Karachiites are notorious for their apathy, their bayhissi. News of bomb blasts and killings and crime stirs no emotion in us anymore. Some laud our resilience. But honestly, it’s more out of resignation. Our need to get on with our lives. For what else can we do anyway? Do we really have a choice?
Even the most horrifying of incidents doesn’t seem to shock us anymore. That is, until it hits close to home. Until someone we know is affected by it, we barely give it a thought. But then this is only natural, given the cocoons we have reduced our lives to.
I was shaken out of my bayhissi too recently. A minor annoyance for me over the past month turned out to be the face of a much bigger tragedy.
I wanted peanuts. Every night on my way back from work, I would take a detour to the place where the peanut-seller used to stand for the past three winters. But he just wasn’t setting up stall anymore. I would get sorely disappointed every day and I wondered why he had given up on this spot. It didn’t even occur to me that he might be sick or something. I wanted peanuts, dammit, and I wasn’t getting any. In fact, there suddenly seemed to be no peanut-sellers in the entire 15 minute radius of my house. Had winter ended early this year? But if so, why did I still need to wear a shawl in the chilly evenings?
The maasi mentioned it in a very by-the-way manner one morning. The peanut-seller had been shot dead by bhattay-walay.
My mother then mentioned a similar incident about how the sabziwala who used to come to our lane had met a similar fate a few months ago.
The maasi went on to tell us her own story. Her husband and his brother set up a chaaray ka stall on Eid-ul-Adha every year. They are forced to pay bhatta to anybody and everybody who asks, belongs to some political party and wields a gun. She told us how extortionists had taken her brother-in-law’s entire day’s earnings this Eid. Then there are some people come in big cars, beat them up and take the chaara for free, thereby saving less than a hundred rupees for themselves. Huge gains to be made there obviously.
I was shocked. I had always heard these extortion stories about big shops and factories. But I had never imagined that the poor rehri-walas are victims too. These are people who I don’t have the heart to bargain with and I knowingly let them rip me off. Because that small amount of money they are making off me means a whole lot to them.
How can even the cruelest person rob the poor? What kind of animals must they be? And for what? They kill them over a couple of thousand rupees, probably less. What are they getting out of it anyway? The husband says they kill one person to make an example out of them, so that the rest quietly pay up. But even then. How can anyone be so, so inhuman?
کیسے درندوں کی قوم ہے یہ آخر ؟
This bestiality goes unnoticed by our mainstream media. There’s no one making a noise about it, setting up Facebook pages demanding justice or running Twitter campaigns to spread awareness about it. Because the people involved aren’t high profile, aren’t sons of influential people or in any way famous. They are just poor people who no one notices anyway. So who would notice their absence?
I know I run the risk of sounding like those conspiracy theorists who say “Why so concerned about Malala? Why not other girls who are drone victims?” But every time I now pass that empty spot where the peanut-seller used to stand, I am reminded of the atrocity. I want justice for all these people who no one seems to be talking about. While I feel disgusted by the beasts who call the shots in this city, I also feel helpless, and in some way complicit in this crime. Is my silence a crime? But what can I do about the state of things? IS there something I can do?
Or do I just watch in silence from my front row seat at this horror show of a city?