Raiya is an engineer by profession and a writer by passion. Her friends keep telling her that she has this habit of randomly drifting off into space when her eyes lock upon a particular object, her ears tune out and she becomes oblivious to her surroundings. What she doesn't tell them (for fear of ridicule) is that this is actually the time when she is concocting a poem, structuring her next article or coming up with the plot of her next story. She was a columnist for the youth supplement of Saudi Gazette and her work has been featured in SAMAR magazine and on Chowk.com. A winner of Oxford University Short Story Competition 2012, she lives in Karachi and works for the aviation industry.
Oh you good for nothing dwellers of Defence. Yes, you! You effeminate man in a checked dress shirt with the sleeves folded up to your elbows. You shameless girl in the ballooning kurta with your uncovered head. You pretty slut in your chooridar jeans and sleeveless shirt.
You all think you own this land, don’t you?
All these Khayaban-e-somethings, with their wide roads and the houses, each one as big as 20 shacks of my mohalla, each more expensive than all the money I will ever earn in my life. It’s too bad that ensconced inside your air-conditioned bungalows, with the drapes drawn, you cannot enjoy this breezy part of Karachi, where the evenings are fresh and the morning mild. But you still think you own this land, don’t you?
You thought you could raise the price of everything and create a separate world for yourself where you wouldn’t come across me.
But you failed, you see. I cannot enter your luxurious mall or the expensive restaurants or that cinema teeming with celebrities but there is one thing on which you cannot put a ticket. One thing that you cannot limit to yourself.
That is why when it rains, I take out my Qingqi, gather my best friends Azam, the kulfi wala, Shakoor, the mechanic, and the watchman Fareed and we all head out.
A new life comes into my baby when, all of a sudden, it is driven over smooth roads instead of the usual potholes. It bobbles up and down over the carefully constructed speed breakers and I can feel its enthusiasm as it speeds from its native dirty roads into a new vista. The best part is when I charge alongside your imported car, shirtless on my Qingqi, my friends shouting Sheila ki Jawani at the top of their lungs, and our eyes meet. You, sitting smugly inside that air-conditioned car, wrinkle your nose and roll your eyes but, as the raindrops touch my bare skin and the wind plays with my hair, I feel sorry for you. You can only see the raindrops through a glass window; it is I who have the privilege to feel them. God is kind.
Not every rain is the same though; sometimes when my friends are busy, I hire a “picnic and party” van and enjoy with my family. I pack whatever salan ammi has cooked (usually it’s aloo gobi) inside the hotpot and my family sits inside the Ravi, all twelve of us. The hood covering the back of the Ravi (in the mornings my younger brother uses the car to pick and drop children from school) is removed to give the passengers a complete view of the rain. When the Ravi is not available, I borrow the Bolan from my neighbor but it isn’t the same without the open view offered by the hoodless Ravi. Usually the weather is so good that all these cars are booked but that doesn’t deter us. I take Majeed bhai’s taxi and go out, the children sit inside the boot. I ask Reshma to wear her Eid dress and shiny, dangling earrings. She looks really pretty in red with red lipstick on her lips.
It’s good to see how it disturbs you when your wide roads suddenly turn into a mini replica of our dingy neighborhood. Crammed with red and blue Ravis, Bolans and Mehrans. It’s good to see the annoyance in your demeanor when across the sleek window of your Fortuner, you see a tanned brown woman with a fake golden nose pin sitting on a bike, her head wrapped in a dupatta.
But today you cannot do anything because the weather is playing music and we have come out to dance. There is noise in your otherwise peaceful serene existence. There are men dressed in underwear driving, running, dancing in your sophisticated, pruned neighborhood. There are women in cheap lawn replicas and glittery abayas standing in your immaculate area. The smell of gobis, toris overpowers your perfumed air.
There is no entertainment for you today. The road to your grand mall and the pricey cinema is flooded with Qinqis and Hero Hondas and you wouldn’t dare step out in the middle of this mayhem with your imported expensive cars and mobile phones. Tonight, it’s our turf, it’s raining and we have invaded your area because mall or cinema or restaurants, there is one thing that is always free and today the sea belongs to us.