I arrive in the Airbus and my South Asia expectations (born of deep experience) about a crush and rush to the front are quashed. I feel slightly undersold. What’s with these people being so polite and deferential to each other? This is very Javanese of them I think. Since when were these guys so docile? Clearly there was something in the chicken biryani that has stupefied us all. But if it was something in the food it extends to the immigration guys who are polite and relaxed, though they all look like they need Victa lawnmowers to shave. Buy shares in Gillette if you live here. The Brigadier’s man meets me before we get to immigration. Can you imagine that happening at home? Somehow he has slipped passed the barriers so my transit is as smooth as possible. This part of the world reveres their military in an almost religious way, pips and crowns being the markings of high priests, crossed swords the password to the holy of holies. So even the minion of a ‘red tab’ gets himself places mortals are unable. But hey, I am not complaining though I am reduced to mortal status as I wait for my bag to arrive (how I hate travelling with a suitcase) but service is elevated once it is retrieved and our vehicle is waiting at the front door of the airport. I am quickly ensconced and we slide into the dark.
A hot thirty degree wind is blowing. Paper cups and the occasional bag skids across the road, let loose from small groups camping on the lawns and under scraggly bougainvillea, their shadows barely discernible, though many stand out in the orange haze of the night lighting for the white clothes they wear. Its ten o’clock on the dot as we leave the airport grounds and the electronic signage urges me to have a nice trip.
I struggle to maintain a sense of direction as we jink through the dark streets. People loom into view and vanish again with no lights. Cars loaded down with a lifetime of belongs pulling beside, also coming from the airport I guess. I watch the clock carefully and it is a neat twenty minutes before I hear a horn. This is not India or Bangladesh, that’s for sure. We pass the only traffic jam I see all night and it’s the queue into the only petrol servo I can spot. Maybe it’s the only one open at this time of the night. Truly, there would be three of four hundred cars, truck and rickshaws. But otherwise my source of wonder is that there is no traffic jam to be seen.
And then we are doing the security thing with dogs and mirrors and machine gnus and more men who need a Victa for a shave. And I’m in, looking for the laundry boy to get some clothes pressed, eating almonds (thinking this will be a mistake) and wondering at a room that is a bit too close to a main road for comfort. I security check everything, get my bearings and head to bed.
TALIABAN BULLETS KILL MQM MPA, SON, one headline among many similar on the papers that land on my bed the next morning. While I was sipping a frappacino waiting for my connecting flight to Karachi a local politician is shot in Karachi and his son who rushed to his aid gunned down for his trouble. The MQM party is powerful enough to bring the city to a standstill as it insists on three days of mourning which, in practical terms means shops will be shut and the public transport system shut down. The place is on edge. 14 pedestrians were randomly shot following this incident so most people are staying indoors. Welcome to Pakistan.