If you want to truly experience the real Karachi, you should try taking the bus. One fine day I was on my way to college, the car wasn’t available so I decided to take the next best alternative, the rickshaw. As I was about to leave the house, my friend who live nearby called me asking for a lift. I invited him to come with me on a rickshaw and split the fare two ways. He had apparently a brighter idea drawing on his memon-esque nature (mind you, he wasn’t one but he can give them a run for their money). He suggested we take the bus and save even more money, leaving us with enough funds to dine in luxury- not Nando’s luxury but decent places where you can sit inside to eat instead of standing on the sidewalk.
He reasoned that it shouldn’t be too complicated to take a bus from Awami Markaz to Sindhi Muslim, although neither of us had taken the bus before but how hard could it be? That being said, we made our way to the bus stop, planning which deals of Haider Juice would be worth spending our hard saved money on. On reaching the bus stop we realized that we didn’t know which bus to get on. We explained our predicament to an elderly gentleman waiting for his bus, telling him our destination was Kala Pull, not wanting to reveal our destination for security purposes (you never know right?). The person was kind enough to point out that 3 buses passed our route- the D series, the W series and the famous coach Shama.
By consensus, both of us decided we will not go on Shama, I can’t explain the exact reason behind it, maybe it was chivalry or maybe it was modesty or maybe it was saying” Hum Shama pay beth kar aein hain” that left a bad taste in our mouths. After this we were left with two choices the D series and W series, in our desperation to cling on to anything familiar, we chose the W series, the justification being that my friend had a Sony Ericsson W series phone. As soon as we decided a W series bus with a Mercedes logo on the front, a W-22 if I remember correctly screeched to a halt in front of us snd the conductor leapt out like Jackie Chan does so often in his movies. I thought that atleast we would be travelling in style, which was courtesy of collaboration between German engineers and the mechanics of Shershah. The conductor started tapping rhythmically on the side of the bus chanting his destinations “ Yay Baloch Pull, Manzoor Colony, Chanesar Halt, Kala Pull, Saddar, chal mera bhai” . Among them was Kala Pull, after confirming with the conductor, who simply nodded at us without breaking his hypnotic chanting, we looked at each other and nodded and my friend said “let’s do this.” It seemed we were going on mission impossible not college.
Climbing on to the bus the first thing that greeted us was the oddly sweet smell of tobacco pan, we found a seat together with all our valuables stuffed in our bags, which were clutched tightly in our arms. Upon sitting down the first thing that we noticed were the mini advert stickers on the back of the Formica backs of the seats. They were decorated almost artistically with the residue of numerous pans and gutkas. This was real art folks, if you could get past the disgusting habit of spitting on the back of the seats.
While my friend ranted on about the beautiful girl sitting in the front compartment wearing a ninja style burka (it’s a very unknown phenomenon how he knows the beauty of a girl behind 4 metres of black cloth ). The different rows of seats were like different channels, there was drama, comedy and even a political argument in progress in one of the seats. All the time our over energetic conductor was visiting every new passenger grunting “han?” and collecting fares. Whenever a stop was approaching he rushed to the door chanting out the next four destinations and controlled the bus with his catchy tapping, which was in fact, Morse code. A single bang meant stop, double tap meant go and continuous double tapping meant go slow. This I can say, that there was never a dull moment, it represented the real vibrancy of Karachi.
I was so lost in taking in all this information, my friend startled me by saying “look that’s my sister’s house, we must be in Baloch Colony” It turns out what our elderly benefactor had failed to mention was that this bus ran on a route parallel to Sharah-e- Faisal to Kala Pull not through it as we had assumed. We explained our problem to our ever energetic conductor as he was stuffing his cheek with a small ball of his energy source – Naswar. He suggested we get off at Kala Pull and get on another bus which goes to Sindhi Muslim. When we got off the bus, my friend looked at the road searching for the bus that our conductor had suggested. I had been through enough of this experience to last me a lifetime, therefore, I talked to the first rickshaw that pulled up and without even bargaining, I told him to step on it. Well he actually rolled the accelerator back with two fingers and a thumb, with the pinky sticking out in an almost begum Nawazish way.
We barely made it in time for class, which ended 45 of the longest minutes of my life, with another friend a veteran bus traveler suggesting “ if only you had said Sindhi Muslim…..” We ended up spending roughly one and a half time of what we would have spent if we had split the fare from home. Needless to say there was no luxury lunch available that day, just a packet of chips and a soda.