Mohammed Hanif in The New Republic:
EARLY MORNING one day this past July, a bomb went off two streets from my house in Karachi. I was asleep. “There was a bomb blast outside the Chinese consulate,” my wife informed me when I woke up. Nobody had died, I was told. It was a motorcycle bomb—as in someone had fitted a bomb into a motorcycle and parked it outside the consulate. My first reaction was, why would anyone explode a bomb outside the Chinese consulate? Since our childhood, we have been told that the Chinese are our best friends and our friendship is taller than the Himalayas and deeper than the Arabian Sea. Maybe someone was jealous of our friendship. It didn’t really occur to me that the bomb had gone off in my own neighborhood.
Then a friend wrote from London: Heard there was a bomb blast in your neighborhood, hope the family is safe, and the dogs not too traumatized. It was nice of her to write, but my first reaction was that the blast was two streets away. For me, the explosion might as well have happened in another city. None of my friends in Karachi called to check on me. They had probably seen the news on television, had found out that nobody died in the blast, and had promptly forgotten about it. I hadn’t even heard the blast. Maybe I have learned to block out small motorcycle bombs.
You live in a city not because it’s the prettiest, most peaceful place in the world; nor do you choose a place because it’s exciting. Karachi, for me, is a perpetually shifting combination of nice memories and minor tragedies, commerce and convenience, familiarity and strangeness, and, ultimately, the coincidences that brought me here. The air, as someone said, is easier on your skin. But all that the outside world sees is a bloody-minded sentimentality that keeps one in a place even when it’s blowing up bit by bit. When I visit my hometown in central Punjab, I am often asked by my family: How can you live in a city like Karachi with all its rampant violence? I can’t really confess to the folks in my village that, unlike in the rest of Pakistan, in Karachi you can buy beer without much hassle. (Alcohol is illegal throughout the country.) More: