Sometimes you are angry because you do not have the cushy life others have. That is how I felt traveling on Bus number 36 to the Medical College, while one of my brothers drove the family car to Karachi University. Bus number 36 was an old rickety, plain blue city bus with no decor on it.

It traveled at snails pace and stopped to pick up what seemed like, every human being by the roadside.

There are two memorable stops for me on the route of Bus # 36. The Dow Medical College and Khalaji’s home at the Quaid’s Mazaar. Over time bus number 36 became a study of humanity and a vignette of life’s diversity in the hour and half that I spent each way with my fellow passengers.

For some reason my mother felt that if I took the bus to the medical school, I would be safer than if I rode alone in a cab or in a rickshaw. Sending me out alone in one of these conveyances amongst nine million people was a source of anxiety for her.

Of course she had no idea of what happened in the bus or if she did she was well bred enough not to mention it. She was right about the safety part, but being that close to humanity in all forms for that much time was a challenge.

Early morning shortly after sunrise, if I walked two blocks, stood at the bus stop under the neem tree in PECHS, and got on Bus number 36 to the Medical College, I would make it in time to the first class. If I dawdled over breakfast and was a few minutes late, I could either not get on or was squeezed between women.

Some in burqa with the lower part of their faces covered with a thin veil, their eyes hooded with dark glasses, mysterious in their facelessness

The other occupants of the bus were usually Sindhi women laborers, wiry strong and with gorgeous skin, wearing bright colored well-fitted blouses with low necklines, skirts up to their ankles and a bright dupatta covering their heads but not their bosoms. To my young eyes coming from a protected environment, they were much too seductively dressed for the society I lived in.

On one of my bus rides, a burqa clad woman on observing my distaste at the scantiness of the laborers dress said softly “Aap mind na karain, yay to jahil loog hain”. I was touched and surprised at the empathy and understanding of the burqa clad woman for her less fortunate sisters, even though they were worlds apart.

Thus I was exposed to diversity very early on. My parents frowned if I was critical of my bus mates in any manner. My father called it “building character” and my mother just thought it was distasteful to criticize people because they were not well off or not educated to know better.

The buses had a women’s compartment, with a front entrance, which comprised of ten to fifteen seats and the men’s section had about thirty seats and a back entrance. There was a small opening between the two for one human being to pass through, usually used by the bus conductor to sell tickets to both sides.

I always wanted to swing from the outside handle of the bus as the air was cool in the mornings and the sweat inside the bus was sometimes overwhelming; But of course that was unthinkable for a seventeen year old girl dressed in a white coat, obviously going to the medical college to do so.

No one gave any special treatment to us medical students on the bus except the driver; he was always deferential and yelled at the other women to let us sit, which of course they ignored.

I did not know why my mother “babied” one brother of mine who was apparently bright, intelligent, good-looking and was always fashionably dressed. I could never fathom why she would give him the car to go to Karachi University when he could easily ride the relatively luxurious University bus. It was much later that I realized his limitations, which my mother was shielding from the world by giving him special treatment.

As a mother who has lost her son, I now understand when Allah SWT says in the Quran that he will test us with everything we desire including our children………”
I know now that it is not only in reference to myself but to my mother and Khalaji. My brother turned out to be the “test” for my parents in every way and then for us siblings before and after their death and remains as such.

Having been sensitized to the ayah……..I look around me and find that in almost every family there is one child that is a test for his or her parents and siblings. I guess it is Allah SWTs way of keeping us humble. If He (SWT) give us all the worldly goods and lovely beautiful children, He (SWT) gives us one that may be blighted in some form or manner which may or may not be obvious to the naked eye……..to remind us that He, Allah SWT makes all that is perfect and all that is imperfect.

As such we must accept Allah’s creatures as they are, no matter if they fit in with our scheme of life or not, without giving them license to destroy our God given rights.

My second and most favorite stop on the route of Bus number 36 was the Quaid’s Mazaar (picture above).

I usually went there to visit Khalaji in the chaperonage of my eldest brother. I was only ten years of age, when I started riding the bus to the Quaid’s mazaar. The joy of visiting Khalaji overcame any discomfort or insecurity I felt riding the bus.

We almost always went to Khalajis at Asr and returned at Maghrib. My mother’s strict instructions were that no matter where we were, we had to be home for Maghrib. A good rule to follow as it keeps us away from a lot of stress inducing situations, and unites the family after spending the day with others.

On returning from Khalaji’s house, getting on the bus on the women’s side was easy at Maghrib as it was not as crowded, but the men’s side was always full of men going home from work or going visiting.

After getting in the womens entrance of the bus, I was never sure if my eldest brother who accompanied me to Khalajis, got on or not. I learned to live with this insecurity, developing self reliance in case I had to find my way home by myself after getting off the bus.

However, that never happened as he (my eldest brother) always managed to hang on the bus handle even when it was full, and meet me at our destination walking me home. Both of us filled with a sense of shared adventure.

