I strongly suspect I shall be lynched for having such blasphemous thoughts about precipitation; thus I immediately amend my statement – I don’t hate rain, but I hate its side effects. Water is life, and it is the combination of water and sunlight that makes the world go round (contrary to popular beliefs about love or money). There’s no denying that human life is fundamentally affected by a drought, and we’ve seen how a lack of rain has led to enormous suffering and economic loss in Africa and here in Pakistan. The monsoon is probably more critical to our budget than any perceived threat from our east, and it’s our agricultural sector that has kept us afloat as a country. The monsoon also keeps our climate controlled and allows for temperature corrections when the mercury rises too high – it definitely helps make life tolerable. Ecosystem survival is dependent upon getting a certain level of precipitation, whether it’s the jungle or the local pond. Yes. Rain is not just important, it is necessary.
But I hate what it does. It’s just a personal dislike, something that has grown through the years, with seeds in my Arabian childhood. A previously mild dislike has blossomed into a dread over four years of Karachi barsaat woes. No lack of appreciation for what is undoubtedly a gift from Allah – it’s just that it’s a cloud for my mood, that’s all.
Twenty-four hours ago I started writing this post, and it is only now that I have been able to start typing it up. A Facebook status update before last night’s torrential burst asking the rain to go away was met by questions about my sanity and a virtual slap. What I’m writing now may yet direct more ill will towards me – but I have my reasons for hating rain’s side effects.
I hate the grey, dead, overcast skies that accompany rain.
I hate how the world seems to lose color and storm grey becomes the de facto shade.
I hate the mud and dirt that clings to everyone and everything.
My definition of good weather has always been a shining sun, blue skies, and a breeze. Sunlight has always been my preferred form of illumination – whether I’m reading, playing a sport, or taking photos, clear golden rays have always lit up my world and mood. They brought out the bright green life in the plants, the warmth in someone’s eyes, the sparkle in water, the shine in objects animate and inanimate. They also helped keep my surroundings dry and clean. I was born and bred in the desert, a place defined by lack of rain, and a lack of water was something that I just got accustomed to, despite living on the coast, a ten-minute walk to the Corniche. It was dry, and usually hot. Heat that rose from the ground and baked everything around me, the ground so hot you could literally fry an egg on it. Sunlight so strong your eyes hurt – searing, fierce sunlight that burnt down on us like it had a point to prove. After 17 summers in 45 degrees Celsius, your body learns how to handle it. An adaptation one is forced to make, really.
I hate the overflowing gutters and floating excrement from all kinds of living things.
I hate flooded roads, cars stuck in insane traffic jams, vehicles breaking down left, right, and center.
I hate the falling electricity wires, the malfunctioning machinery, and the power supply going AWOL.
Now, that’s largely down to our infrastructural shortcomings – our power deficit is over 3000 megawatts as it is and despite the best efforts of the City District Government, the drains on all but the biggest roads still cannot handle the monsoon. A few millimeters of baarish is usually enough to cause driver distress, and yesterday Karachi got over 200 mm, with 55mm splashing the streets in that insanely soaked hour from 10 to 11pm. It was a record – Karachi hasn’t received 7 inches of rain within 24 hours since 1979.
The number of casualties may well be a record too – at least 28 people have died and over a 100 injured by falling rooftops and live wires. Entire families gone. One particularly gripping story is that of the family in Ramswami, Ranchor Lines. Badar, father, Rani, mother, and their children Rehman (5 years old) and Rudaba (7) were fatally injured when the sixth floor of their building collapsed. What is most chilling is that the eldest son, Mohsin, survived. He is ten years old. A ten year old child robbed of his entire family…the tragedy is too great to ignore. Two other families succumbed, both in Orangi Town. Many homes in the low lying areas of Nursery, PECHS, Defence, and Clifton have been ‘floating’ since last night. A friend’s home was so flooded it ruined all the furniture on the ground floor. In the light of day, the cold reality of rain sinks in – we may love the cooler temperature, but it comes at a price.
I hate how life comes to a standstill when it rains.
There’s no point in denying it. Flights were cancelled, trains stalled, and everyone unfortunate to be caught on the road spent the better part of the night there. Thousands of books were destroyed at Urdu Bazaar. Those taking summer classes got a day off, markets closed around the city, and entertainment spots around the city were deserted. It’s not a choice we make – it’s just not possible for life to continue normally in Karachi when it rains like it did yesterday. Perhaps that is what I dread the most – my enmity against rain stems from not being able to play soccer or cricket outside (and no, I don’t enjoy mud on my clothes and water squelching in my shoes).
No point in calling it an excuse or saying ‘it doesn’t happen in developed countries’. They have problems handling thunderstorms too. The monsoons hit hard whenever they visit each year, and the truth is that to cope with them, cities in the subcontinent need a level of infrastructural development even higher than those in the West. London may experience rain 300 days of the year, but it is rarely as powerful and heavy as that which Karachi experienced last night.
It’s a short film festival all year long there – but here you get just a few summer blockbusters, full of special effects. I woke up yesterday morning to half an hour of sustained, monstrous thunder, as Karachi’s army of clouds hinted at the pent up fury within. The rain paraded until the evening, with deceptive drizzling on and off – harmless arrows of water gathering in puddles, wannabe lakes. Then came the cavalry and heavy artillery, with a deluge of shells cannoning down incessantly, a spectacular barrage lit up by lightning crackling well past midnight. As the city dissolved into dark, flashes of electricity illuminated scores of weary travelers and people at home, all waiting for the assault to end.
But it’s just begun.