By Ferya Ilyas
For most people of Skardu, Karachi is not a hub of violence and crime but a city they called home at some point in their lives.
The port city on the southern tip of Pakistan has made room for families and individuals from across the length and breadth of the country. It is hardly surprising that a visit to Skardu reveals many people who are not bothered by the stereotypical depiction of this city. For them, Karachi is infused with memories of a time well spent.
“Karachi was peaceful,” recalls Dr Mubashir Hasan, who travelled to the megacity in 1988 for his Matriculation. “We would hang out with friends in Clifton and shop at Tariq Road with no worries,” he says. Hasan was part of a group of 10 young men from Skardu, who made their way down to the big city for a new life. “There was violence inside campuses as the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation was gaining grounds on Islami Jamiat-e-Talba but life outside [KU] was calm,” says Hassan.
He remembers his early days when the big city baffled these young men. Hassan and his friends went to the PIA Planetarium one day but the darkness and the moving screen above their heads left one of their friends dizzy while another one lost his wallet.
“They both came out crying and the rest of us couldn’t stop laughing at them,” says Hassan, adding that the friend who lost his money was also afraid to tell his parents in Skardu about the incident because he thought they wouldn’t believe him. “Most of us left home with Rs500 or Rs1,000 in our pockets and losing it meant we were left with nothing.” He shared an apartment with 14 other men and it would cost them Rs200 a month. The rest of their money would be spent on fees, food and transport.
Eventually, the friends convinced the young man to come clean to his parents. “At that time, telephone calls were very expensive (Rs15 per minute) but there was a PCO owner near Kala Board bus stop who would let you make a 30-minute call for only Rs35,” Hassan remembers. The only reason why they got the discounted rate was because the owner knew people who worked for the telephone company, and they would distribute the call charges among other unaware customers.
Dr Ghulam Haider, who reached Karachi after his maiden airplane flight and 36 hours in Tezgam, also has very fond memories of the city. Shah had heard plenty about Karachi before he left Skardu. “I knew it was the city of lights; that it’s the most developed city in Pakistan with educated people; I found all that to be true when I arrived in 1987,” he says.
“People in Skardu live among mountains, with small houses and very few motorised vehicles; Karachi, in contrast, was big, busy and beautiful,” Haider recalls. He shares how Gulshan-e-Iqbal and Gulistan-e-Jauhar were scantly-populated and that the University of Karachi bus stop was the last one on the route. “The city has now expanded far and wide.”
Haider remembers his first visit to the beach and shares how he and his friends were fascinated by the beauty of people coming together and enjoying themselves. “Men, women, children having a good time together,” he says, quickly adding that the water was much cleaner then.
His friend, Dr Sadiq Shah, who went to the beach with him, says Haider would dive into the sea thinking he could conquer it like he used to conquer the rivers and lakes in Skardu but I would keep dragging him out. “I told him the sea is vast and you cannot imagine its depth,” says Shah. He recalls Haider rubbing his eyes, looking at the sea once again and then admitting that ‘There is no end to this’. “I told him, ‘This is Karachi’.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2015.