Beyond loved ones and food: 4 things you miss about Pakistan when living abroad

Everyone knows Karachi cuisine is unbeatable, but there are other aspects to this city that few can bring to life

Urooba Rasool April 24, 2024


When I lived in Karachi, “abroad” was akin to the Great Wide Somewhere that Belle (of Beauty and the Beast fame) longed for. Because I had already lived the dream, I knew that the land beyond Pakistan was also the land where you could cross the road without taking your life into your own hands, where you could turn on your air-conditioning without having visions of throwing all your money into a bonfire, and where there was no army of relatives scheduling weddings and dawats like clockwork. 

Of course, when I moved away, I knew that there would be things I would miss about my adopted city. I knew in my heart that no one anywhere else would be able to replicate the magic of Kaybee’s coffee ice cream and that BBQ Tonight was bihari kabab heaven, not to be found anywhere else in the known universe. And I knew I would be leaving behind Javed ki nihari, the peak of ecstasy for the committed nihari lover.

When well-meaning women at the visa office learned I would be moving to the UK, of all places, they instantly put on their funeral faces. “You’ll hate it,” they assured me. “You’ll have to do everything yourself. You’ll come running back.”

As it transpires, I have not missed breathing down the necks of hired help who clean the bathroom with the passion of a ten-year-old eating karela when the alternative is cake. However, there are other things that make anyone in the global West miss Karachi to the core.

The heat

There is nothing like that blanket of heat and humidity that envelops you when you walk out of the sliding doors at Karachi airport after collecting your luggage. It embraces you like an old friend and promises that whilst you are here, you can wear summer clothes without spending all day under the duvet or vacuuming the house from top to bottom in a bid to drive out the cold. And there is something unique about not having to dread taking a shower.

Getting a driving licence

Karachiites harbour the charming delusion that once you drive in Karachi, you can drive anywhere in the world. You can’t. Slough, where I am, sadly involves an element of rules and rigour on the road and persnickety driving examiners who won’t blink an eye at failing you three times (although you may question this when faced with actual Slough drivers). My local driving examiner - Leo - told me unhelpful things like “press the break down about the width of a pound coin.” My Karachi driving examiner - Rashid - thought it would be a great idea to learn how to drive one-handed while eating a samosa. I know I’d pick Rashid over Leo any day.

The service

I have not had one single online banking encounter in Karachi that has not ended in thoughts of committing a serious act of violence, but there is no denying that the service provided by actual human bank managers is top-notch. Where else are you going to get a bank manager who provides a personalised chauffeur service to help you open a foreign currency account? My bank manager here would laugh and laugh at the mere suggestion. And it extends to more than just banks. The optician on Rashid Minhas Road spent an hour with my picky children who pulled faces the 999 pairs of glasses he dazzled them with, before settling for the thousandth pair. The optician on my local high street said, “Take it or leave it, this is what we’ve got.” I’ll be returning to my lovely Rashid Minhas optician over and over again.

Eyebrow women

Lastly, the eyebrow women in Karachi are unbeatable. They know how to magically wield a reel of thread and exactly what to wax. Having lived in Kuwait, South Africa, New Jersey, and Slough, I can categorically state that eyebrow work is a skill that eludes anyone who does not hail from a sub-continental background. I have been deeply betrayed by local eyebrow women, who have been known to regard their handiwork and conclude, “A few weeks with an eye pencil will sort you out,” and the deeply worrying observation “Eyebrows are meant to be sisters, not twins.”

So there you have it. Naturally, there will be times in Karachi that will make you want to learn how to use a bazooka. But there are days when I long to go back, if anything just to feel some actual heat. Give me load-shedding in May any day over a wet, grey April.

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