I travelled to Karachi last week for an imminent family wedding and the first thing that hits you when you come out of the Airport is the weather. While in Islamabad we are still softly moving towards summer and have not really packed away our shawls and stuff, Karachi is hot in every sense of the word! It could be the mausam, the dangers lurking around all corners, the killings or just the hot models on all leading billboards inviting you enticingly to buy their brand of lawn! The ordinary fabric for summer wear has so many designer names and brand ambassadors attached to it now that one has lost count. It has resulted in the urge to wear plain, pristine, print-less cotton, instead of buying anything from the numerous houses of lawn.
Anyway, mine was a morning flight from Islamabad at a time when there are many other flights taking off, more or less, together for various destinations. The Islamabad Airport is now hopelessly overcrowded and altogether too small to cope with the traffic that uses it. It could easily have passed for a railway station of yore, minus the coolies in red, or even a bus terminal minus the numerous vendors. Passengers are invariably squabbling with the staff about this or that issue and lord help you if you are not a fully able-bodied person. I overheard this amazing conversation between a check-in agent and a person getting a boarding pass for an older relative who was wheelchair-bound.
"The lady I’m getting this pass for cannot walk," said this man to the girl at the counter. "Oh, laiken thora sa tau chalna parey ga un ko," she replied without lifting her head! So much for being handicap friendly! My flight was delayed by half an hour so I had time to make a few more observations while waiting in the departure lounge. It is unfair I thought that while we are very accepting of male ground staff belonging to PIA as well as other private airlines being older, we tend to criticise the female ground staff in the same age group and place them in 'the redundant aunty' variety.
Despite the fact that travel by air becomes more and more prohibitive with every passing year with the increase in fares, somehow, the packed airlines and the rush for tickets seem to belie that fact. It is not just the well-heeled, who are doing all the travelling either. There is a good mix of all segments. There was a very big young man in a blue shalwar kameez, rubber slippers, a flowy black beard and a cap on his head with an incongruous Nike backpack. I did wonder what his interpretations of the Nike slogan “just do it” would be!
Then there were the two affable Pathan men, who sat in the row next to me with one of them talking loudly enough to be heard by just the whole plane for the entire two-hour journey. But conversation in loud Pushto is still so much better than having a small baby cry throughout a flight that is also a very common phenomenon about which both the parents of the baby as well as the cabin crew seem to have no solutions whatsoever!
Airports and their facilities are just so important to put you in the correct frame of mind for the journey you are undertaking. The new International Airport being built at Fateh Jung for Islamabad and which will become operational in 2014 is a much awaited happening. Despite a great many hurdles, the CAA has managed to move ahead on this front and in spite of its many detractors, stuck to its plans of building an airport to the highest standards for the capital. The ground breaking for the new airport was done in April 2007 and according to the given schedule at that time, it should have been operational this year.
From 2007 up to now, the usage of the existing airport has increased manifold and it appears ill equipped to cope with the demands on it already. It is, therefore, some sort of a comfort to know that there is a new international airport in the making and will be usable in the not too distant a future. It also gives lie to a quotable quote made by an Irish lady who came to work in Pakistan and, after a few months of interaction with Pakistanis, made this priceless statement, “forward planning is a tree that does not grow in Pakistan!”
In terms of governance, the last week has been a mix of news with none of it making it seem that we are going anywhere good. The murder of yet another Shia journalist in Karachi, the undying ephedrine scandal, the scary Bannu jailbreak and the icing on the cake - the new ministerial portfolio announcements. Ministries have been created where none existed at places. I find it difficult to comprehend the tasks of the Ministry for Climate Change (which is over and above that of Environment), Minister of National Regulations and Services (the only desperate national regulation required is on population), a Minister for Capital Administration and Development (just adding to the existing red tape) and on and on. The best news was that two Pakistanis responsible for positive contribution to their chosen professions were among the top 100 most influential people of the world, according to the Time magazine. They were Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy.
The writer is a public relations and event management professional based in Islamabad.