Diary – A Karachi Walla in Delhi

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Curses are same but Bhai becomes Bhaiyya.

[Text by Shandana Minhas; pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The author, an eminent Pakistani writer, visited Delhi to launch her novel ‘Tunnel Vision’ in Jamia Millia Islamia University. She lives in Karachi.

This is a letter from a Karachiite in Delhi, which is somewhat akin to being an Englishman in New York. Same language, different rhythms. Most aptly illustrated by the use of the word bhai.

In Karachi we say bhai. Here in Delhi I have only heard bhaiyya (which assumes a whole different connotation across the border) or bhai sahib. But the curses, as curses generally do, flow fluidly and fluently on both sides. And there have been a lot of them as the city battled its pre-Diwali traffic madness.

I do not know whether this is unique to Delhi or a standard feature of road rage in cities across India, but the horn is like the inner voice of the driver. People are talking to each other, or on the phone, while the car is be moving, but the hand on the horn continues to pump pump pump. It serves no discernible purpose, since nobody actually responds to it, except perhaps to release frustration and/or puncture the eardrums of any infant unfortunate enough to be passing by.

Speaking of release – isn’t that something we would all like – I landed in Delhi one late Saturday afternoon for the launch Roli Books, my publishers, had arranged for my first novel Tunnel Vision. It took place on Monday at the beautiful Jamia Millia campus. The book was ‘released’ by Professor Mushirul Hasan; and as he freed it from its spiffy wrapping and cast aside the ribbon that bound it and held it up I had a sudden urge to grab it from him and toss it up into the air like a carrier pigeon.

Then the rather excellent Sunit Tandon read selected extracts while I battled mosquitoes under the table, wondering whether Delhi had dengue too. There was also a brief Q&A followed by tea and snacks, and that was it. Book was launched, hopefully winging its way through the lower stratosphere like some bad tempered wildfowl wondering which head to crap on next.

Before the launch I had to do a few interviews with local reviewers, a couple of whom lacked the subtlety to disguise that they were more interested in the political drama unfolding back in my country than in the words between the front and the back cover of the text they bore with them. How were things back home?

Fine thank you for asking. Did I feel apprehensive about what I would find on my return? Not particularly. When I had spoken to friends and family back in Karachi had they said things were normal? Things were perfectly normal. Men and women were going to work. Children were going to school. And lawyers and protesters were going to jail.