Sunday, March 13, 2011

The City of Lights!!!

As a young girl in Islamabad, I grew up in awe of both Karachi and Karachiites. A city that sparked notions of glamour, glitz, partying and showbiz. Pakistan’s very own New York City; its massive crowds intimidating me. Alisha would often joke that ‘you can’t even throw a stone in Karachi without hitting a celebrity’ and in many ways she couldn’t have been more right! Even though I had always imagined my first, big trip to Karachi to be full of glamorous and unadulterated saturnalia, it’s ironic that my fondest memories of the city barely revolve around the motley dance floors of baroque houses. Neither do I smile reminiscing of swaying inside nightclubs with historic significance like The Metropole or the hedonistic after-parties graced by a random assortment of rockers, models, socialites and designers. Instead, I dig through recollections of another Karachi, completely different yet utterly real. The real Karachi, revealed only when the tiny slither of glamour, stardom and glitz was peeled away. Making way for the thousands of other Karachiites struggling around the periphery of the few elites that dominated our perceptions. So lets pick up where we left off, shall we?

Why Yes!

After my O-level exams, I had no plans for the rest of the summer. At first, I slept for days and when I finally emerged out of my room; my first stop was at the British Council Library to issue a bunch of books. A part of my escape plan to the States, thanks to an idea I got by eavesdropping on a conversation between two nerds during Economics tuition. So ‘papoo’s’ advice, I took and headed straight to the Library to abandon my Sweet Dreams for Somerset Maugham, Nabakov, Tolstoy and Ayn Rand. All quite insipid but they did the trick and matured my vocabulary for my SATs. And while on one end were stacks of intellectual literature, on the other end of the backseat lay a stack of rented videos of Bollywood and Hollywood. Balance is healthy, a little bit of Jaaneman for every few pages of Jane Eyre!

Though I had severed all communication from my friends, I remained in touch with Alisha who began to insist and then demand that I visit her in Karachi. Of course, her offers were extremely enticing as she painted pictures of raucous parties, the cutest boys and the most fascinating of peers. Alas, the fantasy remained as impossible as building Rome in a measly day…or better yet a second.

But then, Rome was built. My brother who was settled in Dubai with his wife and daughter, was transferred to Karachi for a 6 month project! Bingo! Cautiously I approached my father and broached the subject. Mama was dead against the idea – even though bhai was over there – and Papa was not too keen on the idea of having me go away for that long. I suggested an internship on Chundrigar Road or the FTC building also. As impossible as it seemed, my father, who was slowly becoming more liberal among his new and progressive peers, actually entertained the thought for a while much to Mama’s chagrin and protests. I was overjoyed and somewhat shocked when he finally acquiesced. Three days later and after contacting all his friends in Karachi, he presented me with some internship opportunities with various advertising or PR firms and then possibly an afterthought of a summer job to teach English at a ‘Coaching Center’ for women. I had no idea what a ‘Coaching Center’ was but didn’t really care either. I always dreamt of becoming an English teacher (weird I know) so I chose that job. Advertising didn’t really interest me! Ironic how I now work in that field now.

We screamed for hours into the phone when I informed Alisha. Instantly she began firing off plans while painting pictures of endless debauchery which would begin with ‘GTs’ (get togethers) and end at mammoth dance floors or sunrise after-parties at the beach! I began packing right away, folding in the most stylish clothes apt for a trip to the fashion capital of Pakistan.

My flight landed in Karachi somewhere around Noon and at Jinnah International airport, I immediately surrendered to supermodels with attitude sashaying around where handsome men glided with self-imposed importance of Wall Street tycoons. Pretty feminists in kurtees and kola puris, competed with the snobbery while they boasted of ‘jobs’ in women’s non-profits after four liberal artsy years abroad. Lives still paid by Daddys and Abas as they ‘helped’ rape victims or domestic abuse survivors. A clichéd novel by a South Asian writer tucked conspicuously in a jute handbag adding to the whole granola motif! To my almost suburban, maybe even small-town naïvette, all of this seemed extremely awe-inspiring. In Islamabad the handful of streets all ended in the same location and you could run into seven friends and seventeen acquaintances on the way, none of whom were autograph worthy.

