Even the air is cleaner in Islamabad. It’s like they have purchased some high-end environment scrubbers that take all the carbon monoxide out and it replace it with the pine scent that you hang in your car in Karachi. This was the first thing I felt when visiting the capital city recently after entirely too long. A short work-related trip turned into a revelation for me. Getting off the plane into a cool morning breeze that lifts your mood and lightens the very bloody spirit. I hated it. As a Karachiite it is hard for me to trust air I can’t wipe off my face in a black smear. And then there is all the green. The Margalla Hills rising serenely upwards, the sidewalks that are like little nursery’s. My rage began to rise. Why do Islamabadis get to live like this and we don’t? The sight of people walking around casually with cell phones out in public drove me into such a fury I considered stealing their phones and then running them over just to teach them a lesson.
It was the mongoose that won me over. A friend, in an attempt to soothe my ire, took me to a park that overlooked a lake. There was an aviary under construction there, which would house more than just the cacophonic crows and needy eagles we Karachiites have to contend with. It inspired a rant in me that I was enthralling him with, when two mongoose ran past me. Like stretched squirrels they frolicked in the grass and amongst the flowers. Frolicked. The last time anyone frolicked in Karachi, Maya Khan chased them down with a camera crew. I decided then and there that I both love Islamabad and hate it.
I love the city because it shows that when we want to, we can do things right. We can make a city that is beautiful, clean and safe. We can give children places to play and grant opportunities to commune with the natural. We can give you a place to live where the walls are low because no one will jump over them and the roads are wide because the speed cameras will stop you from abusing them. We can do all that and then maintain it too. If I wasn’t such a Karachiite, I would move to Islamabad.
I hate the city too though. I hate Islamabad because it represents the ability to do things right only once and only selfishly. The rest of the country can ripen and rot because no one in power lives there for very long. A city like Karachi can be ignored to the point of criminal negligence because all the attention and money and focus and time would much rather be spent trimming the grass in the capital. We deny the rest of the country safety and security and places for their children to enjoy so that a few can have it way over there. The result is, people in Islamabad don’t steal cell phones. In Karachi, if those speed cameras would have been installed then they would be on sale for half-price in Saddar by the end of the first day.
No wonder our leaders don’t care about our misery. No wonder the president, in his latest address to parliament, made it seem like we are progressing at a rate that would make China jealous. And no wonder the cries of victims go unheard so often and for so long. Every time our elected leaders look out the windows of their Islamabad houses, they see birds and trees, they hear the wind and smell the pine. And they see two mongoose frolicking in the grass like young lovers. They probably think we are making it all up. I hate Islamabad. Why can’t we all have one?
Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2012.
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