By Taha Siddiqui
On the road below, I could see a rioting crowd chanting anti-government slogans. The fire they had lit in the middle of the road was high enough to be seen for miles. I could smell burnt rubber, and wood. As I stood there looking at those shabbily dressed men and children, a small boy walked up to me and asked me what time it was?
It was 1 am, I told him. He began to count something on his hands. And a moment later he said to me, “Humaaray mohalle mein dus ghante se bijlee nahii hai…”
I had nothing to offer him. He turned his head around and saw some oncoming traffic. Without saying a word to me, he ran off along with others to pick up stones and rocks, and started pelting them at the cars, motorcycles, and trucks coming their way.
Many cars were hit. I could hear glass smashing, and then the front car braked, nearly hitting the one coming right behind it. Hurriedly, I saw all the vehicles turning around.
The protestors were ecstatic. They seemed to be rejoicing at successfully scaring away the oncoming traffic. I wondered why there were no police or signs telling people not to come on this road. After all, it was on an express way that had no exits up till the point where we stood. So the traffic police could have stopped the traffic at the entrance. And as I was wondering where the police was, I saw red and blue lights flashing in the distance.
It was a police mobile with sirens blaring loudly, and the crowd at first was taken aback…
But one of the elders shouted out loud, “Aaj hum nahi darein ge, maarna hai toh maardo..” and that seemed to energize the crowd and they began to charge towards the police mobile. In seconds, the police vehicle was surrounded by men and children slapping their hands, making loud thumping sound on its doors, windows, and the rest. The police seemed to have no choice but to react. Yet they fled from the scene.
By now some protestors had come to the road where I was standing and started putting barriers on it too… Some one brought an old rucksack, and kerosene. A match was lit, and just a few feet away from me, another road was torched.
The men and children seemed to be getting tired, even blocking this road for over 2 hours; they had not achieved anything. A teenager walked up to me and started talking to me. He told me how he had sick parents at home. He added, “… Hum har maheenay apna bijlee ka bill time par daitein hain, mera baap bemaar hai aur mein akelaa kamaane waala hoon, merii bardaasht khatam hoti ja rahii hai…”
I told him to do what he felt was the right thing to do. He replied, “…saab koii faayeda nahii… kaun danga fasaad chaahta hain, laikin iss ke alaawa haamare paas koii chaara bhee nahii…”
He pointed towards the other direction, and at some distant I saw some more people coming out on the road, and blocking it from another spot.
As we continued to talk about his tales of hardship, I heard a loud screeching of tires, followed by a crashing sound. I looked up and saw man rolling on the road. His bike sliding away to the other side. A speeding motorcyclist who had not seen the barriers had fallen.
He was bleeding from all over. Someone shouted, “Ambulance ko bulaao…”
I went closer and saw the man breathing heavily. He was in his mid twenties. And I could tell that with the blood he was losing, he needed to be at the hospital fast.
Someone shouted police, and pointed to an approaching police van and ran towards it.
Suddenly the crowd was not acting violent. A few of them carried the critically injured biker and put him in the police van, that sped away to a hospital.
This seemed to have put off the crowd, and some policemen who had gotten of the mobile that had just left walked up to the elders trying to assure them that their electricity will be restored soon. They had spoken to the authorities, the police claimed.
The elders went to a side and I followed them. I overheard them saying, “.. Humaarii waja se woh biker bhee gir gaya, chalo bhaaii aise ehtijaaj ka kya faaida.. jiss mein hum kisee aur kee zindagee se khelein.. ”
They were suddenly talking sense… And I saw them telling others to back off. But the young ones’ wouldnt listen. Lengthy negotiations went on with the police personnel and eventually it was decided that they will block the road partly. And sit on one side till electricity was restored.
They sat there for another 6 hours. The total black out was for more than 16 hours…
Welcome to Karachi, once known as the city of lights…