Paranoid Android

This happened last evening: I’m standing outside office on the dark lonely but traffucked street that runs by Alliance Francaise, trying to hail an auto. I see a guy in a white maruti 800, yawning and at the same time, driving towards the pavement. Everyone has had a long day, I think to myself. 

Next minute I see the car next to me. There’s a bearded guy in a black tee waving frantically asking me to get in. WTF. My god, the guy’s grinning AND waving. *blink blink* WTF. It’s strange the ways your brains has all these thoughts buzzing around for that fraction of a second: I could get a lift till the signal. OMG, what am I thinking. That guy could be a rapist. Why is he so persistent.

Then it strikes me. That’s my friend, Nakul. Absolute horror to serendipity in 30 seconds. 


Standing on that stretch of the road always leaves me afraid, vulnerable and defensive. I don’t want to stand too close to the edge of the pavement while I’m hailing a rickshaw because I don’t want a guy on a bike to grab my boobs or mow me down while he attempts to beat the traffic by driving ON the pavement. I shouldn’t be distracted by my phone while I hold my bags close so that nobody has easy access to my body parts. And god forbid, somebody tries grabbing the phone while I’m busy ensuring I stay aloof and my body, defensible.

Nakul makes for a good anti-climax, a friend remarked.

Yup, that. I don’t like being on my guard all the time. I don’t want to think the worst of every man who passes by. It also makes me very angry- when these very real fears are dismissed as paranoia, the workings of an overactive imagination, when good intentions are almost always overshadowed by the what-if. On my worst days, I wish upon them nothing more than what I go through: why must I alone be full of fear, be up for grabs every time I’m out in public. Y'know, I just want to hail an auto-rickshaw and go home. Why must something as mundane as that be so hard, so agonizing?

Fatima Bhutto on falling in love with Karachi


Karachi is a city of 16 million people. Or 18 million. Or 21 million. No one is really sure.

It is a monster city, a mega city.

Until 1960, it was Pakistan’s capital – the landing point for millions of refugees who moved with the fractured tide of Partition in 1947 and brought their families and their language, Urdu, to the erstwhile twin city of the Bombay Presidency. Exploding with refugees, within five years of Partition, it went from a coastal fishing town of around 4,00,000 citizens to a city with more than a million people.

Karachi is a city of migrants; those who have sought refuge in the city of lights include Parsis, Bene Israel Jews, Anglo Indian Presbyterians and many more, some of who have since fled and some who remain.

It is a city that exists in the unfolding of its shadows, beneath the smoky haze of food vendors pushing tin carts of food, bun kebabs made with spicy minced meat with stray feathers caught between the sticky patty and bun.

It exists in the buses painted in wild fluorescents and piled high with travellers who hang off the doors and windows. In these, you see a parting in the seating – a separate section for women, built like a cage, cordoned off from the rest of the bus by steel and metal.

When there is electricity, Karachi glimmers: there are the green lights of the mosques, the pink, blue and yellow fairy lights that adorn the beloved Sufi shrines, the impatient red of traffic lights that cannot hem in the crush of motorcycles and rickshaws, the naked bulbs that light the dark unpaved paths of the city’s bazaars.

Otherwise, when there is no light, when the city is enveloped in now-standard 12-hour power cuts, Karachi hums in darkness.

Three years ago, I was supposed to be writing a book about this city – my home for the last 20 years. By the autumn of 2010, I began to spend my time in archival libraries and museums and interviewing a motley crew of Karachiites – from the scientologists who have infiltrated the city’s jails (who, understandably, don’t like to be known as scientologists, so they hide behind the cover of a health NGO curiously led by the principles of L Ron Hubbard) to South Korean evangelicals, urban planners and transgender rights activists.

But it wasn’t the right book for me. As I isolated myself, I lost feeling for the idea of documenting my renegade city. I spent my mornings in the company of a book that tore at my heart. It was not the city I grew up in, it was not the city I loved from my father’s tales.

It is a different place now. Like with love, when you know, you know. And I knew I had fallen out of love with Karachi.

But long before the idea of chronicling a lost city was born, I had started writing a novel,The Shadow Of The Crescent Moon.

Haruki Murakami talks about being Japanese, the idea of mujo

I think that being Japanese means living with natural disasters. From summer to autumn, typhoons pass through much of Japan. Every year they cause extensive damage, and many lives are lost. There are many active volcanoes in every region. And of course, there are many earthquakes. Japan sits precariously on the four tectonic plates at the eastern extremity of the Asian continent. It is as if we are living on a very nest of earthquakes.

We can predict the timing and route of typhoons to a greater or lesser extent, but we can’t predict when and where an earthquake will occur. All that we do know is that this was not the last great earthquake, and that another will surely happen in the near future. Many specialists predict that a magnitude 8 earthquake will strike the Tokyo area within the next twenty or thirty years. It may happen in ten years time, or it may strike tomorrow afternoon. No one can predict with any certitude the extent of the damage that would follow if an inland earthquake were to strike such a densely populated city as Tokyo.

Despite this fact, there are 13 million people living “ordinary” lives in the Tokyo area alone. They take crowded commuter trains to go to their offices, and they work in skyscrapers. Even after this earthquake, I haven’t heard that the population of Tokyo is on the decline.

Why? You might ask. How can so many people go about their daily lives in such a terrible place? Don’t they go out of their minds with fear?

In Japanese, we have the word “mujō (無常)”. It means that everything is ephemeral. Everything born into this world changes, and will ultimately disappear. There is nothing that can be considered eternal or immutable. This view of the world was derived from Buddhism, but the idea of “mujo” was burned into the spirit of Japanese people beyond the strictly religious context, taking root in the common ethnic consciousness from ancient times.

The idea that all things are transient is an expression of resignation. We believe that it serves no purpose to go against nature. On the contrary, Japanese people have found positive expressions of beauty in this resignation.

If we think about nature, for example, we cherish the cherry blossoms of spring, the fireflies of summer and the red leaves of autumn. For us, it is natural to observe them passionately, collectively and as a tradition.  It can be difficult to find a hotel room near the best known sites of cherry blossoms, fireflies and red leaves in their respective seasons, as such places are invariably milling with visitors.

Why is this so?

The answer may be found in the fact that cherry blossoms, fireflies and red leaves all lose their beauty within a very short space of time. We travel from afar to witness this glorious moment. And we are somehow relieved to confirm that they are not merely beautiful, but are already beginning to fall to the ground, to lose their small lights or their vivid beauty. We find peace of mind in the fact that the peak of beauty has been reached and is already starting to fade.