Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Soaking In Karachi

Almost a week into my trip - I lost my camera somehow so sadly no pictures - but there are some random observations. Enjoy!

Its been about absorption ever since I landed in Karachi on the 26th this month. Absorbing the new layout of roads, absorbing the humidity and heat (of which there hasn’t been much so far), absorbing the bacteria in the city air, absorbing the elaborate sequence of dances at weddings, absorbing the fact that friends are now, parents, spouses and fianc├ęs, basically just absorbing what Karachi is all about.

Things have changed, both for the good and the bad. It is difficult for me, at least right now, to give in an overall opinion of where things are heading. There is a slightly positive and hopeful attitude among people but this again is the opinion of the people I have spoken to. It may not necessarily represent the opinion of the masses. None the less there is lots of construction taking place. Roads, bridges, underpasses and that is always a good sign.

The purchasing power for the rupee has gone down significantly. Just last night, I spent 85 rupees to buy a small bottle of water and a big bar of Cadbury’s dairy milk chocolate However the consolation was that it’s a mere buck and a half in dollar terms. This does make me think about the Pakistanis who don’t earn in dollars, could they not occasionally spoil themselves by indulging in a luxury like chocolates.

Shockingly enough, as the prices have risen so has the level of consumerism. The concept of branding is being implemented across the board in all possible interpretations of the idea. Everybody is a marketer here. Engineers, Doctors, dentists, gardeners, cab drivers, they all “know what they are talking about” when they talk consumerism. Sadly, I am may not always be an ally to their opinion. Also embracing growth is the media industry, which has what some called boomed and what I would call bubbled, over the past few years. The number of radio and TV channels has multiplied in a very short span of time and the direct result of this expansion is an industry wide extrapolation of the law of crappy people. If someone is not a marketer there is a good likelihood that they maybe a producer, writer, director, of a segment on the plethora of channels that vie for a share of consumer viewing along with a huge number of international, primarily Indian, TV Channels. The quality of the content in such an environment is not surprisingly poor however, the availability of such channels suggests that aspirants wishing to develop high quality content would have an avenue to do so. If I were an investor Id wait a while before investing in the media here. I foresee that in a year or two, the bubble would burst, the underperforming stations would go under and there would be significant consolidation in the industry, with bigger players buying smaller stations and maybe even boutique channels coming into play. That maybe the time when the focus actually shifts from the channel to the product and in this case content alone.

Among other things that I have had to come to terms with is the fact that my good friends are now parents. Its one thing to hear about the children or see their pictures and a completely different ball game to watch the little critters in action. They are a bundle of joy to say the least. Leading the cast of the brat pack in my circle of friends are Najla’s Affiyah and Kabeer and Kiran’s Basim. They are just a super duper pack of energy, who go around frolicking in their care free lives like there is no tomorrow. What beautiful little things they are.

Aside from meeting a handful of old friends over the past few days, I have also ran into in some new people I had never met before, and would probably not have met had I been living in Karachi. These are the faces of a newer Karachi. People coming from all corners of the city and country and dwelling in the safer, better managed areas in the southern part of the city. They socialize with new people all the time, they drop names like there is no tomorrow, they supposedly rub shoulders with the who is who of city. They recreate and they procreate amongst themselves. They are gay, they are straight, they are sweet on the face and would stab someone in the back. They kiss each other every time they see each other and they talk as though life is an episode out of sex and the city. The level of plasticity in their life is beyond belief. Yet another shade of this ever growing city.

And in the past 2 days I have been experiencing the monsoon. That exclusive rainy season that graces this part of the world at this time of the year. Sheets of rain pouring down with unbelievable strength virtually without a break at all. Aside from the usual corners and ravines that would gather water in this season, the rest of the city or at least the locality that I am living in, has stayed much the same. This is a far cry from the Karachi of the yesteryears where a pour would imply roads clogged with water, immense traffic jams and a huge number of stalled cars. One thing that hasn’t changed about the season is the power outage. When rain comes, the power goes, but the coolness of the weather doesn’t make it unbearable. Update between the time I wrote this and uploaded it there has been additional rain and a good part of the city is water logged. The newly built Clifton underpass is being termed as the biggest swimming pool in the city.

Finally, so far, I haven’t fallen sick in Karachi (touch wood). I am only cautious about drinking water, but other than that I have freely indulged in consuming all the gastronomic delights that I have been offered. Halwa puri, Kebabs, Chicken Makhni, biryani, qorma falooda etc etc etc.

So I am of now, to enjoy the downpour a bit more. All this while Kiran tries to keep her one year old indoor, out of the rain. She seems to have control of the situation. Its unbelievable that a mere few years ago Kiran was one of the girls privy to all our naughty antics and pranks that we played in the college days. Karachi, its people, my friends, have evolved rapidly while I was away and like a sponge in a basin of full water, I am overwhelmed and bloated by the level of change that has come about. I missed some changes, but I am loving being here to see some more things in the process of change. Heres to Karachi, may you always change for the better and become the best.

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