Saturday, February 19, 2011

Quick catch up for those of you whose ears I haven't chewed off about this: for the past 4.5 years, I've been writing a novel set in Karachi, where I myself grew up. This month, I'm visiting the city of my childhood to do research for said novel, which has been completed in a very rudimentary draft. My reesarch entails two things: 1. Going around the city armed with a notepad and camera, looking at the places my characters have visited and 2. Interviewing people about life in Karachi to get insight into the Parsi/Pakistani culture.
Amid working my way through my checklist of venues used in the novel, eating my way through the city, and general party-sharty-ing, my research is getting done in the most unexpected ways. It happens in snatched conversations on the Boat Club balcony, it happens over family meals, it happens as I am driven around this chaotic city, passing barber shops built into walls, child hawkers, and groups of hijrahs (eunuchs). All that I've imagined in my mind's eye over the last 4.5 years is here, all around me.

I'll end (I feel I must end since blogs are supposed to be short) with some highlights from week one:

1. An old man, his white beard hanging down to his chest, seated primly with one leg crossed over the other, one arm folded over the other, atop a donkey cart as the animal cut leisurely across six lanes of oncoming traffic from opposite directions.

2.Huddling in a small chaat shop in Bohri Bazaar, its blue walls plastered with large Urdu writing, the shop itself big enough for only two other pairs of patrons: two shalwar-kameezed girlfriends out for lunch, and an adorable couple, she in complete burqua, only her eyes visible, he in modern shodern jeans and a t-shirt, collar up, Elvis style. Only their ankles touched under the table.

At this point, the foreigner within, the one I've been trying to clamp down on desperately since I arrived, emerged with a vengeance. I really wanted a picture of the puris that were stacked outside the shop. The chaat maker, who sat high up on a pedestal, a stage really, surrounded by the puris and mounds of potatoes, with little boxes of pastes and sauces, who I had been trying not to include in my picture thanks to my North American sense of privacy, insisted on being in my picture. So I took one. He asked to see it, found it too dark, his face too much in the shadows, and asked me to take it from the other side, in the sun. This, too, he asked to see and finally approved with a nod. I returned to my aunt and cousin who was trying hard to pretend not to know me because apparently locals don't take pictures of chaatwalas.