By: Rafique Ali
Karachi was my city, and then in another life, the fantasy of green pastures made the city a distant memory for a long time. Eventually, thaw defrosted and visits resumed, upon one such visit eight months ago during holidays, I experienced something called Super Sawari Express.
Teenage members of my own and extended family accompanied me this time, however, they never set foot in the city or the country before. Being a quasi-tour guide my job was to introduce them to the city, its people, the history, culture, food etc. A relative advised “SUPER SAWARI EXPRESS”, a city tour bus service. Some young people replicated what tour operators of New York, Chicago, London, Shanghai, Tokyo etc do. I think these smart business savvy kids did it with least investment. They find their niche to cater certain type of consumers, viz. expat Pakistanis, Burgers of Karachi and real foreigners once in a while.
In Karachi, Burgers refer to residents who rarely set foot on economically struggling or less sophisticated parts of the city; except out of necessity. Metaphorically called ‘Pul kay Is Par’ or ‘Pul kay Us Paar’, Pul (the bridge) is Clifton Bridge. And those who innovated a spoken hybrid of English and Urdu, if they have to speak Urdu with somebody who doesn’t understand hybrid then they use an alien Urdu accent.
Considering the density of traffic during weekdays including Saturdays, Super Sawari is once a week an early Sunday morning service. At 8 a.m., colorful mini buses (relatively new, daily commuting mini buses are rented by Super Sawari team for a half day) pick you from street beside Old Metropole Hotel and Karachi Gymkhana; and move like a caravan. One can either sit inside or on the rooftop, to experience the ride just like daily commuters. Besides driver from transportation service, sharply dressed young representative (both male & female) from Super Sawari team accompany us in each bus.
First stop was Free Mason Lodge built during the British era, now in the use of Sindh Government. Then we drove through Sindh High Court and a roundabout called Kabootar (Pigeon) Chowk. Our next stop was deserted Saddar Markets, where you can’t walk without bumping into somebody during weekdays. In Saddar we get off beside historic Bohri Bazaar,
walked around and then strolled towards Zaibunssa (Elphiston) Street, passing through Parsi Temple and Century Old Kutchi Memon Mosque built side by side. Then we stopped beside M. Jalaluddin & Bros (historic men suiting store), there I took pictures of two traffic policemen. Buses then took us to Empress Market, originally built to cater needs of British era Civil and Military personnel. Some did shopping some just walked through to experience a journey of time. It was around 10 am and we were hungry, time for breakfast at an Iranian restaurant of Omelet, Paratha & Chai, all part of the package. It goes without saying that the chai was “Doodh Patti”.
After breakfast, the team drove us to Flag Staff House, the resident of Jinnah Saheb (one of the founding father of Pakistan, as Nehru & Sardar Patel also helped in creation Pakistan but that’s a different discussion, wink wink). Next stop was St. Patrick Church and School; there is something about Victoria era construction; the arches, stairs, high ceiling and how the lights travel inside are all mesmerizing. Tour concluded at around 1 Pm by Pakistan Chowk where struggling artists were making paintings.
One small economic activity has a potential of creating benefit for many side vendors; like what one Kiryana (grocery) store owner at Express Market told me how he appreciates these tour people coming every Sunday, buying stuff from his store.
If Super Sawari is compared with international cities bus tour standards then it’s easy to poke flaws, so I won’t do that. Millions of Karachites ‘AREn’t SONS OF SOIL’, hence they developed an attitude of glass is half full; so let’s follow that approach. Many thanks to the Super Sawari team for doing this, I wish you guys make a lot of money but please don’t forget to reinvest some earnings back into the game. Raising the bar is good for business.
Karachi is and will always be my city.
Writer can be contacted or followed on twitter at @GoToMtns