A Pakistani at a Mumbai café

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’ve been to Mumbai and Pune several times. But my trip to India this May was life-altering in an entirely different way. This time, I was part of a 14-strong delegation comprising members of the Karachi and Hyderabad press clubs who were visiting India as part of a peace initiative.

My last visit to Mumbai must have been at least 12 years ago. Although the city has changed to some extent, I recognised the ‘heritage sites’ and the smell of the pavements. Standing in front of the famous VT Station (now the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), I knew that places like Flora Fountain, Colaba and Taj Mahal were nearby.

Leopold Cafe - Bulletholes 1 -22May2012

It was this familiarity that made the restrictions on our movement more onerous. (Of our delegation, however, only I was chafing at the restrictions; the rest appeared content with the hospitality of our hosts and the omnipresent — and possibly armed — ‘escort’.) On day one, my solo flight in quest of a bottle of shampoo earned me the status of  ‘An Enemy of the People’. But day two made even this epithet worthwhile.

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But till the night I visited Leopold Cafe, I never really comprehended what the attacks have done to Mumbai and to India. Standing in front of the bullet-hole punctured wall of Leopold Cafe brought to life the visuals I’d seen on TV: two young men indiscriminately spraying bullets, mowing down 10 people of the 164 killed.

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With the help of two Mumbaiker journalist friends, two Pakistani delegates and I managed to ditch both the delegation and the escort. Wandering along Colaba, we found ourselves at Leopold Café.

Leopold Cafe - Bulletholes 2 -22May2012I was with DawnNews at the time of the Mumbai attacks. As the militants held the entire nation hostage, I could only look at the footage aired by the Indian media in grief, outrage and disbelief. “I know this place … I’ve been there … this can’t be happening …” was the constant refrain in my head. As the broadcast media is wont to do at such times, elements within the Indian press corps came out with jingoistic outbursts and immediately pointed fingers at Pakistan. And I clearly remember the angry faces of some colleagues who wanted to respond vehemently to the allegations. “Phaar do (tear them apart)” was the war cry of one of my particularly militant senior colleagues. (Thankfully, the then editor was a far saner individual who managed to prevent the imparting of misleading and unconfirmed information). And then we found out the identities of the attackers; all were Pakistani.

But till the night I visited Leopold Cafe, I never really comprehended what the attacks have done to Mumbai and to India. Standing in front of the bullet-hole punctured wall of Leopold Cafe brought to life the visuals I’d seen on TV: two young men indiscriminately spraying bullets, mowing down 10 people of the 164 killed. “Not every Muslim is a terrorist but every terrorist (in India) is a Muslim,” is what most Mumbaikers believe according to my Indian journalist friend. As journalists, we’re trained not to generalise. But the sentiments of my Indian friend echo those of most Mumbaikers I met.

That night, when we went back to our hotel, I was on the receiving end of a long harangue from one of the leaders of our delegation. Apparently, our visit to Leopold Cafe had generated shockwaves within our security detail since the cafe is a no-go area for Pakistani journalists.

Leopold Cafe - Interior -22May2012During the rest of our stay in Mumbai and Pune, there were many speeches about the love between India and Pakistan. We all spoke of the warm welcome we’d received in each other’s countries and we all promised to improve relations between our countries. Despite my inherent cynicism, I want to believe all this. My sister married an Indian 36 years ago and lives in India. When her husband died four months ago, I wanted to console my sister in person. I have some wonderful friends who happen to be Indian; I want to be able to visit them. I want to believe that these peace-building efforts are real and not just oratory.

But when I put myself in the shoes of friends who spent a lifetime living in and loving Mumbai, I don’t find any warmth in me for guests from the Karachi and Hyderabad press clubs. If my Pakistani friends who were part of this delegation put things in perspective, they’d also conclude that we were treated far too nicely.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 2nd, 2012.

 

 

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A world of its own: The beach-party

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ARACHI: Take a stroll down the Sea View Beach on a Sunday evening and you will find yourself in a completely different world – away from the hustle and bustle of the cosmopolitan.

