The Delights of Chaotic Karachi

Karachi, Pakistan
May 29, 2019

The noise of traffic and shrill blasts of horns form a continuous soundtrack to a river of traffic that seems to flow at random with no discernable rules. Cars, buses, three-wheelers, donkey carts, motorbikes, mopeds and pedestrians all weave in and out with dexterity. It takes little time to get into the mode. Modern buildings lie scattered among colonial landmarks under the blistering sun. Wandering around it takes me less than five minutes to morph into a limp noodle and I succumb to rickshaws more often than I’d like.

I had thought the pace would be slow over the month of Ramzan but that is clearly not so. While there may be a few shuttered shops at the Empress market, trade is brisk at the Gori market and Zainab markets and all places in between. Crowds of shoppers throng the streets and pavements, hawkers call out wares and negotiations are underway continuously at the shopfronts lining the pavements.

And then it steps by several notches. Come evening, many of the streets are completely jammed, shops crowded, and entire families are out on the town with children, toddlers and babies in tow. At one am, one can barely walk along the pavement. Rows of stalls sprout along the street selling everything from shoes to backpacks to toys and towels. Some stalls are mopeds piled with goods, carefully balanced. Tomorrow is a schoolday for children and a workday for adults. I might be jet-lagged and in sync, but how do they do it?

And then there are food stalls that come alive. Huge blocks of ice are chopped to order in one lane while food carts roll in filling the streets. Tables and benches appear on pavements amid a carnival-like atmosphere. A tempting array awaits as I wander – from deep-fried puris to pakoras, biryani to kebabs and freshly made lemonade to samosas. What a feast!

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