I arrived at the house in Clifton where my brother and his family were staying and although he was at work, my bhabhi was there in her nightie to greet me with a warm smile.
‘How was your flight sweetheart?’ My bhabhi always tickled me with her adorable begum drawl ‘Why don’t you freshen up for lunch, but before that, please call your friend Alisha…she has called a million times already.’
Even though I was craving a bed and a shower after the flight, I sunk into the couch and dialed Alisha’s number. After a deafening scream into the phone, she told me to get ready immediately. We were going to lunch!

True to her word, I had barely showered when we were immediately off in her car devouring Karachi streets with the windows rolled down, music blaring and cigarette smoke engulfing our frames. We had lunch at Copper Kettle where we giggled over menu items such as ‘Kiss my Buns’ and ‘Cock n Bull’ but it was the infamous Caked Alaska that I still crave to this day. I tried my best not to appear too star struck by all the celebs around. I remember spotting Mishi Khan walking out of a store and screaming ‘Oh My God, that’s Aroosa!’ The late Amin Guljee was seated just a few tables away from us and he paid absolutely no attention to Alisha’s flirtatious advances. After lunch, we walked up to an apartment in the Zamzama area where a friend of hers – back then an aspiring but now a famous fashion designer – resided with a female roommate also an aspiring (now a famous and former) fashion model. We became immediately acquainted over drinks, cigarettes and joints. It was evident that this apartment with loud red walls was a regular hangout among friends, friends-of-friends and even strangers. Hipsters constantly walked in and out. Some in between classes, some between photo shoots, lunches, dinners or even before or after dance parties. I met so many celebrities, socialites and even plain old rich brats that night and by the end, I was invited to a string of dance parties by boys who asked me to be their ‘date’. Modesty Note: Most dance parties back then were ‘couples only’ to dissuade stags and thus anything with boobs was asked to be a ‘date’. It just helped that I had really big ones! I got home way past midnight that night and although my brother gave me that raised eyebrow, he told me to have fun. Alisha was moving back to the States in a month, and this promised to be an amazing summer before we bade each other farewell.

Over the next several weeks, I partied with Alisha like a rock-star. Parties in Karachi never seemed to end. After dancing all night on a dance floor we would take the party to a hut at French Beach or the ‘Red Flat’ for some after-hours revelry. When we finally got home to sleep after sunrise, the phone would ring a mere few hours later with Alisha yelling ‘Get ready biotch, we are going back to the beach for the day.’

My first day at work, I decided to dress the part. After bunching my hair up in a considerably conservative bun I donned a kurta (granted it was a short shirt, but that was the rave back then). The first day of anything – job, school – is pretty challenging, so I expected to deal with awkward and bullying stares. But my colleagues in the staffroom had nothing in common with me and were the complete opposite of the females I hung around with in the evenings. Modestly dressed women from modest homes of Nazimbad and Gulshan; they took a series of buses and wagons to arrive at this summer job at a Clifton Coaching Center that I was easily able to score thanks to Papa’s connections. The school was close enough to my brother’s house so I could walk there. Nestled in a nice Sea-View location, I would enjoy a leisurely stroll by the beach on my way to work. It was perfect save for the fact that I was a complete misfit there. Story of my life right? The young women I taught, hung on to my every word while they struggled with their own enunciations of Angrezi. They would curiously observe my mannerisms, my clothes and my vernacular with enchantment. My colleagues were a whole different story though. They would get immediately and deafeningly quiet whenever I walked into the staff room. Hardly ever was a word exchanged with me, when they would sit and eat greasy lunches pulled out of steel tiffins or when they would discuss family issues over challees and bhuttas. The few times I wore jeans and T-shirts to work, their stares of disapproval became more palpable. Sure, it didn’t help when I stepped out for cigarette breaks or when Alisha would show up to take me to lunch in her tight clothes, liquor breath and an American accent always laced with swear words and topics that bounced between boys and bitches.

