Should we, shouldn’t we, is this a good time to go? Any agents who can get a visa? Damn, you have to go to Delhi personally to apply? Whoa!! That doesn’t make sense – It takes as long to fly to Delhi as it does to fly to Karachi! What?? You don’t need 50,000 documents for your visa application? Huh – no online application?
Forms are available only outside the embassy and typed out for you by a distinguished elderly gentleman, clad in a salwar-kurta and skull cap. Sitting in his ‘office’, comprising of two metal stools – one on which he sits and the other on which he’s set up his old school typewriter, he types out your form with one finger under the shade of a tree on the wide pavement outside the High Commission! Really?? The visa interview is less interrogation, more friendly chat about why it’s taken you so long to make this trip?
But once in Karachi, I am floored. It is so similar yet so different! There’s no them and us. You look like you fit in. And they do everything possible to make you feel welcome.
Khush Aamdeed, indeed!
1. The Hospitality
Your Pakistani hosts will go out of their way, and then some, to take you to the most fab places to eat, host the most lavish dinners for you and manage your shopping agendas. They’ll pre-book your appointments, organise your transport and gladly indulge in any of your silly fancies. They open up their homes and their hearts for you. And the minute they introduce you to someone saying you are from India, expect a warm, hearty welcome hug!
2. The Language
There is nothing as lyrical and romantic as Urdu spoken well! Sheer poetry even if its just someone asking for something as mundane as directions or a recipe.
3. The Homes
And the Mumbaikars think the Delhi-ites are lucky?!?! You’ve got to see these homes to believe it! Behind secure, high walls, these homes are usually built from ground up, allowing you to customise every single thing in your space. Imagine a movie theatre in the basement, a lap pool, barbecue pits, ponds, all sorts of flora… It truly is (and this the ONLY time I’ll allow myself to use this word) – Amazeballs!
4. The Tehzeeb
Super efficient and remarkably polite house staff, this is a whole new world for me. Kanta bai gives me attitude every time I chide her for being late. Raju takes off to gaon at the drop off a hat. Here the drivers will get out of the always-immaculate-cars and open the door for you, always respectful and well spoken. A big change from our hired help, no?
5. The Food
Warning to vegetarians -skip to point 6 or take on the risk of being seriously tempted to try the local non vegetarian dishes while in Pakistan. The quality of meat is at another level. Succulent, tender, melt-in-your-mouth. I simply cannot rave enough about the food. From the local Karachi old city haunts like Cafe Lazeez on Burns Road (must try the gola kebab fried in butter) to the fancy Kolachi on the beach front in Karachi, to barbeques in backyards, you will find a variety of price points and levels of sophistication, but one thing that’s always constant is the incredible meat dishes. It did leave me wondering though, when these guys ever ate their veggies! I once ordered a salad for lunch and got the oddest looks ever!
6. The Currency Exchange Rate
The Pakistani rupee is about half that of its Indian counterpart. Which is amazing because shopping just got a 100% more fun!! While the malls have price points similar to what you get in India, it is the markets and the ladies who have small boutiques in the outhouses of their sprawling bungalow gardens (WTF? outhouses, gardens, bungalows?) that you should shopping at! Ask really nicely, and we’ll give you a list!
Expert tip, get a local/your host to call ahead of time and book your appointments. Stand-alone boutiques in Zam Zama, Mehran Heights and Uzma Shopping Centre have the most incredible unstitched fabrics. I have to admit, I went slightly nuts. But really, who wouldn’t?
7. The Fabrics
As a self-confessed fabric junkie, I had to include one point here dedicated to the lawn suits! The quality of the light, soft oh- so-gorgeous cotton is unbeatable. In India we’re only exposed to some designers like Sana Safinaz, but there’s a plethora of equally amazing designers that do some great work. Why why why isn’t lawn available locally in India?? The colours and prints (though some prints were a bit OTT for me) range from traditional and ethnic to modern and graphic. Just a word of caution though, always dry clean these fabrics!
No, no, not another fabric rant again. This is the name of a truly awesome store! From home decor to unstitched suits, to ready made kurtas, embroidered stretch churidars, the most adorable kids range, handbags and the premium Khaadi Khaas range, this store is a must visit. Non negotiable!
9. The Sea
Moonlight Crabbing in Karachi is an experience you must not miss. Ditch ideas of a fancy yacht and a suave captain taking you out to sea to fish and then cook the catch. Think old school fishing boats, no loos (ladies, be warned!), but melt-in-your-mouth fresh crabs and chilled beer. Ask nicely and they will play some local music for you to enjoy the moonlit night even more.
10. The Buses
Kitsch at it best, this mode of public transport sure brightens up the roads! Always overcrowded, with people literally hanging off. While I cannot personally vouch for safety, I can attest to the fact that these make Mumbai local trains at rush hour look like child’s play!
11. The Stunningly Beautiful Women
So maybe I don’t really love this about Pakistan. Their beautifully made up, always stylishly turned out women make me want to hide myself away. But for those willing to watch and learn, there’s so much to take away from these graceful, elegant ladies.
12. The Plays
I have distinct childhood memories of being asked to ‘sshh’ while grand mum and mum focused intently on Haseena Moin’s classics Dhoop Kinaray and Tanhaiyan on our temperamental VCD player in the late 80’s. Still popular, these made for television dramas now get passed around on shiny DVD’s but are no less precious to those living outside Pakistan who are lucky enough to get their hands on a copy.