My dream home in Pakistan.
Pakistan is, they say, the most urban country in the region . There are many reasons for living in a well designed city and I would like to enumerate a few:
- Central provision of services like water, electricity, gas, security and public transport.
- Centralized discharge and treatment of black and grey water and trash from households.
- Convenient access to offices, schools, hospitals, markets, restaurants, gyms and entertainment etc.
- Public spaces and parks where one can go and enjoy nature.
So which city ( Not enclaves) in Pakistan fits or meets all of the above criteria? None as far as I am concerned. You will scream “How dare you ignore Islamabad the beautiful, the apple of our eyes”. So let me start with Islamabad as I have some experience of living there 2003 to 2007.
I moved to F-10 after retirement from the PAF as I had no other choice because as my elder two children were in the last years of their “ A” levels in a school in Sector H-8 and their younger sister in another school nearby. In the absence of a safe and efficient public transport system, I had to buy an old car and hire a driver to take them to the school. Given the prima donnish nature of drivers, sometimes my wife used to commute to Polyclinic and more often would pick and drop the cadette at the same time. During school time, this trip would entail at least an hour.
The rent of the house, the salary of the driver and the batman consumed my entire pension, my wife’s salary. Luckily and suddenly , our life time investment in real estate (plots) became very helpful in fulfilling our desire to send our children to the best schools.
Now tell me how is that for living in supposedly the most organised of the cities of Pakistan? Small children should be able to walk safely to a school and not be driven around the whole city. The city planners in their unfathomable wisdom gave amenity plots for schools only to government schools that have been rejected by a large population due to its poor performance and apathy. Every now and then, the CDA threatens to close down small schools that have been developed in the residential areas. What kind of a residential area is it if it does not have school for small children? That logic beats me.
Coming to social side, living in a city one is expected to make new friends and expand one’s social circle. Well during that time I met only one neighbour, that too by chance, in a funeral. There is no club, no community centre where the residents can get together for socializing. On the street that I lived in, I only saw Chowkidars, servants and vendors. The actual residents of the homes were somehow invisible. Almost every house had its own security arrangements.
Yes, markets are plenty but those have to be motored to. Without a car one is dead in Islamabad. This city is a poor copy of an American suburb. We had a chance to build a new city on a blank sheet of paper and we blew it.
Now if you live in a house which can range from half a million dollars to a million dollars you expect to get services 24/7. No… no ..no you have to store you water under ground ,store electricity in your UPses or run generators ,keep your own security guards and shortly will be digging your own sewage pits as the old infrastructure is falling apart. The natural drainage which the topography of Islamabad offers has been compromised by perniciousness and apathy of the civic body CDA.
Today it takes anywhere between 35 to 40 minutes to commute from East to West when the traffic is light, this, for a city which is just 50 years old. The MTS has not been even planned for let alone built. Now I believe, the CDA is trying to go vertical. All I can say to them “Beware”, you are sitting on a geological fault line but more importantly a civilisational fault line. Check out the way our people live in apartments and flats. Have you noticed the dirt, the grime and “Pan Peek” in the stair cases?
A city designed by uncaring and straitjacketed bureaucrats who can not empathize with poor people. However the Islooites can not do without them. After all who will clean, cook, drive and guard the Begums and their Sahibs. So the dwellers of Islamabad have found a solution, a pigeon hole called servant quarter is often built on the top story or the shanty towns mushrooming in the green belts. Does remind you of Paris before the revolution but then they ransacked the Bastille, when told to eat cake by their beloved queen.
Islamabad, the newest city of Pakistan glaringly reflects the contrasts and paradoxes of Pakistani society. Islamabad is Urban but not yet urbane, calling themselves city folks yet behaving like villagers, living in close proximity of each other yet socially far apart. The only place you will see the natural Pakistani bonhomie and warmth is Karachi Company and not the so called upscale posh markets.
Oh Yes, it is also the” Waddhi Rajdhani”, the representative of the poor people of Pakistan have to be escorted around ,comforted by all sorts of services during their laborious stay in Islamabad. They have to go to assembly and Senate sessions, official engagements, reluctantly attend to soirees in foreign embassies to discuss serious business over a glass of non- alcoholic drink ( after all it is the capital of the Islamic Republic) with their interlocutors. I wonder why the price of bootlegged alcoholic drinks shoots up during NA sessions. I seriously wonder.
Not satisfied with the cramped living in a 2000 Sqr yd home, the Islooites have resorted to another scheme, the so called “Farm House”. Now that is a capital idea if the Farm actually produced vegetable and chickens etc for the Islooites as envisioned by the original master planner. Not to be. Everyone and anyone who has the money wants to build his own Château de Versailles with liveried servants scurrying around to serve their masters.
On top of all that it is a soulless city, no one owns it. Come Eid it is like a ghost town devoid of its residents. Nobody loves Islamabad.- Poor Islamabad.