Karachi, You’re Killing Me! by Saba Imtiaz has been termed “Bridget Jones’s Diary meets The Diary of a Social Butterfly — a comedy of manners in a city with none.” Karachi, You’re Killing Me! is published by Random House India and is available at bookstores in India and Pakistan and on Amazon. Find an excerpt from the book below.
Ayesha is a twenty-something reporter in one of the world’s most dangerous cities. Her assignments range from showing up at bomb sites and picking her way through scattered body parts to interviewing her boss’s niece, the couture-cupcake designer. In between dicing with death and absurdity, Ayesha despairs over ever meeting a nice guy, someone like her old friend Saad, whose shoulder she cries on after every romantic misadventure. Her choices seem limited to narcissistic, adrenaline-chasing reporters who’ll do anything to get their next story — to the spoilt offspring of the Karachi elite who’ll do anything to cure their boredom. Her more pressing problem, however, is how to straighten her hair during the chronic power outages.
Tuesday, March 15, 2012
Headline of the day: ‘Agencies having fun with bugged phone conversations’
1 p.m.: Zara and I are crouched in a corner at a press conference, where one of the TPI leaders is answering questions based on how attractive he finds the reporters. At least this was our running theory, because the heavily made up, buxom talk show hosts were the only ones who’d been able to get a word in.
‘Welcome to the Pakistan elections!’ squeals a reporter as she finishes recording her take.
As the Pakistan Peoples Party has reminded us nearly every day since Benazir was killed, democracy is the best revenge. Kamran has put me on a rotating schedule of covering press conferences. Democracy has so far only given me insomnia, a raging stomach ache, and paranoia. I haven’t slept properly in three weeks. The elections are still a full two months away but every morning I wake up gasping for breath, scared the country has been taken over by politicians who find a foreign conspiracy in everything.
I haven’t heard from Jamie since he left for Islamabad. I’d followed him on Twitter and added him on Facebook, but beyond a couple of tweets here and there, there was nothing to report. One retweet does not a relationship make.
The only bearable thing about this presser is that it’s happening at the politician’s house and we are seated in a garden and not inside one of the oppressive rooms in the Karachi Press Club or in a political party office, trying to figure out which chairs might collapse and worrying about rats. Without fail, every press conference in Karachi starts at least an hour late, and is usually taken over by cameramen trying to get reporters to scribble something in their notebooks so they have stock footage to use after. Zara once wrote ‘Fuck off’ on hers, which only her parents noticed when they saw the broadcast.
I’d asked for a cup of tea before the presser started, only to be told that the political party’s policy was to not serve tea before press conferences because reporters tended to leave right after drinking it.
‘This would be a great drinking game,’ I say, an hour into the politician’s repetitive, long-winded speech, which for all the verbiage hadn’t yielded any actual information. ‘We could do a shot every time he says “tabdeeli”, “inquilab”, or “change”.’
‘Or every time he condemns violence, without actually proposing a plan to do anything about it,’ Zara says. ‘We GET IT.’
‘Yaar ab bas bhi karo,’ moans Akbar, one of the cameramen. ‘I have three more assignments after this and the channel isn’t sending a replacement. When is this asshole going to stop talking?’
Zara stays back to try and get an interview. I don’t have the heart to sit around and wait for him to deign to respond to questions. The last time I interviewed him he spent twenty minutes complaining about how rude Kamran had been to him at a dinner party in Islamabad.
I try to leave but the entrance is blocked by a troupe of dholwalas and dancing party workers. ‘Someone’s nomination papers have been accepted,’ mutters Akbar. The election is a few months away, and the filing of nomination papers — a ridiculous process involving candidates being questioned on their income statements and the minutiae of Islam — was underway at the court. The dancers have managed to disrupt the rockery in the garden and knock over most of the perfectly glossy potted plants. The politician’s wife, drowning in what seems to be an eight-metre kaftan, has just stepped outside to inspect the damage done to her house. She’s either not concerned about the cost, or has just had a Botox shot, because her face hasn’t registered a reaction.
My phone beeps. Sania.
‘Are you done with the presser?’
‘Ok. I’m off to interview the prime minister, so you need to get yourself to the press club. There’s a protest at 3 p.m. Sipah-e-Sahaba.’
Saba Imtiaz is a journalist based in Karachi, Pakistan. Her work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and the Guardian. She is the author of Karachi, You’re Killing Me! (Random House India, 2014) and No Team of Angels (First Draft Publishing, forthcoming). She reports for Pakistani and foreign publications on culture, religious movements and human rights.