There were a handful of teachers in that school, but the ones I remember the most were Ms. Nazo, Ms. Afsheen and Ms. Laila. Why? Because as much as they glared and disapproved of me in the beginning they eventually demolished their walls and allowed me into their lives. World’s so utterly and completely different from my own. In the beginning, I would sit and read a book and ignore their vapid conversations. Later at night, with an entirely different crowd at the Red Flat, I would recount their stories and express disgust at being trapped in a room full of such ‘backward’ and ‘paendoo’ women. I could quote their pathetic conversations verbatim.
‘Laila…may tumhara bootay wala suit apnay chachazaad bhai kee mehndi par pahen loon’ or ‘Haan, is kay saath meray paas fashion jewelry bhi hay, bilkul who fillum may Madhuri nay pehnee thee?’
But sometimes their conversations would pique my curiosity. Like the time someone made a comment ‘Nazo…tumhay kya, tum to Amreeka ja rahee ho.’ Nazo responded by storming out of the room visibly upset. But it was particularly strange because on other days her reaction would be the complete opposite. She would sometimes even add ‘Haan jab may Amreeka jaaooon gee na…tu phir tumhay vailaitee shampoo bhejh doon gee.’
All quite bizarre. Ms. Afsheen, wore scarves even in the summers and often quoted dialogues from Bollywood films. Ms. Laila was a miser who was always devising efficient ways to save a paisa or two. One thing was for sure, they all had interesting histories and as our friendships grew, they gradually shared their heart-wrenching backgrounds with me.

Most nights when I would return from a boozy dinner with Alisha and lie in bed, it wasn’t the celebrities and the cute boys I would lie awake thinking about. It would be my female coworkers and their pessimistic fates that kept me awake. Ms. Nazo was in her early thirties and had been married since she was 21. Unfortunately, she had only physically been in her husband’s presence for two months out of that decade. The first month was immediately following her wedding and the second was a couple of years later. Her husband was settled in the States when they got married and returned a month after their wedding. Since then, Nazo had been living with her in-laws, caring for them and waiting for her ‘immigration paperwork’ so she could someday move to the States and live with her husband. It was the promise made to her years ago as a young bride. Most days she lived on that slither of hope, as she got ready everyday with clothes pulled out of suitcases, packed and ready to move across the oceans to an Amreeka that she had only witnessed through movies and a few of her husband’s cherished Polaroid’s. Although everyone talked about Ms. Nazo ‘moving to Amreeka soon’, it was only in hushed whispers and behind her back, that they confessed with genuine concern that she would probably never move to the States. Rumor mill churned out possibilities of her husband being incarcerated, maybe married to a ‘Goree’ while some deduced that marriage to Nazo was solely for the purpose of finding a caregiver for his parents. However whenever Nazo came around, everyone immediately resumed their hopeful and optimistic faces. Once when I expressed my distaste with this denial, Afsheen replied with her most filmy tone. ‘Tu phir? What other option do we have but to hope?’ She had a point!

