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Wide-eyed in Karachi

Pakistan's premier city is one that provokes many observations - not least about the similarities with India across the border

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga

Karachi: obligatory Rose Beauty Parlour not pictured © AFP
June 23
Realise people who draw similarities between Karachi and Bombay generalise too much. The roads here are too wide, the houses are too big, the restaurants are too posh.
It's easier to strike up conversations here: people love to talk - a trait found abundantly in North Indians too. Agree with the first person one meets in Karachi: "We [Indians and Pakistanis] have become too intolerant." And to a lesser extent, agree with "Cricket is not the same anymore. Doesn't excite me anymore."
Rush straight to the National Stadium. Attend Mahendra Singh Dhoni's pre-tournament press-conference. Dhoni is asked if being "the richest cricketer in India" puts extra pressure on him. "It does, on the chartered accountant," he says. Nothing like a joke after a taxing journey that involves visa trouble, a lost passport, and hard-to-come-by tickets. "Taxing" was not an intentional pun.
June 24
Mirza Ghalib, the famous Urdu and Persian poet from the 19th century, was a mango fiend. Once, pranksters offered him rotten mangoes, which he ate. People laughed. "Inhe to gadhe bhi nahi khaate. [Even donkeys wouldn't eat these.]"
"Gadhe hi hain jo aam nahi khate, [Those who don't' eat mangoes are idiots]" Ghalib replied. "Gadha" also means idiot. Indeed, only idiots will come to Pakistan and not eat mangoes. One of the few good things about touring Pakistan in deadly heat is that it is the mango season. Realise the mangoes here can be better than those in India - but only just.
June 25
Realise, after long observation, that Pakistanis prefer drinking water from glasses to bottles. A pointless observation. Also observe, on the way to the National Stadium, Umar Gul on billboards. "I am Umar Gul. I am part of HBL," Gul, in jacket and tie, seems to be saying. Ditto Younis Khan.
Also, on a day of observations, observe how every multinational product's label has its name written in Urdu too. Kinley, Pepsi, Nestle, et al.
June 26
Trucks in the Indian Punjab have superbly garish art and ingenious messages, but they are not a patch on the trucks, coaches, and auto-rickshaws found in Karachi. Feel the need to know Urdu to read Pakistani counterparts of the wisecracks on Indian trucks.
There are many other similarities between the Punjabs. The languages are pretty similar, as is the liberal use of swear words. Eating habits are not too different, either. The stock attire here, the shalwar kameez is just a variation of the kurta pajama on the eastern side of the border. And we are not even in Lahore, the heart of the Pakistani Punjab.
Speaking of similarities between the nations, there is more in common than cricket, Bollywood, music and history: Rose Beauty Parlour. In India it is hard to find a town worth its salt that doesn't boast a Rose Beauty Parlour. A Rose by another name wouldn't be half as great.
June 27
Finally a break. Watch Castrol announce that Kamran Akmal is the best Asian wicketkeeper/fielder in 2007. What a laugh. Even the Pakistani journalists are embarrassed. Wonder if Dhoni would have had his usual funny remark if he were asked about missing out on that particular award. Wonder if Akmal would be sledged by Kumar Sangakkara had Akmal been playing in the Asia Cup: "There comes the best keeper, eh. Expectations."
Trucks in the Indian Punjab have superbly garish art and ingenious messages, but they are not a patch on the trucks, coaches, and auto-rickshaws found in Karachi
Have dinner at 2am in a restaurant. It's impossible to find restaurants open so late in most parts of India. Hear that Lahore stays open till even later. Shame no significant matches are being played in Lahore.
June 28
Adnan Sami, Atif Aslam, Shoaib Akhtar, and Strings are the most visible faces on the roads of Karachi. They are equally adored in India. Realise on listening to local music that there are performers way better than Sami, Aslam and Strings.
Feel sick coming to the National Stadium for yet another one-sided match. The routine for the past few days: finish work by 3am, take the same route home, wake up at around 12, have lunch, rush to the ground - same route - for yet another mismatch. Improvise on Neville Cardus' thoughts: going to a cricket tour only for cricket is like going to an inn only to drink. Download Rabbi Shergill's latest song "Karachi Waliye [the one from Karachi]". Feel the urge to walk the streets of Karachi once the Asia Cup finishes.
Watch Ajantha Mendis live for the first time. Freak. Look for a term for the legbreak he bowls with a flick of the middle finger.
June 29
The press box at the stadium and the commentary box are next to each other. The commentators pay a visit at least once a day to the press box. And they all have funny stories to tell. The best of the lot comes from Ramiz Raja.
Once on a square turner, as Viv Richards faced the last over before tea, Saleem Yousuf kept appealing every ball without a reason. "I was fielding at short-leg," Ramiz recalls, "and when we were walking off for tea, an irritated Viv asked me the Urdu word for chicken, and I told him.
"So Viv rushed off towards Saleem, and when in his earshot, started shouting, 'Murgi, murgi, murgi'."
Get an email from Suresh Perera, informing that a Toronto-based Sri Lankan lawyer Mahendra Mapagunaratne has christened Mendis' middle-finger-flicked legbreak the "carrom ball". Like the term. Carrom ball, it shall be then.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo