The curious case of Karachi

The curious case of Bejamin Button is story of a man who ages backward with bizarre consequences. Each day is a step towards past.

Driving the car in dark on a maze of roads, our drive was continuously welcomed by roundabouts. The roads in Emirates always lead you to somewhere far than you intend. Confetti on the pavements and glowing lights on the sidewalk hinted that we just missed the celebrations of Emirates National day. But, I think we missed a lot more.

Since morning, the picture from Gulf news was stuck in my mind where in 1980s, PIA lent two planes to Emirates so that they could start their own airlines. Emirates Airlines now has a fleet of more than 160 planes compared to a weak Pakistan Airlines comprising of roughly 40 varying aircrafts.

In 1985, the first Emirates flight took off from Dubai to Karachi. Emirates was incorporated on May 25 and started with two planes (an Airbus A300 and a Boeing 737-300) leased from Pakistan International Airways (PIA) before it took delivery of its own fleet of new planes. (Gulf News)

It wasn’t always that the mayors of Karachi vowed to make their city like Dubai. In 1960’s, Karachi was the symbol of the progress in the east. With the world polarized towards capitalism and communism, we rose to be an inspiration for South Korea, which later adopted the master plan built on Karachi’s footing.

They also say that the streets of Karachi were washed daily till the 60’s and the system of trams (internal metro) remained operational till early 70’s while the people in Dubai were still using carriages for longer commute.

And skipping 4 decades, when the pictures of Emiratis celebrating their national day are hovering the media all over the world, I found the mention of my city in New York Times in these words when Steve Inskeep (author of Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi) writes:

‘…I thought of ancient cities like Babylon and Sirkap, a ruined city in northern Pakistan. There, a guide had shown me a hole where archaeologists digging many feet below ground had found the remnants of buildings long gone.

It had taken centuries for the city to rise, decline and disappear. I wondered if it had suffered from a failure to mind the public interest: cleaning the drains, picking up the garbage, respecting the rule of law. And I wondered if Karachi was now experiencing a high-speed version of the process that put that ancient city underground.’

I think, we did not just miss the celebrations. We missed decades of progress and ended up being the curious case of Benjamin Button.

(Left) In 1960's, the Tram (inter city rail) was the stretched through out the city of Karachi. (Right) A traffic sergeant controlling traffic at Abu Dhabi Municipality. The place presents picture of a desert.


Now: (Left) Karachi's inter city local railways is a witness to declining living standard. (Right) Dubai launched one of the world's most modern metro system in the city in 2009.


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