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Yearning for the Gentleness of the Past

The vicissitudes of life continue to overpower us. We dream about the past, but we crave the future. And what a different future it is! Unimaginable by our ancestors. Each generation has such an anecdote of its own.

When I think of Karachi, the first picture to flash across my mind is of my school, St Joseph’s Convent, and the magnificent church that stood beside it, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The grand structure, standing tall, just beyond it, the white marble stairs, arching beautifully downwards — I saw it nearly every day for ten years, as I hopped out of the car and scurried into the gates, the weight of my hefty school bag, a friend to gravity, pulling me downwards, as I trotted down the wide pathway. Not an image, I’m sure, that would occur to people across the globe when they hear this city mentioned.

A past view of St Joseph's Convent School, a Catholic high school for girls located in Saddar Town, Karachi, Pakistan. Image by My Historical Pakistan.

The word “Karachi” holds a different meaning to the rest of the world, a definition construed by the Western media. I wish that the twists and turns of Karachi and its people could be seen and read by people across the seas. The irony of globalization is that we live in a one-click world, and yet people continue to exhibit ignorance of the finest nature.

There are people who see Pakistan from a myopic point of view, who write extremely painful things about this diverse country. Never having visited, never having experienced. They cannot fathom that a “Moozlum” studied in a Christian school. In fact, most didn’t even know that convent schools exist in my country — in their mind, a country full of bearded men and blanketed women. And so when I get into conversation with people who regard Pakistan as a nation always in the crosshairs of everything bad in the world, I narrate a tale or two from my school days, accounts of how I sang Christmas carols and painted Easter eggs.

Nostalgia creeps in as I listen to my mother recall memories from her school days at the same institution. Finally, something our different generations can relate to! And other times she tells me stories that surprise me, like the time she stood in line to greet the Queen on her visit to Karachi.

I hear how an aunt in the family got the first television set. The seriousness and excitement with which they’d watch that black-and-white screen! Then she tells me of the trams. Now, that would certainly have been something wonderful to experience in the City of Lights! I Googled them, and came across the blogs of sentimental Pakistanis, writing about how accustomed Karachiites were to seeing trams around the city. But now they are just a memory.

A tram passes by alongside a camel cart on M A Jinnah Road, one of Karachi's main thoroughfares, in 1947. Image by Ghulam Nabi Kazi/Flickr, © All Rights Reserved.

Now, the time has come for me to fill the shoes of the storyteller and reminisce about the good old days. I tell children of a time when there was a grand total of one TV channel, how I saw the transition to two, and then some more. I tell them of floppy disks, which became slightly smaller, and finally became no more. Of videotapes and cassettes. The simple but fun games we used to play — seven tiles, marbles, bones — games the children of today would find quaint and amusing. I remember fishing out one and two rupee notes and 50 paisa coins. Then time took over and these scraps of paper and metal were long forgotten. This generation’s faces show bewilderment when they hear my stories. I, too, will be the butt of all jokes, when children rummage through my ancient belongings and turn up their noses at the sight of my cassette tapes.

There is no use wanting and wishing for times past. We must move on and happily so. We must adapt. But some things should never change. This is a sad fact in this fast-moving world — its frightful pace. What should seem revolutionary is now just a matter of fact. Computers turned to laptops and now iPads. Where is the sharp intake of breath and overwhelming feeling of witnessing the extraordinary? Unfortunately it is lost in today’s insouciant time.

We must slow down. Our whole city is buzzing a little too much. We even rush to our yoga classes, cell phones placed beside us as we learn to relax. On the move, on the go! By choice, or by design? A little bit of both.

Time waits for no man, but let’s not try to out race it. Breathe. Be free from the domination of time. Ah, my dear city and its people, how I yearn for the gentleness of the past. People and places, both have transformed. Some for the better, some not, and some because they had no choice — or so they say.

Isn’t there always a choice? Indeed. But it takes courage to tussle with the flow directed at you and stand tall against the tide flowing towards you.

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