Ms.Afsheen was the most talkative of the bunch and always nibbling on a challee. Very amicable, she was the first to reach out to me for friendship. Often inquiring about Pakistan’s nightlife, discotheques and dating with childish curiosity. I often wondered why she worked here and why in her twenties she was also unmarried. A rarity in that crowd. One day – as she munched on a challee while I smoked – she too shared her story. A young girl with mellifluous looks, she was wooed by mothers of eligible bachelors in her family or neighborhood before she had even began her Matric. Quick to inform me that photographers and video-wallay at shadees almost always took candid close-ups of her at weddings. By the time she started her Fsc, she was engaged to a cousin who was to become an engineer himself. The ‘love marriage’ engagement lasted a good two years and she felt blessed because he was on his way to a successful career and a ‘kothee’. Unfortunately, one evening as she cooked for her parents over the stove, her shirt caught fire and when she woke up, she was in the intensive care unit being treated for third degree burns on her entire torso. It finally made sense why Afsheen always wore scarves. Now she spent most of her evenings reading Urdu digests in her spare time, and always inserted ‘filmy dialogues’ in her statements. And as dramatic as they seemed, some of them were disturbingly apt. Like the time she sighed that none of her physical burns ever scarred as bad as when her heart was scorched by her fiancé. Within three months, the engagement was broken off with some fatuous excuse. The next few years were spent waiting for proposals but news of her burn scars had reached everyone. All her cousins who had once envied Afsheen’s beauty were now married with children, including her ex-fiancé. Single and living with her parents, Afsheen now contributed to the household income by teaching. I tried my best to comfort her with false hopes of a dashing man (or a dashing mother-in-law) who would sweep her off her feet without a care about her scars. But my words of comfort were immediately perished when Afsheen informed me that she no longer permitted women of eligible bachelors to visit for ‘chai’ or ‘gup shup’. Two years ago, a woman had arrived at their doorstep with genuine interest and brought their hopes up. She returned and invited herself to dinner three more times after meeting Afsheen. The family began to believe that their luck was finally changing. But on her fourth visit, the woman asked to speak to Afsheen privately. Once alone in the room, she then requested Afsheen to take her shirt off. She wanted to examine the burns for herself. Assess the extent of damage before offering any final commitments for her son. Fuel to the fire, she went on to share that she was only obliging her son’s request to do so. Afsheen described it as the most degrading experience of her life. Standing stark naked in front of a strange woman and trying hard to numb the sounds of her ‘tsk tsking’ and macabre expressions of pity mixed with repulsion. The woman bolted out and never returned. After that, Ms. Afsheen decided that marriage was no longer in her future. No more efforts were ever made to entertain any possible ‘proposals’. That chapter had long closed.

Miss Laila was our other friend at the Coaching Center. Her situation was not as dire as the others but her perseverance and optimism was also inspiring. The eldest of four siblings of which only the youngest was a brother. Their father had passed away at a young age and she had witnessed her mother rely on brothers for too long. Although grateful to her Mamoon’s for their financial and emotional help, she was also well aware of the degradation that came with being dependant on another. By the time she started her bachelors, she voluntarily gave up marriage plans to help raise her siblings instead. Her youngest brother was the main reason she worked a bunch of different jobs around the clock from teaching in schools, providing tuitions, sewing/stitching and even face-painting at children’s birthday parties on the weekends. All juggled while taking evening classes for her BA. She used only a small fraction of her paycheck to pay for groceries while the majority was saved for her brother’s future education at what she hoped would be Dow Medical College. Part of her motivation to work as a teacher in different schools was also because it allowed her siblings to study at these schools for free. Still, she never once complained about her difficult life, which only allowed for a few hours of sleep. Instead, her eyes would light up as she would plop down on a staff-room sofa in the morning and frequently exclaim ‘yaar kal raat tu buhat maza aya. Ham nay kamra band kya aur 3 ghantay AC chalaya. Amir Khan walee film dekhee sab nay aur ganaay rewind kar kar kay sunay. Ami nay bhi dekhee…bas bijlee ka bill mar dalay ga magar film ko to phir AC may dekhnay ka maza hay na!’

