• 27 Jan - 02 Feb, 2018
  • Ayesha Adil
  • Fiction

Eat Karachi, you must be starving! Another conglomerate venture to make money out of people’s lack of entertainment and social deprivation in the city. That’s probaly what Saima would say when I tell her about my plan of attending the festival.

I knew Saima would not want to go. But I had free passes. How could she deny this great opportunity? Starting on Friday, the food fest was scheduled to go throughout the weekend.

If I begin manipulating Saima to come to the event with me from today, she would relent by Saturday. It sounded like a perfect plan.

Winding up work early on Friday felt like a blessing. It had been a particularly hectic week for me so when it was time to leave, it felt like I was being freed from a proverbial prison. I was reminded of Shakespeare’s famous words, “All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

I was simply playing my part, now Saima better play hers. One of a dutiful wife, a caring and obedient daughter and daughter-in law, a teacher, a friend and finally, my soul mate. I suddenly realised why Saima felt she had more work to do than me; she definitely had more roles to play!

I dispensed the thought as soon as it hit me. I did not have time to dwell on it right now.

“See you at the food festival,” a colleague called out as he left.

“Surely!” I called back.

Everyone I knew was so psyched about the event except Saima. How would I turn her around? I sometimes wondered why it was so difficult for her to follow the “ordinary”? Why couldn’t she just do what everyone else was doing?

“It’s just the way I am, Fawad. Why would I want to spend my precious time on something that doesn’t give me any pleasure when the world has so much more to offer as per my liking?” I could hear her voice ringing in my ears.

“Then what do you like, Saima?”

“Talking to you, reading a book, walking at a safe and peaceful place, enjoying a lazy day at home after a home-cooked meal, theatre, art galleries, and the list can go on. Anywhere that’s quiet and meekly populated is my favourite place to be!” She laughed loudly. “I don’t like crowds at all; they make me uncomfortable.”

She generally laughs loudly and awkwardly after such confessions. Well, the prospect of fresh air and food might lure her into going.

The aroma of a wonderfully-cooked meal welcomed me as I entered the house. I went straight to the kitchen.

“Hey, you’re home!” Saima exclaimed, seeming genuinely happy to see me.

“So I made biryani for us today because tomorrow you are taking me out for dinner.”

“I am?” I asked quizzically, mentally rummaging through all the important dates to ensure I haven’t forgotten any occasion. I honestly could not think of anything so I just stood there in confusion.

“Yes, Fawad! How can you forget? The food festival starts tomorrow and your office is sponsoring it so I am sure you have free passes for us. We are going, right?”

Wait… what? Did I really hear her right? Is Saima a mind reader too now?

“Why do you look so surprised, Fawad? You wanted to go, didn’t you? Besides, your boss would be expecting to see you there so there is no way we are staying back.” She spoke with an air of finality.

I guess that’s why they say that there’s a woman behind every successful man. Saima never lets me down.

The next day, we prepared ourselves for the event and left for the venue. It was centrally located and the perfect weather made the day suitable for an outdoor activity. One thing that particularly stood out when we reached was the overwhelming crowd. There was a never-ending queue of people waiting to buy their entry tickets. This has to be the longest line I have ever seen in my life, I thought. For a moment, I wasn’t sure what to do but Saima being present-minded, quickly stood behind a family of four. I followed suit.

The first few minutes of the “wait” were spent assessing the situation. I could see families chatting with one another in a carefree manner. The winter sun was out but it was not scorching, making it a good opportunity to absorb some vitamin D.

However, I could feel us all getting antsy soon, including Saima. She had been putting on a brave front for quite a long time, making small talk with me and smiling frequently. I knew those smiles were a ruse for smiling too much was ironically an indication of her unhappiness.

“You know what, Saima? You don’t have to do this for me. We can go somewhere else. Somewhere where you would be more comfortable.” She was compromising her peace of mind and I just did not want to see her like that. Suffering on behalf of me.

“But we’ve come so far. I think we can hang on till the finish line.” Her voice was meek but it held conviction. My fighter, I thought touchingly.

But very soon we noticed how people were skipping lines to get ahead of others without any qualms or guilt.

This miffed Saima beyond consolation.

“We should not complain about the mismanagement in this country when it is us, the rulebreakers and line-cutters, who constitute it. We are to blame here. Our lack of discipline has caused our country to go down the drain!”

Her outburst was so loud that I had to shush her down, only to be rewarded with an intense glare that shook the very core of my being. I really hope no one dares to get past her in line, I silently prayed.

