KARACHI – Last weekend Karachi-ites heaved a sigh of relief as they experienced their first onslaught of the monsoon rain in all its forms – from drizzles to scattered isolated showers to heavy downpour. The deluge also brought Karachi to a virtual standstill.
As I saw my first rainfall in this city of over 12 million inhabitants, it finally dawned on me as to why my husband, who never turns down even my most ludicrous and itty-bitty requests, poured cold water on my enthusiasm when I had once jokingly suggested that when – and IF – it rains, we should go for a long drive. With a face any poker player would be proud of, he looked me straight in the eye and sarcastically remarked: This is not Islamabad.
I feel somewhat nostalgic about the monsoons in Islamabad. There is something quite inexplicably exhilarating about the monsoons there. The pattering of the rain, the sometimes soft and sometimes fierce rumbling of the distant thunder, and the crackling of the lightening – all have a unique charm that is quite inexplicable.
It is really quite a treat to watch the monsoon build up in Islamabad. The clouds puff and billow as though choreographed in an exotic ritual. The breeze turns into a whirlwind. The colors of the sky change with every passing second. And then there is the beautiful interplay of clouds rolling over the Margallah Hills. Sometimes the clouds come so low that they cover the hills and as they rise, their intermingled colors just leave one breathless.
Here in Karachi, as dark clouds were hovering over the city since the last couple of days, the usual thrill that gets the adrenaline pumping while waiting for the first of the rain drops was missing. The dark clouds just opened and at first it was just a drizzle, as if a sprinkler had been turned on in a garden. Gradually it increased in intensity and there were reports of scattered showers coming from different areas of the metropolis. Eventually it started to rain cats and dogs.
Karachi has been facing a somewhat drought-like situation as rains have been far and few between over the last almost two decades. The rain over the weekend and the following four days was, therefore, much needed. Besides, the sultry weather of the past couple of months was becoming quite unbearable and taxing.
“This is not Islamabad” kept on pounding in my ears as the rain kept on falling relentlessly. True, Karachi is not Islamabad. Not by a long shot. On July 23, 2001 Islamabad was lashed with a record breaking 620-mm rainfall, which was the 24 hours heaviest rainfall at any locality in Pakistan during the past 100 years. The next day, though it continued to rain, hardly any water had accumulated on the roads. And it was quite pleasant to go out for a long drive.
For three consecutive days 94.3mm rain was recorded and Karachi, the teeming commercial heart of Pakistan as well as a major port on the Arabian Sea, was brought to virtual standstill. The communication network of the city collapsed.
Heavy rains inundated almost all the roads. At places the water was almost waist-high and traffic was completely paralyzed. Most of the choked drains and gutters started oozing sewage, adding to the commuters’ woes. The potholes turned into craters.
One thing which never failed to impress me in Karachi is the cool nerves of the motorists. Even in normal circumstances they always give the other driver, even if he is in the wrong, the right of way. In other cities, especially Islamabad, there would be endless hooting of the horns, cursing and screaming. No such thing prevails here - even if it means that the traffic moves at snail speed.
Traffic did move at snail speed as many a car stalled on different roads, making it difficult to push start due to the knee-deep water. At many places cars skidded into the open drains, footpaths and the road dividers had become invisible. It was certainly not an ideal situation to go for a long drive to enjoy the pleasant weather.
Many low-lying localities and areas turned into marshland as there is no arrangement to flush the rain water. Most of the affected families were found busy flushing out sewage and rainwater from their homes. And the ladies were seen muttering prayers for the rain to abate.
Various parts of the city are being supplied with turbid water. Besides, supply has been disrupted in many localities. Sewage mixed with rainwater entered houses and seeped into the underground water tanks making it unfit for human consumption.
The intermittent rain damaged the communication network as telephone, fax and internet connections were not working. This is not all. The power supply was also disrupted and many localities are still without electricity.
Doing laundry during the rain was an arduous task. Where to hang the laundry to dry when there was a lull in the rain? My husband ironically remarked that the power lines are a good place as there is no power hence, the fear of being electrocuted is ruled out. How true! The Karachi electricity supply corporation has done a great service. The statistics for electricity related deaths are minimal this year as there is no power being supplied.
The rain has finally abated – although the weather pundits are predicting more rainfall in the near future – leaving behind heaps of garbage, slush filled broken roads, choked gutters and drains. Karachi-ites can brace themselves to suffer the inefficiency and lethargy of the district government as it will certainly take weeks to clear up the mess left by the rains. And my husband can also relax; there is no way I am ever going to suggest going for a long drive when it rains again!