The rental car turns onto Mai Kolachi road, and I look on both sides to mourn the loss of the mangroves that paid the price for easy access to the port from our side of town. As we head further south, we pass the new US consulate, a fort that is different from the open space I remember from the eighties when I stood in line for my first US visa to go to college. Now, the structure is fortified, and somewhere in the distance, high above the steep walls protected by glass and barbed wire, waves a lonely US flag. Everyone is happy that the consulate has moved away from Abdullah Haroon Road so once more the street can be open and Frere Hall can be visited.
Today, my sister Beena Sarwar, Aslam Khwaja (a social researcher), and I are taking this route so we can visit Rahim Bux Azad in Lyari. According to my cousin Haris Gazdar, Rahim Bux Azad has stories to share about Lyari, and this interview is a kickoff to the research project I’m doing for VBB’s next living room art productions.
Once we reach Jinnah Bridge through which we can drive to Lyari, the traffic comes to a standstill. All around us are rickshaws, trucks and buses and we seem to be the lone passenger car heading to the harbor this evening. First we think that this is just the rush for iftaar, but when the car doesn’t move for the next 30 minutes, we get worried, especially when the driver turns off the car’s engine and extracts a Sprite bottle from the trunk. He pours the liquid from the bottle into the front engine and tells us that he’s put water into the engine. “Let’s hope the traffic jam clears soon,” he says.
But another 45 minutes pass and we have only moved half a mile. When we reach the top of the bridge above Karachi Port Trust, all the drivers turn off their engines and there is an eerie silence on this highly trafficked road. I step out of the car and can hear the koels singing. As we watch, a rickshaw driver, pushes his three-wheeler onto the pavement and the next thing we know, he has turned around and has left the trap.
After a while, we decide to abandon the car. We give our phone number to the driver and tell him to find us in Lyari once the traffic clears. As we start walking down the main bridge, we see a rickshaw; the driver is the same man who left the traffic earlier. We pile into his rickshaw and he jets down the bridge. In just 15 minutes, he manages to work his way down one-way roads (going the wrong way, of course) and is able to drop us at the street corner where we need to be.