In retrospect, I felt that many of us gained from the experience. Standing in that line taught us self-control and patience to deal with impossible people. It taught us how to forgive for the sake of our own sanity. It rekindled the art of face-to-face conversation, more from the fear of getting our cellphones stolen and lack of signals than anything else.

It was an experience worth living with your spouse-to-be before walking down the aisle.

As the day progressed, the bitter realities kicked in: husbands lost their patience, wives could no longer pretend to be happy or chirpy, children could not help snivelling. Even then, I felt that most people were holding on quite well. Maybe the prospect of good food and live music kept their spirits high.

I was impressed by the security; merely knowing about our saftey contributed greatly to my peace of mind. For what seemed like ages later, we could now see the entrance.

Saima and I braced ourselves; a huge mob thronged towards the gate so desperately that the gate keeper had to climb on a ledge to keep himself from being crushed. I put my arm around my wife and shielded her from men who wanted to pass unaware females as their own kith or kin to be granted entrance in the families-only event. After a lot of jostling, we were finally inside the food heaven. Saima rushed to get our tickets stamped while I greedily gulped down some fresh air.

“Woohoo, let’s do this!” exclaimed Saima, taking my left arm.

We turned around to join the line that led to the eating section and our hearts sank once again. This great group of people was a mini-version of the crazy crowd that we had survived only minutes ago.

“Oh no! I can’t, I just can’t. I don’t have it in me, Saima. Let’s just leave.” I know I was being a drama queen. I didn’t know about her but I did not want to confront another throng, which was predominantly female. I did not want to get my body rubbed by another unfamiliar soul. I felt molested enough for one evening.

“Don’t be a wet blanket, Fawad. It’s the last lap. If we do this we can actually be a part of Karachi Eat. We can tell people that we were here. Can you imagine the satisfaction that would bring us?”

I knew Saima’s exaggerated pleasure bordered on sarcasm and now I understood where she was coming from: she was trying to make a point here and I hated to admit it, but she was right!

Why did I want to be a part of this bandwagon so badly? We could have had a peaceful meal at any posh restaurant in the city, minus all this chaos. But all I wanted to do was utilise my free entry passes and be a part of the elite crowd that attends this very festival.

I felt like sitting down in a corner and crying; I was so beat and frustrated by my own stupidity but Saima thrust me in the swarm of aunties and uncles.

“Ouch, I’m sorry!”

“Excuse me, that’s my dress you just stepped on.”

“I’m not pushing you, they pushed me first.”

“Oh no, be careful.”

I could hear intermingled sentences while I focused on keeping myself together when the sign reading “KARACHI EAT” came into view. We were here, finally!

“Let’s eat,” Saima pulled me towards the nearest stall. I knew that she was going to taunt me about this for years to come. I could tell from the expression on her face. Coming here was one of the biggest blunders I had ever made and she was determined not to let me forget about it anytime soon.

“I’m not hungry, Saima. Let’s just take a look and go back home.”

I sounded like a three-year-old but I did not care. No one in their right mind should suffer this kind of ordeal ever.

“What, no. I am here now and so I will eat. I am famished after that long walk and eternal wait!”

After that proclamation, Saima busied herself in choosing from a vast variety of savoury and sweet treats. We had to admit that the sellers had put up quite a show.

The food items were innovative and tempting. I noted, much to my satisfaction, that the vendors were extremely courteous and friendly in dealing with their customers. They had pleasant smiles on and not a tinge of irritation in their tones. It suddenly felt good to be there.

“The management has done their best. What happened outside cannot be blamed on the organisers; they have put up a good set-up. Look how the garbage is being cleaned up and we even have portable hand-washing sinks. I wish they had cleared up the weeds though. They keep getting tangled up in them [My feet].” With that, Saima took out a long weed from her toes and went to wash her hands. After buying our delicacies, we found ourselves a spot to sit and munch.

“Do you regret coming here, Saima? I know this isn’t your cup of tea,” I asked tentatively.

“I can’t say I would come again. I know I won’t. But I guess doing things outside your comfort zone is also important. One learns from every experience.”

And with that, she hastily dug into her fried cheese panini.

I made a mental list of all the do’s and don’ts to forward to my HR on Monday. If our company was sponsoring this event, we could not allow such slips. I threw a guilty glance at Saima who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying her meal, oblivious of the world around her. After all, it was all about eating now, wasn’t it? •