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Of a Look That Lasted too Long

Submitted by on May 30, 2015 – 9:13 PM

imagesA walk along the disheveled corridors of Civil hospital is far from exhilarating. On a lucky day, there will only be a few drains freely discharging along the walkways to tiptoe around, and the stench will be slightly less awful than that from a 1400 year old pickled eggs jar .


It takes a while for the newbie to get used to raking stares by just about everyone. Some fail to acquiesce to a behavior fast becoming ,on this corner of the world ,a social norm , and henceforth never find peace. They are scrolled in their scarves and labcoats tight as a bud refusing to unfurl. They will reluctantly sparrow- step besides a patients bed , dreading poker-faced strangers filling a chair nearby, like sagging bags pinpricked with eyes aimed in their direction.


The starers are a clutter of every  age, race, class and creed, so they are hard to stereotype.  To investigate, is their prerogative. Inundated with curiosity, they will unblinkingly gaze at doctors, nurses and students while the latter jab patients with needles, insert iv lines, monitor blood pressure, measure pulses or take down a patient’s complaints. Some become so skillful at the art of staring that they are able to visualize and quantify  the inward quivers  darting down the spines of their subjects of scrutiny and make vocal assessments of their ages and where they stand in the medical hierarchy.


The more opportunistic ones may proceed to ask students for money. Some however stare for the sake of staring, and without the involvement of any ulterior motive.Civil has a good measure of raging epidemics, here a starer stares in every street , just as surely as salmonella squirms in every samosa .For the ladies,  upholstering their selves in multiple layers of black clothing has been promulgated as a sure fired way to triumph over this adversity. This is a myth. Attempts to shrivel into insignificance hardly do the trick anymore.


It is only fair to extend the tirade to ourselves and relinquish the idea that we are the only force standing in the way of civilized society and the end of the world. We, people  coming  from educated families cannot keep our hands over our hearts and claim, never to have stared at anyone. No one is guilt-free of not having given a sidelong glance that lasted a tad too long, or surreptitiously gazing from behind a book .


It may even be an evolutionary technique to ensure that any thing newly introduced into the environment is non-hazardous.  The question is what makes a certain handle-bar moustached , kohl- rim- eyed, and nicotine- stain- teethed man stare more than an average human being? Evolutionarily speaking,  If 5 seconds is the reasonable amount of time to look at a person be reassured that they are not in fact a crocodile, why does the look persist to a quarter of a century?


They may be labourers who descended down from KPK in pursuit of employment. They may be  refugees from Afghanistan, who escaped the war. People from Balochistan  to escape  neglect. People from Sindh, trying to rise above antiquity. Can we name another major city in Sindh that compares to Karachi, crumbling as it may be? We associate the rest of Sindh with emaciated children dying of thirst , perennial famines, honour killings and a rich cultural heritage that prefers to stay elusive to our modern metropolitan minds .


Presumptuous as it may sound, Karachi and its inhabitants remain a culture shock to them. There may not be much to impress them, our standards of hygiene being unmaintained and everyday political rifts, but we have education and freedom  and a standard of living that is a little more than auxiliary. I will not be unfair to the smartly dressed and, suitably educated,  well- spoken denizens of other smaller cities in Sindh. An unequal distribution of resources has led to increasing objectification by people who will find that their everyday lives are lacking in certain respects.


Negative social behaviors can keep any profession from advancing.  This is supported by the all too palpable evidence of  female quitters who marry too early and people having misgivings about polio vaccine because they fear it causes infertility and how we still don’t have a finance scheme that can eliminate poverty.


While female (and the less- recognized) male objectification is not the best reason to not do one’s job properly, one must realize one of the dreary realities it is borne out of : a class system that refuses to be slayed. None but a handful of people can be truly happy within a hierarchy that is shaped like a pyramid.



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