Desperation of hope

Published: November 9, 2011

sami.shah@tribune.com.pk

This country just keeps getting stranger.

Last week, on my drive home from work, I had my cell phone and wallet stolen. That, in and of itself, is not a strange thing. In fact, in Karachi it is a rite of passage. You cannot be considered a true Karachiite if you haven’t been held up at least once. If you have managed to avoid such an experience, then it’s probably because you are the one doing the holding up. Otherwise, there is no excuse. If you want to be taken seriously in this city, then roll down your window and hand your phone over to the next person you see with a gun. It’s part of the social contract.

What made my mugging peculiar wasn’t that it occurred, it’s what happened after it began. He showed me his gun and asked me to hand over everything of value. Sitting in my car, I knew the standard operating procedure for such an event. There is an established protocol of behaviour here and if you stick to the script the entire procedure is over fairly quickly and painlessly. I handed over my phone and took the cash out of my wallet and gave it to him. He motioned towards a laptop bag and I opened it to show that it contained a book and some sketchpads. With the gun still in view, he smiled and asked if I was angry. I smiled back and pointed out that since he had taken everything I had on me, at the very least he could leave me my anger. I think that caught him my surprise. Comedy does that, it’s all about taking you unawares. Kind of like crime. He blurted out a laugh and so did I. Then, after a pause, he handed me back the phone and the cash. That was when I got confused. Was I the victim of some new hidden camera TV show? I think I even asked him that. He put his gun away and told me that robbery was something he had to do. A major political party had killed nine people of his ethnicity, all of whom were his close friends and family. He now had nine families to feed. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it to someone he liked. I offered him the cash again so he wouldn’t rob anyone else. He said that was unavoidable. He apologised and then walked away.

I think I would have been less shocked had he actually taken my phone and money. Like I said, it’s a damn strange place we live in. Surrounded by crime and terrorism and corruption and all sorts of evils, we forget that sometimes we are the victims of victims. Were there other options for him? Did he look for a job in a market where joblessness was increasing? Or maybe he was forced into this racket by people with more power than him? Was it just a matter of time before he was killed by the same people who killed his friends and family? Or would he perpetuate the cycle of violence by killing the friends and family of another? With just a brief interaction borne of desperation, all I am left with is a need to construct my own narrative. It’s the same narrative that fills the story of an incredible musical being performed these days, titled “Karachi – The Original Musical” with the tagline, “Haar na mano”. The artistry of that performance was true and honest enough that it had me thinking back on my erstwhile mugger the entire time. It, too, is a story about desperation, the mistakes created by it and the erosion of humanity by the harsh environment we live in. These are the stories left to us now. Not about hope and happiness, but about survival and the surprises we encounter along the way.

Strange country. Let’s keep it that way.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2011.

Reader Comments (34)

  • the daughter
    Nov 9, 2011 - 10:25PM

    there is hope after all!!!

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  • Pakistani in US
    Nov 9, 2011 - 10:58PM

    Insightful

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  • Hash
    Nov 9, 2011 - 11:02PM

    This reminds me of my second time getting robbed, when I was stopped by a guy on my walk back home. Its pretty dramatic actually. I was smoking a ciggarrette and when I was stopped, I took a deep puff, because I knew whats coming, exhaled it out to release some tension and asked him “You want my cell phone” and he replied very smoothly “of course”.
    Point is a lot of people involved in these robberies are not professionals and this is because unequal distribution of wealth factor in our society. This factor persists in all such societies and can be cured or at least reduced through law and order. Sadly, our society haven’t been introduced to law and order in 60 years so there is no choice than to sit back and sing “let it be” which we have been way before even this song came out.

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  • Raza Shah
    Nov 9, 2011 - 11:22PM

    Thanks for sharing this little anecdote. It has given me new found hope and drive.

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  • Syed
    Nov 9, 2011 - 11:35PM

    I have lived 30 years of my life in Karachi and has never been held up :) Thanks to Allah All-Mighthy and my mother prayers. Love you Karachi with the bottom of my heart and soul.

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  • Arifq
    Nov 10, 2011 - 12:04AM

    What a contrast, had this been the west Sami would be seeking counseling for trauma, yet here is writing eloquently about his experience, kudos Sami and to all of those who are mugged and bear these ugly marks with dignity. Recommend

  • zalim singh
    Nov 10, 2011 - 12:59AM

    i think this guy will not go far. Not fit for the job.

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  • Salma
    Nov 10, 2011 - 2:43AM

    Absolutely brilliant Sami! Your article made my day :)

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  • Haffsah Butt
    Nov 10, 2011 - 4:04AM

    It’s Sad. It’s Funny. There is Hope! That is my reaction on reading this article. I don’t know if I agree with the ending remarks but this country of ours has become very strong, tolerant, and predictable with so many things happening. It has seen so much that nothing is new anymore. I love my country and I know change will come. InshaAllah.

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  • Nov 10, 2011 - 10:39AM

    First time I was mugged (there have been repeat performances as well) I handed over my cell phone but got the nerve to ask the guys for my SIM back. One abused me on this request while the other proving more ingenious asked me to hand over my cash while he got the SIM out. Luckily I had a couple of 100 in my shirt pocket which I exchanged for my SIM and we both parted ways happily. The SIM by the way was an official number and had over 300 imporant contacts on it. However, while I did this on the spur of the moment, it should not be taken as SOP by amatuer muggees. :)
    Cheers

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  • Deepika
    Nov 10, 2011 - 10:48AM

    “Strange country. Let’s keep it that way.”