When going to Khalaji’s after Asr, we would get off at the Quaid’s mazaar and walk to the inner roads into the area of the yellow brick mansions………….these were buildings from the British era, made of sandstone, silent sentinels to the colonial era in this harbor town. Old shady trees lining the wide well paved streets.

As you entered these streets, the hustle and bustle of traffic muted, life and its tribulations slowed down, stress receded and the golden hours between Asr and Maghrib would embrace us. We would reach the house where Khalaji lived, walk up to the first floor and knock on the door. As the door would open the cool interior along with Khalaji and her beautiful daughter J would welcome us.

I have often wondered what was it about Khalaji’s house that was so special.
I know now that it was the love and affection that she and J showered on me and my family, but in addition I now also know having been to other homes like hers, it was the spirituality of her home that embraced me along with her love.

Her home was a silent witness to all her salaats which she did regularly and the copious reading of the Quran that she did as a daily habit. The walls held in them all those fard and nafil prayers and absorbed her pleas to her Maker. Angels stood guard at each portal bringing in the spirituality and leaving out the nafs.

Such homes………when you enter them envelop you with solace, peace and sakeena………and hers was one of those blessed homes.

I realize now that she too was being tested …..with one of her four children. A son who had gone to the USA in the fifities and his letters had tapered off………to complete silence; there was no Internet, no easy phone calls and no address.

Often I sensed sadness in her eyes and would ask her about him. She would just shake her head and refer it to Allah (SWT). She never complained, cursed, ranted or raved, and never said anything negative about his absence or silence in my presence.

Her absent and silent son was her test and trial as long as she lived. My son is dead and I have closure, I know he is in a better place than this world……….but she lived all these years, never knowing how and where was her son.

Yet on seeing me she would have a twinkle in her hazel eyes as she would continue to bless me and give me duas though I felt I had done little to deserve them.

She died a few years ago without ever seeing her son or hearing from him. He seemed to have been swallowed in the USA. May Allah grant her the best place in Jannat al Firdous and give her ajr for her interminable sabr and patience. May Allah bless her daughter J for caring for her and remaining with her through all the trials and tribulations of her life.

I learned so much from my bus experience, about life, diversity, the disparity between the belief and practice of religion, the innate goodness and chivalry of pious but poor Pakistani men versus those away from deen.

I also witnessed the unspoken sisterhood of islam in my bus mates that crossed all barriers of ethnicity.

I will always remember the drivers of the bus who respected women striving towards higher education, and tried to give us special treatment. May Allah bless them for at least trying to give the medical students a special place in their bus.

Bus number 36: I got on it resentfully, and got off with so much gratitude to Allah SWT.

This post dedicated to Khalaji, her beautiful and graceful daughter J and my eldest brother who still looks at life as an adventure.

Do you have a bus number 36 like experience in your life?

Pictures courtesy of:http://www.flickr.com/photos/rajaislam/ and BS

12 thoughts on “KARACHI BUS NUMBER 36

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  3. Asalaamoalaikum Hoorie,
    You have excellent communication skills. I as a parent understand when the dysfunction of a child is attributed to nature or nurture and part of the “intergenerational drama”
    That is the current basis of Psychiatry and Neurology that we are taught with for our finite intellect and understanding.
    My understanding is that in the larger scheme of things, people who are “perfect” and those who are “imperfect” are thrown together to test the compassion of the perfect. How the “perfect” behave with the “imperfect” depends on their level of “God consciousness” and belief in “Accountability” on the Day of Judgement which is a major behavior modulator in human beings.
    This is where spirituality comes in………..when all avenues of treatment, therapy medicine come to a dead end, what happens to that family depends on their level of faith and spirituality in the Almighty which helps them bear this imperfection or loss . Lack of a deep understanding of faith and the Day of judgment in the family forces them to look elsewhere for reasons to lay blame and allows them to take things in their own hands and vent it by “taking it out on someone else”

    I agree with you that perhaps spirituality does not protect families from dysfunction, but allows them to accept their dysfunction and live without significantly hurting each other. Being acutely “God conscious” has a lot to do with how people behave. When they are answerable to their Creator and will be accountable on the Day of Judgment, it truly changes behavior. It is also very easy to forget these two things that are the grease of a harmonious society.

    I completely agree with you that we need to start the cleansing process with our ownselves.

    In my opinion if we seek help from the Divine word (The Quran), not for miraculous cures but assistance in self recognition and hopefully self behavior modification, we can tread the middle path instead of weaving with the momentary wims of society.

    A major challenge for all of us!

    Allah knows best.


  4. You know, my communication skills must be very poor because not once have I mentioned anything about blame. I really don’t like having words put in my mouth (probably why I don’t usually leave comments on blogs). There is no blame or fault in anything I mentioned– we are all part of an intergenerational drama, and we do the best we can with the little self and other-awareness most people possess. Parents, with few exceptions, do the best they can, but their own unconscious isues and losses from their families of origin are passed onto their own children, and so on. There is no blame at all, but people spend more time researching their own car than they do their ability to be a good parent… if you think that spirituality protects families from dysfunction, you are wrong.

