Winter in Karachi …. Okay, let’s start again. Winter in Karachi … how about Karachi during winter? Hmmmm … this sounds a lot better.
Karachi during winter is at its best, though winter in Karachi isn’t the best you expect out of winter. Winter here is actually a short break — two-month-long if we are lucky — from humidity and heat; just about enough to give us some excuse to don the winter woollies and dive into hot delicacies.
Like everything else that is unpredictable in this mega city, the weather too takes unpredictable turns. After a dry and hot October, November also passes in the same way until one fine morning you wake up reaching out for the comforter that is not there — because you haven’t needed it at night.
The morning is cold and crisp as only a winter morning can be. You smile, welcoming the change. Then you change into something lying at the back of your closet, waiting for just this kind of a day when it is not too hot to wear khaddar. Bright and bubbly, with a brighter lipstick, you start your day.
For weeks, winter only shows us its mild shades at night and during the morning hours, then a couple of hours later, it is so hot that you feel and look pretty stupid in the shawl or jacket that you have worn, and you quickly take it off
An hour later, the sun is up in the sky, brighter than your mood and lipstick, smirking at you for assuming that the temperature will not climb up. Soon you are sweltering in your winter outfit that is already a few seasons old but looks pretty new for its age, and why not — you only wear it a few times a year and then pack it safely to be worn a year later.
For weeks, winter only shows us its mild shades at night and during the morning hours, then a couple of hours later, it is so hot that you feel and look pretty stupid in the shawl or jacket that you have worn, and you quickly take it off.
You feel better, but look lousy because that was basically the best part of your outfit. Without the sweater, the missing second button of your neckline is all so obvious and you had taken it for granted that it wouldn’t be noticed under your smart sweater. You move around pretty conscious of it, covering it with your dupatta or you don the sweater again. You just smile sweetly and say, “Oh, I do feel a bit cold today, a little under the weather,” when someone comments that it is too hot for a woolly.
School children, like mine, are the worst sufferers of this winter-mornings-followed-by-summery-noons phenomenon that only takes place in Karachi. There is no way that they can step out into the chilly morning without a sweater, specially if they are going in school vans with missing window glasses or ones that don’t close.
By the time the kids are ready to run out and play at lunch break, those who can, they hurriedly take off their sweaters and stuff it hastily in their bags. The younger ones in Kindergarten sweat and suffer, not realising what is making them uncomfortable and they keep wearing their sweater until a teacher takes pity on them and helps them take it off or mummy does so when they arrive home all red and hot.
A cold spell is blamed on Quetta and a severely cold spell is blamed on Siberia! But what makes me wonder is what Siberia’s weather has got to do with that of Karachi. Isn’t Siberia at the other end of the continent?
Despite the sudden and unpredictable changes in temperature in Karachi — much like the sudden and unpredictable changes in the city’s law and order or traffic situations — most Karachiites love to dress up in winter clothes. So trunks are emptied, blankets and jackets are aired and everyone waits for the real winter to set in. It does, albeit after every other place reports an almost zero or sub-zero mercury reading. This is usually around the later half of December and the last week is full of holidays, weddings and pardesi relatives who find this the best time to pay us a visit.
Now we need all the woollies we have both during the day and the night. Due to the short winter season in Karachi, hardly anyone has heaters or fireplaces to warm up with. But truth be told, one does feel the need for these — even though all non-natives in Karachi and some born and bred Karachi-wallay will never accept the fact that it does get cold and we end up feeling colder because we are less prepared.
Up north or even in the plains, there are charcoal/wood burners and heaters in most houses so people are more comfortable when indoors. We just have to make do with going to bed bundled up from head to toe, and even under the lehaf the air outside is bitterly cold. And the next day when we wake up and read about the sharp fall in temperature we understand why we were so cold.
But the good thing about the cold spells in Karachi is that we get ample warnings. If the snow falls in Quetta, Karachi will experience a cold spell soon after; as ‘after’ as it takes for the cold winds to reach our shore.
A cold spell is blamed on Quetta and a severely cold spell is blamed on Siberia! But what makes me wonder is what Siberia’s weather has got to do with that of Karachi. I really don’t get this — isn’t Siberia at the other end of the continent?
The things that we get in abundance in winter – whether the season turns out to be a mild or a severe one, a long or a short one — are all the problems that a change in weather brings. Cold, allergies, dry skin, fizzy hair and all other things that keep you under the weather are the hallmarks of this season. Understandably, if the temperature would be constantly cold, we wouldn’t have to suffer some of these unpleasant conditions.
Among all these winter delights what I have missed since the last few years is pine nuts, because it has become just too expensive.
Still, nothing stops Karachiites from enjoying all the trappings of winter to the hilt. Dry fruits, especially peanuts, are consumed with a vengeance, as are paya, nihari and barbeque items. Carts that were once selling chaat and bun-kebab now offer soups. Oranges are as welcomed as mangoes are in summer. Among all these winter delights what I have missed since the last few years is pine nuts because it has become just too expensive. It is fun to cuddle up in a blanket, peal and munch peanuts, but having chilghozas gives me far more pleasure.
Winter also brings a number of outings. The fun-loving souls still venture towards the beach and enjoy themselves as much as they do during summers. And the wedding season is at its peak during the last weeks of December and early January when the schools are closed here and expatriate Pakistanis come home in great numbers due to the holiday season in the West.
The chilly nights don’t deter people from keeping to the late timings of functions and parties as if it is July, not January. It gets too cold for silks and chiffons at weddings, but no female puts on a shawl or sweater while the gents stay smug in coats and jackets.
Karachiites have learnt a few things from Lahoris and Islooites and since the last few years I have come across heaters at wedding venues. This certainly is a warm welcome change as far as I am concerned because I am not a winter person and sometimes refuse to give in to vanity and do take a matching shawl for winter weddings.
But hardly are these wedding over and half of January finished when there is a hot spell and you start wishing for the good cold days to return. Return they do, always, somewhere in February and Karachi is gripped in a biting cold spell, once more thanks to Quetta. And after this, it is time to say goodbye to sweat-free days and fan-free nights.
Life now gets back to its old routine in Karachi — hot and humid days, evenings cooled by the breeze from the Arabian Sea, and nights spent tossing and turning unless you can afford to keep the air conditioner on all night.
So let’s celebrate what little there is of winter in Karachi because we know – just like we celebrate life with all its madness in this mega city — there is no better city than Karachi. Not on earth at least.
This article was originally published in Dawn