Something to relax with
If modernity must bring change, in Karachi it does so at a slow trot. The airport is free of the soul-constricting mega spaces that we expect in big cities. The ‘meet-and-greet’ lady walked me through immigration by merely nodding at the officials. (Why do we not have these angels of calm aggression in our airports?) Having struggled through the visa labyrinth with the Pakistan high commission before departure, this was comforting. The Beach luxury hotel, with its old-wordly charm, is one of those rare places where guests are not bombarded with “Have a nice day”, “Have an incredible day...” etc. The bed, unstrewn by fluffy pillows, had ample space for my tired self, after 24 hours of travel (Kodagu-Bangalore-Delhi-Dubai-Karachi with several hours martyred in waiting rooms). When not conducting writing workshops—part of the project which took poet Sridala Swami and me to Karachi and Lahore—listening or holding forth at the literary festival, I had time to call my own. I watched reality shows, serials and news on television, and from my balcony looked enviously at women in bright ensembles as they walked in and out of the festival venue. We look a bit scruffy before them, we do. Good-looking menfolk too, many more smokers than back home. And cigarettes only, no beedis; they are cheap. “No alcohol, you see,” said writer Bilal Tanweer with a wry smile when I asked later, “we need something to relax with.” I bought biriyani, salan and a Karachi biscuit from a roadside eatery. The few loitering customers held their sides when I asked for “vegetarian”. Price for price, it was the same as roadside food back home. Taste-wise, incomparable. Writer Shandana Minhas and Imran (her husband and a playwright) hosted a lunch at their home for a few Indian writers and friends from the local media. Of the liquids that came before lunch and after, I will say nothing except that complaints I have none.