marcela_storytelling © 2011 sehba_sarwar. All rights reserved.

8:40 PM

Punjab chaurangi in Karachi

Location: 2222 Truxillo, Dining Room
Performer: Marcela Descalzi

It used to be called Punjab chaurangi when it was a sleepy little intersection of Dilli Colony going towards Gizri village. On the other side, going from north to South, the road snaked through the Mai Kolachi Bridge, and the fast depleting mangroves forests being hogged by the land mafia, and the growing roadside, fast food hangout crossed the round about towards the posh Defence Housing.

Then some so- called ‘town beautifiers’ thought of sprucing up Karachi. As a result, warplanes, tanks and machine guns were installed all over the city. We got our share when we saw black tiles being put in the centre of the roundabout and wondered what exactly was being built there. One fine morning, a World War 1 submarine was installed to make the area look more beautiful. People started called the Punjab Chaurangi the “ Submarine Roundabout”. In Benazir’s time the submarine was taken to the War museum, and now some call the place Punjab Chaurangi and others still call it the Submarine Roundabout!

Like many other parts of Karachi, this Chaurangi reflects the contrasts of old and new juxtaposed together, which is special feature of this city, where camel carts, donkey carts Pajeros and Mercedes Benz all stop at the same traffic signals together. Around it is a posh shop like Hobbit where you can get arty-crafty decoration pieces and all kinds of household goods. Inside the shop, the ambiance of the shop is such that you could be in any big city of the world. Next to it is the street which often clogs the entrance of the Dilli colony market where meat, fish, fruit and vegetable venders on the roadside shops and carts vie with each other for competitive prices and people find good bargains on food items which seem to be getting more and more expensive every day.  On the main road is the snack bar which comes alive at night with a BBQ soak pit, and Tikkas and Kebabs, where you would see men sitting by the roadside and eating, or cars swishing by, ordering take-aways. But that is at night, in the day time the Nokia with a very modern looking customer care centre next door, does very brisk business because Pakistan, despite its poverty, is one of the highest consumers of mobile phones.

I have lived here for over thirty years now. This part of the Punjab chaurangi is a conservative area where hardly any women are seen walking on the road and an extremely imposing new mosque has been built last year – though there two others close by! My greatest surprise was last month when I discovered a fitness centre for men and women just opposite the petrol pump – on the first floor over the shops which sell sweet meats and bakery things, keeping donation boxes in their shops to gather money – ostensibly for building mosques! Up the stairs, the unimposing wooden door holds behind it a spacious hall with treadmills, rolling balls and yoga mats. Trainers teach aerobics, yoga and other fitness exercises with Pakistani and Indian pop music playing, which complements the movements of the exercises.

It has a sliding partition door and the men’s exercise arrangements are on the other side. The music is controlled from a panel from the men’s side, but the trainer calls out from behind the sliding doors “ Bhai, (brother) can you change this tune to a faster one please!”

The women ranging from teenage to 50s all swing and move with music to do the fitness exercises, wearing their gym gears. Some of them seem to have developed friendships and chat as they continue their exercises. Their topics range from giving each other tips on what prayers to say on what occasion, and what’s ‘sinful’ to jewelry and presents they received from their husbands/ family and dreaming about getting slim enough to get a proposal for marriage soon. Come the end of the hour… and they don their abayas, and veils go down the stairs and merge in the milling conservatives crowds all over again.