If you are a normal human being who wakes up in the morning, sleeps at night and enjoys having three well established meals a day, then you may think of yourself as an alien in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, its financial hub and the centre of its economic activity. With our fragile political environment, and as bad as the law and order situation remains here, universally accepted work schedules still do not apply in the city of our founder. Irrespective of the target killings, roadside robberies and planned abductions, people tend to stay awake all night and sleep all day. What makes it even worse is that they classify their upside down timings as ‘urbanisation’ or sometimes ‘sophistication’. Quite often, you will also find them poking fun at the rest of Pakistan as ‘rural’ and ‘uncivilised’ for being early sleepers and early risers. Keeping in mind the high literacy rate of Karachi, to some extent I agree that they can boast about their achievements, but missing a full day of work and staying up till the sun rises cannot be considered an accomplishment.
Here, most of the shopping plazas are open till midnight and a majority of the restaurants will serve till two or three in the morning on weekday nights and much later on weekends. On the contrary, in any other cosmopolitan city of the world, be it New York, Chicago or London, the shopping malls close at nine o’ clock sharp and most restaurants at 10 or 11.
The average sleep time for an adult working male in this most populated city, in my opinion, is close to four in the morning, which is about six hours later than the rest of the world. Children go to bed a little earlier at 3:00 am and college students typically turn their lights off at six, since no one in reality goes to college. For housewives with schoolchildren, nights begin at eight in the morning after all the children have been dispatched to their centres of learning.
With this schedule, you must wonder: when do people get time to make up for their sleep? The answer is simple: they compensate for their loss in the afternoon and the evening. Coming back from school, children, instead of finishing their homework, go to bed and sleep for hours only to wake up after nine and get ready for playtime, lunchtime, or party time depending on their schedule. Men, after returning from work in the evening, will also go to bed for few hours. They then wake up at 11 at night to attend a wedding or a birthday party at midnight and return from there at two in the morning. Homemakers who sleep after sending the children to school will typically get out of bed at four in the evening and start preparing lunch.
Being an alien, if you woke up at six or seven in the morning and went to the market, it will seem as though it were midnight — except for the daylight — with all the shops closed, no customers around, half-asleep stray dogs lying on the walkways and minimal traffic. Two hours later, at noon, it might look like early morning with less than 20 percent of the shops ready for business. It is only after three in the afternoon that a ‘normal’ morning picture will emerge, when all the shops are open and ready for business. If it is Friday, then Karachi wakes up for Friday prayers before it shows up for work.
Meal times are also different. Breakfast is served in the afternoon, lunch is eaten at dinnertime and dinner is ready at two in the morning. I do not think there is a name in the dictionary for such a late meal so I will call it ‘brinner’, a combination name like ‘brunch’, to explain the situation. To be clear, I am not exaggerating about this schedule at all. Some of us may still remember that the average time to serve a meal at a valima (wedding) reception in the financial hub of Pakistan, just a few years ago, was after one in the morning.
Being sleepy myself at three in the morning, I am not sure if I am ready to accept the rest-work cycle of Karachi, which is antithetical to the rest of the world, as ‘modernisation’ or ‘civilisation’. I am also not sure if these timings are the most productive for small business owners or the most cost effective for ordinary shopkeepers. In my opinion, our failure to utilise daylight not only increases energy consumption and inflates utility bills, it also deepens, as a rule, the electricity crisis for the whole country. Some experts estimate that 50 to 100 megawatts of energy could be saved every night if the shops in Karachi closed at nine. These savings can easily be doubled, or even tripled, if the same rule is applied to the rest of the country. Nonetheless, if it comes at the cost of being called ‘uncivilised’ and ‘uncouth’ like the rest of the world, I am not sure if Karachi is ready to make that sacrifice.
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