From the Passenger Seat: Karim bhai: Love and cherish before it is too late

I asked after Karim Bhai and some new assistant said, “But he died”. How does one evaluate such a loss? PHOTO: QAZI USMAN/ EXPRESS

Sometime in October 1983, I happened to be driving past the Hanging Gardens Apartments on the way to a friend’s place to play cards. That area of Karachi was still being developed and the famous Boating Basin was yet to be commissioned.

1983 was a year when we old class fellows had returned from our studies abroad. Karachi was home and had been our shelter for the first 18 years of our lives. It was a joyous homecoming. Life was still young and hopeful. Early career and a slog at work, was compensated by a lot of eating out and then playing cards all night.

Come early morning we would go home, have a short nap, shower and be off to office. The invincibles! As friends, we were doing a lot of catching up for the six years we had been abroad. It was a carefree time and life looked rosy.

So on this particular day, driving to my friend Adil’s house, I saw a rather bare looking ‘paan’ store in the newly constructed Hashoo Terrace. This was manna to me, as at the time that whole area was bereft of shops. Turned out that I was the first customer – it was a Saturday morning. A couple of paan and cigarettes were supplemented by a chat with the new proprietor. Karim and later additionally ‘bhai’, as it turned out, was a smiling individual, who loved to be happy and talk. Cricket was his forte, but he would also listen to us about girls, work and travel experiences.

Karim bhai became a regular supplier for all of us and we would also indulge in deep conversations with him. I was at that time working for Unilever on a princely sum of Rs 6500 a month– don’t laugh, it was a top salary in those days when the Rupee went far. At the end of the first month of operations, I asked Karim bhai how much profit he had made. His reply was, Rs 7500, which left me flabbergasted and he went into peals of laughter.

Later I said to a couple of friends that I might as well have stayed back and started a paan shop, rather than go to the UK for Chartered Accountancy (CA).

The years moved on and we did not remain young and carefree – yes, marriage and promotions, real spoilers of freedom. Some of us quit smoking and we stopped playing cards regularly. But my attachment to Karim bhai still remained. I would stop for a paan and had now started developing the relationship by experimenting with the types of paan. He was still jolly, though now I had outpaced his earnings, but we raved and ranted about Pakistan’s cricket together.

Unfortunately work took me abroad and in the 90′s, few and far between, I would come to Karachi and a visit to Karim bhai was obligatory. His hair was turning grey and his weight had gone up. Apparently constant standing to deliver paan to customers had taken a toll, and he suffered from sciatica. On a couple of visits he would not be there, because of the pain. I wish I had asked for his address and gone to see him wherever he lived.

Finally, in 2005 I returned to Karachi permanently.

One evening I took a drive to the paan shop and he was not there. I asked after Karim bhai and some new assistant said,

“But he died”.

The assistant showed me the sign on the shop, which had now changed to some other name, as the ownership had passed on.

How does one evaluate such a loss? For me a part of my life had gone. The pain was all the more, because of the regret of neglect which swept over me. I had allowed trivial matters to control my life and overlooked an essential. No amount of regret or sorrow will change that feeling of inadequacy.

Today, when I look back and analyse my life, it’s full of so-called successes. Strangely though, compare the memories about friends, family and small things versus the memory of lives successes, there is just no comparison. I cannot picture my CA results, or being made CEO, or driving a posh company maintained car, or receiving various awards along the way. But I do remember friends and family vividly. I do remember a paan wala’s laughter as he told me he had trumped me on my salary.

That is the very essence of life, but we learn it back-ended, having traversed through it. We all must look after our friends and family, because they will not be with us always and then we don’t want to face the regret of lack of fulfillment.

You all will have your Karim bhais. Nurture them while you can.

This post originally appeared here. 

Follow Sarfaraz on Twitter @sarehman

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