Ice Cold Beer in Karachi
Caveat: This post contains strong lanuage. NSFW.
Karachi is a city of incongruity. I was raised there in Pakistan, and now I only visit every couple of years as my parents age and my brothers continue to live and work in a place that has come to feel foreign and familiar all at the same time. Maybe it was the sweltering July heat during my recent visit or maybe I’m just getting older, but I am tired of trying to fit into a place that is just so damn hypocritical.
Places like Clifton Beach, where nice restaurants abound and camels and horses promenade the beach alongside ice cream and balloon vendors, seem like a Persian paradise. Unfortunately that idyllic atmosphere is nothing more than a superficial facade.
For those who don’t know about Pakistan, 95 percent of the country is Muslim, a religion that prohibits alcohol consumption. The country is insanely obsessed with prohibition. It is against the law to purchase or consume alcohol unless you are a non-Muslim or a foreigner. The authorities make damn sure this law is strictly enforced – not just by the police, but by crazy lynch mobs, hell-bent on preserving cultural restrictions.
When I was in college, I vividly recall another student who was caught drinking in the dorm by other students. For an hour, these students beat him mercilessly with chains and chairs until his bones were broken and he was bleeding everywhere. That was before they bothered to call the police. It’s fucking crazy, senseless “justice,” especially since some of them likely had consumed alcohol themselves. These are the mother fuckers who are now grown men wreaking havoc in the streets of Pakistan.
If you are the right person in the right place, alcohol is not a problem. In fact, alcohol isn’t even so terribly expensive, considering that it is a black market product. Pakistan has its own brewing company, Murree Brewery Company Ltd., started in 1860 after the British annexation of Punjab mainly to meet the British army beer consumption needs. Its past is a bit storied with one brewing site collapsing from an earthquake and another being burned down to the ground by anti-beer activist Muslims. Liquor and wine are also available in this country since 5 percent of the population and tourists are allowed to drink.
If you want to taste the best beer of your life – or at least one of the very best – it’s hard to surpass a Murree beer that you’ve bought on a nondescript side street. The police could be just around the corner, waiting to bust an illegal alcohol sale. The next best thing is a much more Western experience – a chilled brew, sweating in the heat of a Pakistani summer afternoon spent on the beach.
That was the case for this visit – and even some of my previous visits. Those, however, that have social stature can fly in the face of this law so that they can walk right in front of the policemen, buy their alcohol and move along. I won’t lie – it’s damn unnerving walking by the police, but the beer I have had in Pakistan rates as some of the very best in my life. The real trick is confidence. He who hesitates may have the fucking beating of their lives.
So, this recent visit started with my purchase of 20 fabulous beers and a decision to wear shorts - no matter where I went, because it was just too damn hot. It’s crazy to wear more. It’s crazy not to quench your thirst with something deliciously cold as Murree beer. Although I was stopped for jogging in shorts and couldn’t enter a particular park, I felt liberated. I discovered Clifton Beach, an oasis. People that can afford it visit the posh restaurants, toting their own wine, beer or alcohol and treating themselves to a nice French or Italian meal, a soccer match that they watch at the sports bar, or conversation with friends at a quaint café. The waiters will serve you your alcohol. From the chaotic and sweltering outside filled with hundreds of people who know what is going on in these restaurants and what you are carrying in your brown bag, you escape. You find calm. Not too many people, and nearly all with a drink in hand. It’s the calm I sought every afternoon – relief from daily news reports that indicated a surreal cultural acceptance of lynch mob mentality that confounded me and made me mad. And that’s when I would be served an ice-cold beer to help digest the unpalatable.