    Also, it is best to look at one’s own house and start from there. We all need a lot of glass polish.


  5. Asalaamoalaikum!
    OJ, sometimes our parents too, need us to become their cushions.I had not thought of this perspective, a young and fresh one, thanks!

    Br Anis, I have been told never to look back and regret, look back only to learn from our mistakes and treasure good memories.
    I don’t regret leaving Pakistan, life was always an adventure for me, and trying my hand at immigration was part of that adventure.
    The moving finger writes and having writ moves on…..

    Burj…..I am glad you are alive, to tell, I remember Asif’s motorbike days, quite a change from now.

    Hoorie…..You have made an excellent medical assessment of what happens many times. What is difficult to understand if you grow up in a non muslim society is that you cant always lay the blame of a dysfunction on someone……….which is what this litigenous society is all about………Sometimes life happens, and no one can be blamed for it.
    Out of the blue, things happen………..sometimes the shock of the happening nudges or alerts one to look at oneself and where he or she is headed. If one plays the blame game, one may lose the window of opportunity for self discovery and self assessment, and possibly a positive change.

    The best and most liberating fact that I have learned about Islam is that everyone has to take responsibility for ones own behavior, unless you are insane.

    There are always traumas in every family…..what separates a family that functions from the one that does not is the grease of spirituality, compassion and taqwa in its members.

    This is my humble observation.
    Allah knows best!

    Shehla, You were a wonderful and frequent companion on that slow bus to college. It was innocent fun and a great window into humanity at all levels, as you remind me.
    Times change and so has Karachi I am told. Nostalgia is more for the people, the places just remind us of them.

    It was a pleasure hearing from each of you, thank you for sharing your vignettes of wisdom.
    May Allah protect you and your loved ones from all harm and keep you in His Rahma at all times.


  6. Yes I remember 36 no bus and it was the safest one. I used to take it to visit you and Bhole. The bus I took from Drigh Rd (now Shara e Faisal) was a shorter ride to Dow with more wild companion. Your Mother was right, you were safer in the bus. I and a PECHS school classmate almost got kidnapped in 1965 in a taxi , that story some other time, but of course asq knows,just like she knows (almost) everything about me.
    You are of course not mentioning the dear muslim brothers reaching through the gaps in the partition between the men and women’s section and trying to touch, pinch and fondle any girl or woman they could.
    However it was a taste of freedom worth the heat and exhaustion which I could avoid going by the family car. Unfortunately Karachi has become too dangerous for middle class girls they all get chauffeured, poor girls have to face the risks.


  7. beautifully written as always- one crucial point I must make and strongly but respectfully disagree with you:…you wrote “…..I look around me and find that in almost every family there is one child that is a test for his or her parents and siblings.” The most basic tenet of family therapy is that the “problem child” or “IP” (identified patient) virtually always represents the dysfunction of the family unit. All the angst, pathology, and “problems” can be displaced onto this person, therefore keeping the family in equilibrium and keeping the problems of the dysfunctional system from being addressed or resolved. To keep crazy and dysfunctional families together, there must be a problem child in order to exist at all as a family. Once the child takes on and internalizes that identity, we are good to go (and pass it on to the next generation).

    Also, in reading your story about Khalaji, it was so sad to hear about the missing son… I wonder what traumas he encountered in his life before or after leaving Pakistan…to make him disappear from his former life.


  8. That was beautiful but not as scary as sitting behind Asif on his motor bike wondering if you would land up in DMC either thru the main gate or the Casualty entrance!


  9. Dear Sister,
    Do I sense a feeling of nostalgia for a life that you chose to leave behind? Did you really get in USA what you dreamt about? May be your subconscious mind is regreting that you left your homeland. There is a reason why I am saying this. After graduation I worked in Canada and UK for few years. My wife was very sure that she does not want to leave Bangladesh. My parents wanted me to come back. Thus despite a good job and a fabulous carreer I went back home. Now I some time think what would life be like if I stayed back. My two brothers did. I was thinking even before Nabeel left us. Now the feeling is very strong that my life would be different. But then I also remember the ayat that you quoted about Allah’s decree. Do you feel that maybe you should not have left Pakistan. Please tell me.


  10. It’s a funny thing, that your mum considered bus to be safer than a rickshaw. Some of my friends’ mums too think this way.
    Sometimes we as children, engulfed in selfishness forget our parents. We take it for granted that God forbid, kuch bura hoga toh we’ll go back to them. They’ll cushion our broken hearts like they’ve always done, sometimes our parents too, need us to become their cushions.
    May Allah(swt) guide us all.
    A great big hug to you blogger mom.
    Asalam o alaikum.


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