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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Modern home design trends that are radically changing living spaces in India

From structure to finishes, modern homes embody lifestyle.

Homes in India are evolving to become works of art as home owners look to express their taste and lifestyle through design. It’s no surprise that global home design platform Houzz saw over a million visitors every month from India, even before their services were locally available. Architects and homeowners are spending enormous time and effort over structural elements as well as interior features, to create beautiful and comfortable living spaces.

Here’s a look at the top trends that are altering and enhancing home spaces in India.

Cantilevers. A cantilever is a rigid structural element like a beam or slab that protrudes horizontally out of the main structure of a building. The cantilevered structure almost seems to float on air. While small balconies of such type have existed for eons, construction technology has now enabled large cantilevers, that can even become large rooms. A cantilever allows for glass facades on multiple sides, bringing in more sunlight and garden views. It works wonderfully to enhance spectacular views especially in hill or seaside homes. The space below the cantilever can be transformed to a semi-covered garden, porch or a sit-out deck. Cantilevers also help conserve ground space, for lawns or backyards, while enabling more built-up area. Cantilevers need to be designed and constructed carefully else the structure could be unstable and lead to floor vibrations.

Butterfly roofs. Roofs don’t need to be flat - in fact roof design can completely alter the size and feel of the space inside. A butterfly roof is a dramatic roof arrangement shaped, as the name suggests, like a butterfly. It is an inverted version of the typical sloping roof - two roof surfaces slope downwards from opposing edges to join around the middle in the shape of a mild V. This creates more height inside the house and allows for high windows which let in more light. On the inside, the sloping ceiling can be covered in wood, aluminium or metal to make it look stylish. The butterfly roof is less common and is sure to add uniqueness to your home. Leading Indian architecture firms, Sameep Padora’s sP+a and Khosla Associates, have used this style to craft some stunning homes and commercial projects. The Butterfly roof was first used by Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect who later designed the city of Chandigarh, in his design of the Maison Errazuriz, a vacation house in Chile in 1930.

Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on
Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on

Skylights. Designing a home to allow natural light in is always preferred. However, spaces, surrounding environment and privacy issues don’t always allow for large enough windows. Skylights are essentially windows in the roof, though they can take a variety of forms. A well-positioned skylight can fill a room with natural light and make a huge difference to small rooms as well as large living areas. However, skylights must be intelligently designed to suit the climate and the room. Skylights facing north, if on a sloping roof, will bring in soft light, while a skylight on a flat roof will bring in sharp glare in the afternoons. In the Indian climate, a skylight will definitely reduce the need for artificial lighting but could also increase the need for air-conditioning during the warm months. Apart from this cleaning a skylight requires some effort. Nevertheless, a skylight is a very stylish addition to a home, and one that has huge practical value.

Staircases. Staircases are no longer just functional. In modern houses, staircases are being designed as aesthetic elements in themselves, sometimes even taking the centre-stage. While the form and material depend significantly on practical considerations, there are several trendy options. Floating staircases are hugely popular in modern, minimalist homes and add lightness to a normally heavy structure. Materials like glass, wood, metal and even coloured acrylic are being used in staircases. Additionally, spaces under staircases are being creatively used for storage or home accents.

Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on
Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on

Exposed Brick Walls. Brickwork is traditionally covered with plaster and painted. However, ‘exposed’ bricks, that is un-plastered masonry, is becoming popular in homes, restaurants and cafes. It adds a rustic and earthy feel. Exposed brick surfaces can be used in home interiors, on select walls or throughout, as well as exteriors. Exposed bricks need to be treated to be moisture proof. They are also prone to gathering dust and mould, making regular cleaning a must.

Cement work. Don’t underestimate cement and concrete when it comes to design potential. Exposed concrete interiors, like exposed brick, are becoming very popular. The design philosophy is ‘Less is more’ - the structure is simplistic and pops of colour are added through furniture and soft furnishings.

Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)
Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)

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