Phoon Phaan (Pomp & Grandeur)

Meeting Irshad Salim…after a gap of 45+ years

Habib Khan, Quetta: I have been linked to Karachi for the last fifty years and have lived a significant part of those fifty years in the city or its suburbs. Thereafter, I have been frequenting the place for the last seventeen years or so, and It would not be incorrect to say that I have had a love-hate relationship with the place, where something good has always been balanced by something equally bad, and vice versa.

So, when I landed in Karachi last Sunday, I headed straight as usual to the taxi company offices to register my name and hire a cab. However, I found all the kiosks deserted. As I stopped to peep into oneof the deserted one’s, a horde of drivers (or brokers) besieged me with the obvious question, “Which place?” When I insisted that I wanted a cab only from a registered company, they retorted sarcastically, “Keep searching then.” Finally, in one corner, I found a person inside an isolated kiosk who, by his facial expression, seemed surprised that I had managed to navigate through the crowd of drivers/broekrs to choose his company.

The driver appeared quite educated and experienced, mentioning something about taxes and bribes being the reasons for the closure of the companies. I didn’t fully understand, but I already had a negative experience and was looking forward to a positive encounter which I knew would follow soon, and it did happen that evening when I took a bus, which I was told was a recent addition to Karachi’s transportation system.

The overcrowded buses that I remember from 1974 were a nuisance, yet a blessing, being the only mode of transport, and had a lot of amusements too –in the form of interactions with the conductors or with the passengers. Being quite inexperienced in the beginning, I normally used to miss my stop of destination, as I couldn’t squeeze my way to the exit in time, so I used to stand next to the door despite the conductor’s continuous shout out of “Aage aage ho jao jawan!” (Move ahead young men!).

The impulsive interactions between and among the passengers used to be hilarious, and what may have been a normal conversation for Karachiites, had me often in uncontrollable bursts of laughter. The passengers, being first-hand migrants from Lucknow or Delhi, used a dense dialect of Urdu that was new to me too. Once, in a tightly packed bus, a frustrated voice exclaimed:

“Jumbish nahi ho rahi!” (No movement at all), and an answer came from the other end,
“Shukr karo, saans chal rahi hai!” (Be grateful you’re still breathing!).

Normally, complainers and moaners were advised to “chup bay” (keep quiet) or “taxi kar lo” (hire a taxi) quip.

In contrast, the bus I took last week was air-conditioned, with automated doors and a public address system, in which the driver was advising passengers very politely (no jokes), so much so that he stopped the bus for a lady (he called her “ladiss”) who had no intention of boarding the bus.

The comments from passengers were however, similarly hilarious, as one passenger was continuously answering questions from the on-boarders like “Will the bus go to XXXXX?” with “No, no Sir that place stinks; this bus goes only to rosy places.” I liked the ride, and as usual, a positive experience cancelled out the effect of the earlier negative experience, thus maintaining the love-hate balance.

My other notable and memorable experience was my meeting with my college-days friend Irshad Salim–after 45 years or so, and the discussions we had.

Irshad, who lives in Bahria Town (a suburb) had very kindly sent me a car and the driver “Dilshad” who arrived well in time to pick me and explained the geography of the area very meticulously to me, and to my utter surprise could pronounce correctly the original Balochi names of the places, and even knew the meaning of “Gudaap”.

I told him that he could very well qualify to becoming a tour guide once tourism (if ever) takes deep root in this country.

I joked with “Dilshad” (literally meaning “happy heart) that at least he is lucky to have a happy heart, as even Ghalib had complained that he had not been granted a happy heart:

دیا ہے دل وہ خدا نے مجھے کہ شاد نہیں

Dilshad’s expressions on his face changed, and he in a sorrowful voice exclaimed “it is just my name Sir, otherwise there is little difference between my heart and Ghalib’s heart.

The long sit-in with Irshad was an awesome experience, and we spent almost the whole day remembering the past with outbursts of laughter, and in-between I listened attentively to his responses and talking points –ranging from “deconstruct and reconstruct” and “controlled demolition”, and the “thirty year U-turn/plan”, and that “tribalism rules the world” as nationalism or sectarianism or supremacyism or any form of groupthink in fact, according to Irshad was, after all is said and done, -“tribalism.”

He added a new word into my vocabulary, “Pomp and Grandeur” –which had not been a part of the subcontinent history, and had only been added by the invading Turks and the British.

It was with a heavy heart that I left Irshad not knowing when or if there would be another meeting–I had little discussion with Dilshad on my way back, and reflecting on the word “pomp and grandeur”, I wondered if people may have tried to copy this word in Urdu, and finding the pronunciation a bit complicated, they finally agreed upon calling it “Phoon Phaan”.

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