As time went on, our friendships grew even more. I began to look forward to seeing my new friends at school everyday. Even Alisha was now amused by these new friends. I still fondly remember those sweet moments of talking in the staffroom for hours. The time all the other teachers tried a cigarette with me and coughed up a storm while whispering ‘tauba, tauba, bas kar day Padash…phepray khatam ho jaen gay teray.’ How Ms. Afsheen would theatrically read us an afsana from an Urdu digest in our spare time while we sat drinking our teas and devouring our challees, engrossed like little children. Soon there were more secrets the girls began to share with me. Ones they could never repeat to others. I was now their most trusted, ‘modern type’ confidant who would never judge. Ms. Nazo would secretly bring tacky, glitter-soaked Eid cards and love letters with bright red lips and hearts on the front. Starved for a man’s affection, she had begun an illicit romance with a married man next door, who just also happened to be her husband’s first cousin. It didn’t mean much, she only sought solace in cheap love ‘shayaree’ that she could share with a beloved. Any beloved. Verses that often began with ‘aaj phir meray lab pay tera naam aya’ and when I cringed at the words, Ms. Nazo would giggle and dismiss me with ‘abay chal…abhi tujhay muhabbat naheen huee na is liye.’ Truck shayeri like:
‘Dabbay may Dabba, Dabbay may Cake
Meree muhabbat kay rakhwalay, tu hay lakhon may aik’
And when I began an equally greasy and cheap summer romance with a ‘mohallay ka larka’ called Badar, the girls would sit with me and read his letters with giggles and swoons.

So now, who was this cheapster summer love, you ask? Well, his name was Badar and he lived in a flat on Sea-View which I often passed on my way to work. The first time I saw him, I hardly paid him any attention. Just another ‘maila’ standing outside his flat wearing knockoff stonewashed jeans, khussas and a pink shirt (long before pink was the new black). Oh and did I mention, the boy had a mullet! The loser was a perfect specimen of the greasy cheapness that turned girls off. So of course, I would embark on a summer fling with this ‘bollywood ka namoona’. From the corner of my eye, I could notice his lingering and hungering gaze, inevitable among boys starved for any form of female affection. I walked by ignoring him seduced only by what was between his fingers, not his legs. A Marlboro.

Soon, I began to see him on my walk home from work everyday and then even in the mornings. His flirtation growing with courage each day; a nod, a smile and on other days an attempt to blow smoke with dramatic, hero-like gusto. I continued to ignore him, till one day he slipped a love letter and ran off. Ufff… what a letter that was too. Ms. Nazo swooned over it and copied some of his shayeri but truthfully it was painful to read. Sure, his broken English was endearing, with lyrics of Def Leopard and Bon Jovi inserted randomly in between sentences. Professions of love that began with ‘I have flying on broken wings for many years only’ and ending with ‘I am living on a prayer to meet you’. Alisha and our other Red Flat friends relished in its entertainment value on bored nights over Slims, Vodka and cigarettes.
‘Yaar you really should give him a try’ Alisha did not surprise me with her suggestion as she toyed with her drink and cigarette ‘What do you have to loose. I heard these Nazimabadi types are real freaks in bed!’
And though I was still a virgin back then, I didn’t dismiss the idea of harmless entertainment for that summer either.

Anxiously he waited for a response after the melodramatic delivery of the letter but I provided him with none. His dejection began to manifest on his face and soon he stopped waiting for me in his usual spot.
Then one day, I decided to have a little fun on my own. I noticed him smoking in his usual corner, so I walked straight up to him savoring his expression of utter and speechless shock. With his fingers trembling and knees wobbling, I stood next to him for the first few minutes as he nervously looked around to make sure the Mohalla wasn’t already weaving gossip about him standing next to a girl in jeans.
‘Can I have cigarette?’ I broke the silence.
Still speechless….he fidgeted around and I pushed further ‘Well? I know you have more in that pack? Love letters may tu aasman taray daina ka keh rehay thay, laikan ab aik sutta bhi naheen? Kya hua?’
Promptly he pulled out a cigarette and then watched me light it up with ease as I blew smoke rings in the air.
‘Aap ko cigarette naheen peeney chaiye’ He finally spoke.
‘Why not?” I still answered him in English on purpose.
‘It is not look decent for girls to smoke.’
‘Oh ho…to decent girls ko to love letters bhi naheen daynay chaiiye na?’
His lips curved into a smile of defeat and I grinned back. It was the first time I noticed that behind that hideous mullet, the distasteful clothes, the smell of Brylcreem and Black Cat Talcum Powder and the thick accent, he was actually far better looking than most men I had been partying with at night. In fact, had he been born in Clifton of Defense, he would have been quite a well-groomed catch.

