The year was 1998, month was June, which in Karachi is normally a very hot affair. And yet there was something about that particular year that everything felt different, was different. Occasionally during summers in Karachi, a system of low air pressure occupies the region for months, keeping the skies cloudy through the summer and blocking the scorching sun. The residual heat is whisked away by a constant sea breeze. It was one of those years.
As a sophomore at NED University I was perpetually elated, basking in glory of my admission in arguably then the premier engineering institute in Pakistan. My newly found friends from the university were trusted by my parents, which gave me higher degree of independence. With that package also came the feeling of invincibility.
Along with my friends, I could conquer the world and so crashing weddings particularly ones from where barbeque smoke would arise, was never problematic. The city and its citizens as a whole were magnanimous, after all it was the cool and breezy summer of 1998.
In those days game consoles were unheard of. “Pentium” was state-of-the-art machine owned by a privileged few. Internet was rare and mystical. In the air was the hype of the long awaited movie “Saving Private Ryan”. In fact any upcoming Spielberg movie created the same sense of interest and anticipation (at least in my tech savvy university). Whether that movie would be played in Nishat (only cinema house to play A-list Hollywood movies) was another story.
Technology to summon specific and relevant information was taking shape. And using just that, we unraveled quite a few mysteries about the movie (cast, budget and release dates) through a cyber cafe offering internet usage at 30 Rs per hour. At that time, internet cafes were cropping up across Karachi’s ever changing cityscape, most of them used for chatting on MIRC. Some even offered 5 star environment and refreshing ambience along with complimentary and copious coffee/ tea.
The term “surfing” was more popular than “browsing”. Needless to say that “Google Chrome” didn’t exist and we were at the mercy of either a “Netscape Navigator” or a dodgy “Internet Explorer”. I still remember how awestruck we were to discover the latest feed and images from Mars Pathfinder through NASA’s website. It was the awesome summer of 1998.
While at NED, the computer engineering lads would roam the corridors with 3.5 inch floppy disks neatly tucked in their pockets. This was more a statement of their smug nerdiness than anything else. The more enterprising students hovered about the Mech corner (the secluded canteen of the University). The machos among them could be seen ordering succulent beef rolls while the girls preferred their spicy “Channa Chat” with a generous sprinkle of extra spicy “Slims” chips. Losing hours here along with brain cells was never a problem after all it was the careless summer of 1998.
It was the time when communication technology was our slave and not the other way round. Mobile phones were rare and no one could be spotted glued to a small screen. Karachi was a living, breathing and thriving city. The traffic may not have been ideal but it was limited and on a motorbike it took minutes not hours to charter the city. Amidst that dynamism of both us and Karachi, the football world cup started.
PTV like before was to telecast all the games. France 98 kicked off with Brazil as the favourites but it was a certain Dutch team that captivated the audience. The tangerines were star studded with stalwarts like Bergkamp, Davids and exciting players like Overmars, Kluivert, Seedorf, Stam, De-Boer. Team Holland were playing with flair reminiscent of the days of Van Basten and Johan Cryuff. They certainly took a huge portion of Pakistan’s de-facto Brazilian support.
Chumbawumba’s Tubthumping upturned Ricky Martin’s La Copa De la Vida to become the unofficial world cup anthem. Official world cup cassette/CDs occupied the display cabinets in music shops and I became the happy victim. The air waves were ruled by only a single FM radio channel and yet the city rocked. It was the swinging summer of 1998.
Coming home from university, there was nothing that could match watching football with a chilled mango shake. The world cup carried on with Brazil triumphing Holland to surprisingly meet the host French team in the final. At the end it was Zidane, Zinidine Zidane that would eclipse the joint strike force Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Babeto. It was Zidane who overpowered Dunga, Taffarel and Roberto Carlos. Finally the nation who had initiated the tournament got their hands on the trophy. As the summer started fading, Karachi got two new attractions, the Air- Force museum and the bouldered sea front at tail end of “Sea View”. That was the fulfilling summer of 1998.
16 years on, I am visiting Karachi after a long sojourn. Another summer and another world cup. It all brings forth a flood of memories but this time the city feels different, is different. Dispersed are my mates, fragmented is the city gone are the places I loved, perished has the sense of invincibility. Sigh! Karachi my same Karachi is laboring me with vulnerability and burdening me insecurity. A city with million dwellers but no custodians. But hey-ho, all is not lost. Peshawari ice-cream has survived and just like an oasis in the city’s empty, hobbyless and disinterested souls, the PIA Planetarium still stands…….. (just for the record, I was never interested in the airplane standing beside it). Karachi still breathes, Karachi is still alive.