Footprints: Win some, lose someArchive
KARACHI, the city that never sleeps, has just recently been injected with even more life. Gigantic billboards, garish signposts, obtrusive banners and lighting arrangements all along Sharea Faisal, the lifeline of the city, herald the return of international cricket after almost a decade.
Queues of cricket fans at eight different locations near the National Stadium on a warm Sunday afternoon, waiting to be taken to the game — the first of a three-match T20 series between the West Indies and Pakistan — add to the atmosphere of a joyous festival in the city.
For commuters, however, the seemingly wonderful ambiance takes on one of the panic-stricken outbursts of road rage, disbelief, and long rants of how “we can never develop as a nation until we learn to at least queue up properly”. Riding on a motorbike, in the humid heat of Karachi, I too am guilty of all these emotions.
Thousands of others riding motorbikes, travelling in rickshaws, and even pedestrians must get through several blockades, security checkpoints and imposed reroutes only to run into more bottlenecks and traffic congestions. By the time we reach home, we feel like the triumphant, but exhausted soldiers who somehow managed to evade German machine guns on D-Day.
At Gharib Nawaz Football Ground, one of the eight spots for parking dedicated for ticket-holders going to see the match, I found a group of young enthusiasts waiting for their much-awaited walk to the National Stadium.
“It’s a tough job,” said Hamad Hussain when I asked him how it felt getting here. “There are so many obstacles on the way, the security checks are endless. It took us almost two hours to get here from Shah Faisal Colony just 15 kilometres away. But it’s worth it. I cannot find words to express the joy I am feeling. I am going to see all my favourite cricketers,” he said with eyes wide open like a child about to get a toy.
Hamad’s thoughts sum up the mood in Karachi. After the final of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) between Islamabad United and Peshawar Zalmi, the T20 series against the West Indies is a milestone towards reviving international cricket in the country. Following the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, the return of the PSL in Pakistan and the presence of international cricketers on our soil is a huge victory, and cricket fans are elated.
But the people of Karachi are paying a price for the festivities, as they face three straight days of intense security arrangements and alternative traffic routes, as a large part of the city has been turned into a safe-zone by law enforcement agencies, with several hundred of their personnel patrolling the area.
Karachiites, however, are hopeful. “The situation will improve when more matches are played in Karachi and in Pakistan,” said Nuzhat Arif, waiting in her car at one of the checkpoints to be allowed to drive to a parking area for the stadium. “We bought five tickets for Rs5,000 each. People here want to enjoy international cricket and we are ready to pay good money for it,” she said but added that the city administration should plan the security arrangements and streamline the traffic routes better. “You cannot just lock down the entire city — it’s counterproductive.”
Ms Arif’s assessment echoes that of Dr Tahir Shamsi’s, a renowned doctor at the National Institute of Blood Disease. “There should be international cricket here in Karachi, and in other cities of the country as well, but not at the expense of shutting down the entire city creating inconveniences in the process.”
Roads to three major hospitals were closed today. “There is no way any patient in an emergency can be rushed to any of the three hospitals in the area,” he added.
There is a pestering annoyance in the city, a little bit of anger and signs of panic. But the silver lining is that international cricket is back. People are hopeful that they will get to see many matches, creating fond memories of incredible performances by their favourite athletes. Most importantly, people believe — and hope — that the stigma on Karachi, of being a violent city will finally be removed.
Then there is the overhauling of all the streets near the stadium. Indeed, spectators and residents face many problems when the matches are taking place — at least they will get renovated infrastructure.
There is plenty of credit, and some blame to go around for the arrangements. At a roadside teashop in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, a huge screen televising Pakistan’s 143-run victory over a ‘jet-lagged’ West Indies provides one such opportunity as Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board Najam Sethi delivers a speech before the prize distribution ceremony.
“I am thankful to the mayor of Karachi, and to the city administration for having made a lot of efforts for the return of international cricket. Karachi is shining, and I hope that it will continue to shine in the future,” announces Mr Sethi. His remarks triggered a wave of whispers, giggles and comments in the audience watching the screen on the roadside.
“He needs to visit Karachi more frequently, and maybe go to places other than the National Stadium to see how much the city is shining,” yells out a customer at the teashop, as his comment is received with agreement and laughter by much of the crowd.
Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2018