Alas, our little moment of sweetness lasted only a few seconds before the voice of a little boy jolted him completely. ‘Bubloo Bhaiiiiii….ami bula raheen hain, geeyzer phir bund ho gaya hay.’ Immediately, he stubbed his cigarette on the ground and with his eyes he pleaded me to leave. I stood there calmly smoking as he hurried back inside to resume his role as Bubloo the obedient son.

We began a full-fledged courtship soon after. After meeting at our designated spot everyday on my way home from work, we would walk around the Sea-View shore, like local lovebirds. I had never experienced such a romance because in my world, boys and girls could date, gyrate and mutually masturbate quite openly. Here, romance was emulated through Bollywood dialogues and gifts of chooriyan, Walls ice-cream and jhumkay. The more I got to know him, the more I began to adore his simplicity. When I would mock his hairstyle, he would confidently retort ‘Apache style yaar’ and when I broke into hysterics he would reply ‘Agar ab tumhay pata naheen hay tu may kya karoon, aglay maheenay naeen say kahoon ga, agay say Salman Khan peechay say Apache.
‘Aur sides say Om Puri?’ I would add and then crack up.

Badar owned a motorbike so on our more daring dates, we would drive around the city on his Kawasaki. It was far more exhilarating than any date in a boy’s (actually his father’s car) that I had ever been on in the past. He took me to Jinnah Park, Frere Garden and once we even went on the pirate Ship at Joyland. Surprisingly, I was beginning to enjoy his company and soon, we were sneaking out on dates at night. We took our relationship to more intimate levels when we would go to his friend’s garage and make out for hours. Not the best kisser but eventually I taught him through enough practice. We never really got past second-base with some heavy necking and petting with our clothes on. He would literally hunger for me and explore my body like a kid in a candy store; eyes widened, hands trembling. The further we got, the more I knew I was only fulfilling my role as the first girl he had ever been intimate with. His practice. And as life’s curriculum dictates, those aren’t the girls men later marry. But I was okay with that. As pleasant as our moments were, deep down I felt the same too. We were merely each other’s ‘time-pass’ and we both came from two totally different worlds and didn’t really belong in either once the summer was over. I had also lied to him the entire time. As far as he knew, I had moved to Karachi from Islamabad to go to Indus Valley and was going to live there. So maybe he would lie to me too when he talked about ‘love’ and ‘marriage’. Sometimes he would even sheepishly remark ‘aray aik tu teree angrezee naheen samajh atee…aisee chuwain chuwain kar kay boltee ho bilkul angrezon kee tarha…meree Ma kay samnay tu sirf Urdu bolnee parhay gee…who behcaree angrezi naheen boltee.’ I would laugh it off by suggesting ‘acha phir karo phone…baat karao sasoo ma say.’ Other times he would bring up more serious topics and inform me that once we got married I wouldn’t be able to wear ‘jeans pant’ in front of his family because they were more conservative. I would also have to quit smoking. At that point, I would remind ‘Bubloo janee’ that it was actually my ‘jeans pant’ that attracted him in the first place. Maybe, he truly was beginning to get serious and was struggling with the idea of making this fast girl from Isloo a potential ‘ghareloo wife’. If so, I was wrong for deceiving him and leading him on but dear readers, I will always write honestly even if that sometimes means that I will end up being the villain. None of us are perfect.