    Not sure what you mean by this.
    How strange would Pakistan really be if we had socioeconomic parity across all sectors of society, a healthy civil society, decent government education, decent medical services for all and a functioning, pro-Pakistan government and all that that entails?
    Love the rest of the article.

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  • Nov 10, 2011 - 10:57AM

    Sami; this is an incredibly shocking story.

    It’s also a testament to your talent as a comedian in Pakistan.

    Disarming a mugger with a joke. Wow.

    But seriously, stay safe bro.

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  • sars
    Nov 10, 2011 - 10:59AM

    would have been a much less interesting encounter if he had just taken your stuff and vanished…….. good response from you though , anger is counterproductive and costly!!!

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  • Amazed
    Nov 10, 2011 - 11:00AM

    @the daughter: Your ‘there is a hope’ is more shocking than the guy returning the cash and all!

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  • sidjeen
    Nov 10, 2011 - 11:16AM

    nothing will change in this country as long as we tolerate crime. here we have a writer telling people about an incident in which he was held up at gun point and robbed and every one in the comments section is going gaga over it not realizing how many innocent people get killed by the hands of these robbersRecommend

  • Khurram Siddiqi
    Nov 10, 2011 - 11:24AM

    ” Strange country. Let’s keep it that way.”

    Best line ever. Thanks for putting this out.

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  • Kashif Nawaz Shakh
    Nov 10, 2011 - 12:33PM

    I also believe that current street crimes are purely due to socio economic condition, and we cannot just blame the robbers.

    The best line in this article is that we are victims of victims and everyone should realise that until things really improve.

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  • Yawar
    Nov 10, 2011 - 12:40PM

    Excellent Article. Reminds me of the first (out of 3) times that i had been mugged on gun point here in Karachi. The first time it happened, I was so furious that i wished i could burn up the Bast**. But then i thought about it.I told myself that i dont know what made those guys turn into voilent armed robbers. At the end, the circumstances make most of us do the things which we loath otherwise. I thanked the Almightly of blessing me so much and the life that HE has given me. I have a job and a family. Only HE can save us from such “circumstances”. I forgave the muggers in my heart.

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  • Nov 10, 2011 - 12:54PM

    interesting. I’ve been mugged 6 times on gun point. have my own interesting and funny stories but this is serious. valid point when he said that if his 9 friends have been killed, he could very well be the tenth.

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  • the daughter
    Nov 10, 2011 - 2:03PM

    @Amazed:
    why?

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  • Nov 10, 2011 - 2:39PM

    The robbers who broke into my house told me and my petrified friend, “Don’t be scared! you’re like our sisters but we got families to feed AND girls to please!” (Oh yes he said that!) Brilliant piece Sami.

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  • waqqas iftikhar
    Nov 10, 2011 - 4:58PM

    I got held up, had my cash and laptop stolen….and got beaten up to boot….in khi’s posh area.Recommend

  • Niran Rehman
    Nov 10, 2011 - 7:10PM

    Brilliant

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  • SanaZ
    Nov 10, 2011 - 7:34PM

    the chinese had a curse: ‘May you live in interesting times!’..ours is def one of that!Strange country indeed

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  • think_therefore
    Nov 11, 2011 - 2:10AM

    I’m sorry but this seems like a fake story.

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  • fjh
    Nov 11, 2011 - 8:34AM

    @think_therefore:
    you have obviously not lived in the karachi that we know and love, with its people strong and resilient…

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  • Cynic
    Nov 11, 2011 - 10:18AM

    Yes, there is hope, as long as even desperate people can respond to humour. Strange country? Yes! But I hope it grows to be strange in better ways..

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  • MAD
    Nov 11, 2011 - 4:40PM

    Nice story. Too bad its all made up.

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  • rose suzzane
    Nov 12, 2011 - 9:51AM

    o my!!! i live in lahore and i have nerve been robbed .thank God .but i still have likings for karachi .

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  • Maria
    Nov 13, 2011 - 9:56PM

    @sanaZ the second part of the curse is a dangerous one “may you find what you are looking for”

    Simply brilliant.

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  • Saliha
    Nov 20, 2011 - 9:29PM

    Excellent article. But i fail to see ‘hope’ in this article. If anything, its about hopelessness. That guy wont and cant stop doing what he does. This cycle is going to perpetuate further, not collapse on itself. It does not fill me up with hope at all.

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  • Ali
    Nov 23, 2011 - 2:39AM

    I’ve spent all my life in Karachi. Not once have I been mugged although I’ve had to empty my wallet for.. wait for it.. the Karachi Police.
    Only in Pakistan <3

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  • Aatif ehsan
    Dec 14, 2011 - 5:42PM

    The mugger described in the narrative is the personification of helplessness in the vicious circle of our society…now the age of civilization is on its sunset and the stampede of savagery is escalating day in and day out as predicted by Charles Darwin in nineteenth century…the story in actual is the epitome of proverbial struggle for survival

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  • Tariq Naeem
    Dec 25, 2011 - 11:13AM

    Fruits of Capitalism & Demon-crazy, where people are forced to do such acts unwillingly!!!! I hope we get rid off it soon and replace it radically with Islam (khilafah) as an ideology!!!!!!!

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