building down the road from the site whose ears couldn’t handle the decibel-level of the blast.¬† Bummer.¬† It’s strange though.¬† A week ago, my dad was down here for a visit and he marvelled¬†at how efficient and severe the security situation has become in the city; we would literally drive down a road and see a uniformed rifle-bearing officer at every corner.¬† So I do wonder how it is that a car filled to the teeth with 800 kilos of C4 managed to roam about the city as if it’s completely not dubious or alarming at all?¬† But then again, given the frequency of bomb blasts in this city, maybe it’s become a norm by now.¬† I jest…I hope.

I guess the terrorists decided that the short time period they’d given this city between this and the previous blast was long enough for some quiet time and self-reflection.¬† Co-incidentally, they also managed to make this¬†blowup happen on the same day Gossip Girl resumes after its mid-season hiatus.¬† If this doesn’t mean it’ll be an explosive few episodes, I don’t know what will.¬† Way to¬†welcome back the Upper East Siders with a bang, eh?