Two months rolled by and I didn’t even notice. It was almost like I had begun to live in Karachi and had no desire to move back. I had friends here besides Alisha’s crew. Friends like Ms. Nazo, Ms. Afsheen, Ms. Laila and Badar. Honestly, if I hadn’t immersed myself in the world of my coworkers and my summer love, I would probably never have been prepared to begin a friendship with Afia whom I would meet a few months after my return to Isloo. The few nights I wasn’t out dancing with Alisha at a party or driving around Sea-View on Badar’s bike, I would lie in bed and listen to the song ‘As I lay me down to sleep’ by Sophie B Hawkins. It was also the song I listened to everyday on my walkman when I walked to work. A lot happened in those two months. I made my own money, I became a part of people’s lives, I bid farewell to my best-friend Alisha whom I never heard from again and I began and ended a love affair with a boy whom I never would have looked at on any other day from the spoilt, glass-castle world I was used to.

When the days of my own departure neared, the teachers at school threw a little farewell party for me. They brought me gifts and a cake and we celebrated in the staff room. I even took everyone out to lunch at Copper Kettle afterwards and they laughed with amusement at my comment that I really had no desire to marry a man and was much more intrigued by the life of a single girl. Most of that empowered promise I have stuck with to this day. I took a cab home because I did not want Badar to see all the farewell gifts and bouquets in my hand. Later that night, when I finally called him, I made up some silly excuse. On my last night in Karachi, we met up again. It was our last date but only I knew that. For him it was just another night. He had become comfortable enough with me to let his guard down and show his foolish side. We parked under a secluded corner and made out some more. It was adorable watching his eyes light up with pleasure after years of imagining it in thoughts or through cheap rented porn videos that had weathered different head-cleaning concoctions. He would always whisper ‘I love you’ every time he lunged for my chest and sometimes lovingly he would purr the same words to me while staring straight into my eyes. I would always reply with just a smirk. I wondered if it was lust and felt guilty because if his words were genuine, his love was completely unrequited and his heart was about to be broken. When I returned home that night, I immediately began to pack (Sophie B. Hawkin’s song on repeat) as I realized how much I had learned in those two months.

The next morning I headed for the airport and I knew it was probably the same time when Nazo, Afsheen and Laila were arriving to work bused in various different wagons and coaches. Badar was probably waiting for me at our usual spot hoping to wish me a good morning with a smile, a wink or just the vroooom of his bike. I wondered what he would think when I wouldn’t show up that day. Or ever. When I wouldn’t ever call him again. He would probably wonder with bafflement about what happened to me and I felt terrible, I truly did. It wasn’t the first heart I would break and definitely not the last. My time in Karachi had reached its end. I was returning to Islamabad a whole new person. Even Papa commented on how I seemed to have matured so much over the summer. Maybe, it was just the break I needed to resume my life with more insight and more wisdom. If it wasn’t for this trip Papa would have had a harder time relenting on sending me to college abroad on my own.

Today, I read books and watch shows about Karachi all the time. Oh that glamour, that glitz, that charm. But I am always forced to remember a different Karachi. Unfortunately, today I have no idea how any of my friends are doing. Alisha’s crew often shows up on the ‘Scene’ pages of glossy magazines or flash through my screen on one of the several TV channels in Pakistan. But my other friends, I have no idea about. We never kept in touch and I doubt I would ever find them lurking on facebook. I will always hope that their present lives are exactly how we prayed they would turn out. Badar, I’m sure, is now married with a few kids of his own. I wouldn’t be surprised if he married a nice decent cousin of his who would be oblivious about his first kiss and how he felt his first pair of breasts with a fast girl from Islamabad who suddenly vanished on him one day. Probably now balding and gaining weight. I also hope Ms. Nazo got her dream of moving to the States to be with her husband. That her illicit love affair was never discovered? That a dashing and handsome man did sweep Ms. Afsheen off her feet to marry her. That Ms. Laila’s brother became a doctor and provided them with a decent life. That she too is now married? Maybe even to a billionaire. I don’t know but I sure hope so. After all, as Ms. Afsheen once melodramatically declared ‘What other option do we have but to hope.’

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