Friday, March 31, 2006

# Posted 6:46 PM by Patrick Belton  

KARACHI NOTEBOOK: Karachi has an odd charm, and a terrible hospitality; I think I'll be coming back here. (If for no better reason than that my flight departs from Jinnah.)

Sailor Street, Old Sunset Boulevard- the names are aped either from Los Angeles or from the military establishment of which in its officer class, in a militarised society, were the origins of its poshest of neighbourhoods. In the subsequent generations of sale, these houses passed from the military to the feudal and commercial elite. In the centre, a block away from the army and navy offices, an arms dealer sits next to an English sports store hawking cricket bats.

Heavily decorated autorickshaws (safer: you can jump out, a Parsi friend tells me) jostle for space with the lorries rendered illuminated manuscripts by their drivers, their headlamps as raised initials. Women in burqa tap on your window asking for charity - Islamic customs are more assiduously observed among the poor, scantily among the elite who will offer you bootlegged claret at their tables, and whose sons and daughters are not universally virgins. The feudals, industrialists, civil servants of rank live in bubbles in an insecure city, their houses in Defence Society or Clifton neighbourhoods guarded by and ranks of servants, some of whom might wield a contraption of kalashnikov the vodka maker. Inside, they keep dogs, which Pakistanis of different, more religious backgrounds fear.

On the street the white shirts and khakis of the military intersect with the white shalwar kameezes and kurtas of the merchants, diners at chai stands, hawkers of goods on the pavement. The brooms wielded here are bundles of straw.

In the secular worlds locked inside their houses the children of the elite, educated in their art and music schools, listen to Louis Armstrong; outside on the dusty sidewalks, calls to prayer echo with the stark desert message of one God, one book, one final Prophet. (They cut the music nonetheless when the call to prayer sounds, out of devotion or pragmatism.)
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