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Lighting for the ‘City of Lights’

Lighting for the ‘City of Lights’

KARACHI: “Dekh shehr ki battian! [See the city lights]” used to be the oft-repeated comment by the people who arrived in Karachi from small towns or villages for the very first time. It was fascinating for them to see the lights installed here for illuminating the roads, streets, lanes, parks, buildings, etc.

Of course those days are long gone when they had gas lamps for street lights and a person with a long torch would be going around lighting those lamps as dusk fell. There have been stories associated with the gas lamps of pre-Partition days when a studious child would study under a street lamp till late night or couples in love trying to avoid them to keep their rendezvous secret. Also moths being drawn to the lights towards the end of their lives. 

Today electric lights, though modern and brighter, don’t arouse such fascination. They are just lights that are there and that are mostly taken for granted as life carries on under them until they are switched off. When you are straining your eyes on a road lit only by car headlights is when real appreciation for the lights on the road dawns. The older citizens among us would remember when all the city lights were uniform bright mercury lights on 15-foot poles.

Then in the early 1980s they brought in some orange sodium light as an experiment in certain areas such as the start of Korangi Road at the Gora Qabrastan turning from Sharea Faisal. Not only did the sodium lights illuminate better to add to road visibility, they did not have a harsh glare and were gentler on the eyes. Then followed the natural daylight street lights and the light-emitting-diode (LED) lights. And now Karachi has a mix of everything. The designs for road lights also differ from each other.

One by one, they started replacing the poles and lights on Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road starting from right outside the Chief Minister House this year and up on the flyover of Khaliq-uz-Zaman Road. They are now on Hoshang Rd as well. The new lights are pendant lights that are golden from the top and have daylight bulbs. The only problem is that the golden part gathers too much dust to turn brown until it rains in the city and the dirt is washed off.

The lights around Bahria Icon Tower are all LED and very bright, but for the underpasses there they have another kind that looks like old gas lamp from Victorian London. They are low in height, too, which explains the one or two missing bulbs there.

Sometime back there came about a trend in Karachi to decorate the road lights with delicate-looking LED flowers or stars. Most of the pole lights on the Mai Kolachi Bypass had them but slowly the strong winds there did away with most though one or two examples are present on Sunset Boulevard in DHA Phase-II. But the new LED lights on the newly-laid Tariq Rd are still decorated by fairy lights adding to the splendour of this shoppers’ paradise.

In contrast the road lights on the nearby Shahrah-i-Quaideen are not spectacular until it is daytime when one can see their criss-cross design that makes them look like flying crows.

Karachi, despite K-Electric’s theatrics, is still known as the ‘City of Lights’. To keep the lights on in this city, the KMC in 2013 had announced to turn to solar energy. After lighting up the roads and bridges of the city the solar-powered streetlights were said to increase in number and spread to parks, too. But looking at the missing panels of those “solar-powered” road lights at Hawkesbay and the Afza Altaf Flyover in Nazimabad would tell you how well that idea fared.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2017

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