The visitors at this patch of the famous Clifton beach, towards the side of Bilawal House, are not your usual vacationers – they largely comprise those of the very low-income group – the security guards, labourers and construction workers.

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The men huddle in groups and dance to the beat of the drums while holding each others’ hands – the last of the rites of these vacationers before they head off to their homes.

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They’d charge you for the horse ride but the dancing horse show is for free.
They’d charge you for the horse ride but the dancing horse show is for free.

 

Clad in multi-coloured shalwar kameez, these ‘tourists’ arrive in large groups on buses, in rickshaws and any other means of transport they can afford. Some have even walked the three kilometre stretch from Shireen Jinnah Colony where a large number of them live.

Very few women can be seen there.
Very few women can be seen there.

 

The crowd at this stretch is pre-dominantly male. What is most surprising is the warmth and humility with which they welcome you, make you feel as one of them, no strings attached. One gets the feeling these men lead hard lives – these outings each Sunday, their solace from their physically tiring routines.

The handsome Dilpasand Chat wala.
The handsome Dilpasand Chat wala.

One thing is for certain though. These men, young or old, certainly know how to enjoy themselves. A look around the landscape shows various groups playing cricket, football or water sports. The equipment may not be of the best quality but it is indigenously improvised to suit the sandy turf.

Care for a plate of Biryani?
Care for a plate of Biryani?

Then there are the make-shift stalls that sell anything from traditional delicacies such as ‘channa chaat’ to re-usable swimming costumes. The costumes may be used by one customer for a nominal fee after which it is hung up to dry.

Shoe rack and chaddi to rent

The next customer is rented the same pair of trunks after they have dried up on the line. The custom-built shoe-racks, furnished out of old fruit containers, hold the shoes for their owners while they are out for a swim. Perhaps the busiest stalls are the photograph booths where one may stand beside life-size portraits of famous personalities to capture memories of the trip. Another type of stalls that do a roaring business is the ones that provide water for washing purposes. The men use the water to rinse their hands and feet or to perform ablution after their games.

Water for ablution and washing the sand off
Water for ablution and washing the sand off

The most interesting aspect of this particular niche comes at the very end of the day, just before the sun sets. The men huddle in groups and dance to the beat of the drums while holding each others’ hands – the last of the rites of these vacationers before they head off to their homes.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2014.

Water for washing your feet and ablutions

Water to wash feet and to perform ablution, Chaddi (swimming costume) to rent, and shoe racks (made of discarded fruit boxes) are the services often provided by the same vendor.
Water to wash feet and to perform ablution, Chaddi (swimming costume) to rent, and shoe racks (made of discarded fruit boxes) are the services often provided by the same vendor.

 

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Troubled waters: Court inquires if deep sea port project is eco-friendly

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) has directed the Karachi Port Trust’s (KPT) authorities to file detailed comments, explaining whether the under-construction deep sea container port would have any repercussions on the ecology and environment or not.
The petitioner told the court that the fundamental rights of the public, particularly of the Karachi’ites, will be violated due to encroachment of the Clifton beach. He claimed that it was the only beach accessible to the public in the port city, offering recreational and entertainment opportunities. PHOTO: FAISAL SAYANI/EXPRESS
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Shot in the air

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OOD FOR THOUGHT:

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I went to Mirpur Sakro on Saturday for a photo shoot and saw some really beautiful and exotic migratory rare birds. We were trying to take pictures of this beautiful unfortunate yellow billed stork (i am not sure if that’s what it is called), when we heard a gunshot and the poor thing fell in the fields. Before we could reach it, a little boy came running and picked it. A man appeared with a rifle and knife in his hands and slit the bird’s throat immediately. Melancholy filled our hearts. I asked the man what is he going to do with this bird. He said they (him and his poor family) will eat it.

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Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2014.

Mirpur Sakro Workshop 1 225Mirpur Sakro Workshop 1 476

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