On September 20, the Climate March took place in 130 countries across the globe; an emphatic message by people across the world that something needs to be done about climate change and something needs to be done about it now.
Except that Karachi lent the Climate March, starting from the Frere Hall to the Metropole Hotel, a bit of its strangeness and a bit of its sensibility.
A speaker talked about those who have been made homeless by the Karachi Circular Railway. Arieb Azhar sung Jhoolay Lal while wearing a funky red shirt that seemed like it started out wanting to be a poncho but just gave up halfway. Four men then paid a confusing tribute to fishermen, who for some reason were dancing with rowing oars and fishing net as props.
A few people in the crowd paid attention, most didn’t. Some were sporting bandanas that said ‘end capitalism’. The bandanas were red because of course they were. “Even imperialism was better than capitalism,” someone said. “Well, almost better,” he added as a quick afterthought.
“Is ki haalat dekho [look at the state of him],” another person said while pointing towards an especially slight man wearing one of those bandanas. “Ye admi save kerayga planet ko? [this man is going to save the planet?]”
Some of the placards were made of plastic, the irony completely lost on the people holding them aloft.
One person wore a Qandeel Baloch mask, another was holding a placard that had a marijuana leaf on it along with the message ‘save this shit, it’s good shit’. Underneath, almost as an afterthought, it said climate march.
These weren’t rebels without a cause; these were rebels with one cause too many.
Two vendors with a sharp eye for a good opportunity were selling poppadum and bhail puri. It was the ice cream man selling ice lollies who was really making a killing though — protesting climate change can be thirsty business.
The strangeness, the song and the dance, the elaborately melodramatic ‘die-in’ in front of Metropole Hotel — it was all planned though. “If you want people to pay attention then you have to engage them,” said journalist Afia Salam, one of the minds behind organising the event in Karachi. “Audio-visual methods are a way to get people to listen to you.”
Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable countries when it comes to climate change, hosting the highest number of glaciers of any place in the world after the two poles. However, its contribution to global warming is negligible when compared to the likes of the United States, China and India. Pakistan is not to blame but its citizens will suffer gravely due to the folly of others.
“The politicians need to do something,” said George Fulton of George ka Pakistan fame. “Karachi has gotten gradually worse in the 15 years that I have been here.”
How then do you get the politicians and the people who make the decisions to take notice? “It’s only through such protests can we make the politicians listen to what we have to say,” said Salam. “Politicians need to be made aware that when resources such as water run out, the value of borders diminishes. We already have climate refugees and countries will start invading other countries when resources become scarcer.”
Activist Sheema Kermani believes the same. “The politicians must act,” she said. “They must do something.”
And so the protesters marched from Frere Hall to Metropole Hotel in a bid to make politicians not only in Pakistan but all over the world take notice. The announcer reminded everyone to pick up their litter after them. Few, if any, did.
“What do we want? Climate justice,” was the most popular chant. An angry looking young man flipped off the crowd as he drove past. It was rush hour on Friday evening and people had more important things to do than save the planet, or pretend to save the planet, depending on who you ask. Others honked their car horns.
It was all getting quite noisy and it was quite convenient that the announcers had huge speakers, powered by a large diesel generator, that helped them be heard over the din.
“Ap ki awaz itni buland honi chahye ke Islamabad tak puhanchay [your voice should be loud enough that it reaches Islamabad],” screamed the announcer. The crowd roared, the diesel generator rumbled and the cars honked.
“Ab hum symbolic die-in keraingay [now we will hold a symbolic die-in],” she said. “Mar jayein sub [everyone die].”
The protesters lay on the ground and journalists clamored over them with their cameras, trying to find the best angles. It really did make for a good photo op. A little kid, passing by, giggled and pointed at the large number of people pretending to be dead on a busy street. “In ko kia hogaya hai [what’s happened to them]?” he asked to nobody in particular and continued to walk away, unaware that the planet as he knows it is dying.
“Where are the trees,” asked another announcer. “Jawab do [answer us],” roared the crowd.
“Where are the animals,” he asked. “Jawab do,” they said in unison.
“Where are the birds,” he asked. “Jawab do,” came the chorus.
The diesel generator rumbled on with purpose and the cars honked with anger. The sun had set and the march was over.