Love amidst the bomb shards: Just another day at work for a Karachi reporter

Karachi journalist Saba Imtiaz's debut novel, 'Karachi, You're Killing Me!' is 'Bridget Jones's Diary' meets the 'Diary of a Social Butterfly', a comedy of manners in a city with none. Ayesha is a twenty-something reporter in one of the world's most dangerous cities. Her assignments range from showing up at bomb sites to interviewing her boss's niece, the couture-cupcake designer. Between dealing with death and absurdity, Ayesha despairs over the likelihood of ever meeting a nice guy. This is an exclusive excerpt.

The Central railway station is a decrepit but elegant colonial building. I’m the first reporter there. There’s a pool of blood on the pavement and I can hear the glass from the blown out windows of a nearby building crunch under my shoes. A cop sees me walking around gingerly and tells me to step right up. I realize I am tainting the crime scene but it’s hard to tell where the scene is. The police appear to have run out of tape to cordon it off.

‘I saw it happen! I did!’ a twenty-something guy who runs a mobile phone shop nearby excitedly tells me.

‘Basically this guy was on a motorcycle and…’

I’m taking notes and nodding encouragingly at him when Ali strolls in. The sight of Ali, smarmy reporter unextraordinaire for News 365, the country’s largest news network, makes me want to hurl. His entire career is built on quid pro quo favours for politicians. According to Zara, who quite possibly hates Ali more than I do, he helped a provincial minister’s son get out of a drunk driving charge by pulling strings with his uncle, who was then head of the police. It would be fine if he was just arrogant, but he’s also incredibly rude and one of these days I’m going to find a way to crush his soul.

The cops wave at him like he’s a long lost friend. He slaps one on the shoulder, hugs another. He clocks me and the eyewitness instantly, and the eyewitness unfortunately recognizes him too. My heart sinks. There goes my exclusive. Please make Ali go away, I start praying fervently.

Ali’s green-and-yellow mic has the same effect on interviewees that Ryan Gosling has on women. He trains the mic on the witness who subsequently forgets about me and my notebook. Twenty other reporters suddenly descend, cameramen in tow, following Ali like he’s the Pied Piper of journalism. Someone steps on my foot. Ali’s cameraman shoves me with his tripod. I shove him back with my handbag. The eyewitness is saying something fascinating, I can tell from the look on Ali’s face. I try to lean in and listen but Ali’s cameraman starts screaming at the eyewitness to step into the sunlight.

‘What’s this guy’s name again?’ Ali’s cameraman asks me, even as he continues to try to edge me out of the way with the camera. I glare at him. ‘Uff ho, attituuuude,’ he says, in a singsong tone.

I walk away and see another guy standing there, who with any luck might be another witness. ‘Were you here when this happened?’

‘No,’ the guy replies. ‘Wait, don’t you write for that blog?’ he says, looking at my Daily News badge.

My newspaper runs a wildly popular comment section filled with posts such as ‘why I hate my hairstylist’ or ‘I was discriminated against at a job interview because my family is wealthy’ and ‘I left my air-conditioned room to join the protest for your son’s murder case’. It has nothing to do with journalism, but now everyone assumes it’s what all of us do.

‘No I work for the paper,’ I say.

‘There’s a newspaper?’

I hate my life.

I speak to four other people at the site, who all tell me the same story of having seen a van go up in flames. One claims he heard gunshots. Another claims that ‘Blackwater did this’. The other two are 10-year-old kids who are collecting pieces of twisted metal and glass. They speak in monosyllables.

Did you see this happen? ‘No.’

What are you doing? ‘This.’

Why? ‘I’ll sell it.’

To who? The kid shrugs, and then dances off in a different direction. The other one runs up to me, smacks my butt, and scampers off singing Munni Badnaam Hui.

I walk up to the police van on the site and hide behind it to light a cigarette. Ali’s cameraman has a penchant for filming footage of women smoking, and showing it to everyone in the News 365 office. Clearly women smoking passes for pornography these days.

A cop pokes his head out of the van. ‘Can I have one too?’

We smoke, and he looks at me again. ‘You seem like a nice girl. Why do you smoke?’

Even though I’ve been smoking for years, the question always sends me into spasms of guilt. I think of my father, who disapproves of the fact that I smoke but is glad I’m not doing drugs instead. I want to tell the cop off for asking me this when every other man on the site is also smoking but I don’t want to piss him off. In twenty years, he’ll be giving press conferences and I’ll still be here, clutching a notebook and scribbling down answers that I can never make sense of afterwards. ‘I don’t know, I got into the habit and it’s so hard to quit you know,’ I gabble. ‘And we never get any food when reporting or water and you know what I mean, right?’

He’s already bored of my explanation. In the distance, I see Ali interviewing the head of the Karachi police. I should really go over and listen but the cop is saying something.


‘Can I have the lighter?’

‘Sure. What are you doing here?’ I ask. Every other cop on the scene is gathered around the Karachi police head hoping they’ll be noticed and fast tracked for a promotion.

‘I’m guarding this,’ he says, pointing to a bundle of sheets.

‘What is that?’ I ask, moving towards it hoping to get a look inside.

‘It’s all we recovered of the bomber’, he says. I step back hurriedly. Suddenly, my job doesn’t seem so awful.

Karachi, You're Killing Me! is published by Random House India, Rs 299.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.