Wayne Croning, the author of Karachi Backwaters was born in Karachi in the early 60’s. He got his education in the same city but later emigrated to Canada where he lives presently with his family. I thought it would be a good idea to interview him to know more about him, and about the city of his birth. He was kind enough to answer all my questions in detail and I am really grateful to him for sending over the nice pics of that era. One tends to get nostalgic just by looking at old pics and I am sure Wayne misses the city of his birth. In this interview he talks about himself, his family, his early life in Karachi, how it is in Canada, in fact he pours it all out. I hope you enjoy the interview.
nmafzal: Tell us about your early life in Karachi. Your schooling and all.
Wayne: I was born in Karachi in the early 60’s. First lived with my parents at my grandpa’s home in the Saddar area and studied at St. Rita’s school in P.E.C.H.S. (School no longer exists). The rest of my schooling was done at St. Paul’s High School in Saddar. I completed my O Levels from here in 1981. The Principal at the time was Rev. Fr. Joe Paul. School was tough, that is putting it short and sweet. Tons of homework, tests, exams. Teachers were great, although a few of them had no problem slapping students around or caning them. All that is now stopped of course.
Our family had a great love for the sea. I have old photos of some bunder boat picnics at Sandspit from the 1950’s. We spent most of the school summer holidays at the beach at Sandspit. I remember many house parties (as we called them then). Any excuse to have a party; birthdays, Christmas, or parties just for the heck of it. Kids had no computer games then. We flew kites, played gullie danda, running catching, hide and seek, “save”, cowboys and Indians. We also sometimes made our own kites, manjah (thread for flying kites, coated with ground up glass and a mixture of glue). Cricket was never my favourite sport, I got hit by that darn ball too many times. Hockey banged up my shins, and football, well, lets just say the ball never came to me. Haha.
Then there were the two wars with India. I remember the air raid siren going off at night, darkness, hiding under stairs, dining table, bed. Playing in the trenches in the evening. Patriotic songs on TV. Then one day a large bomb was dropped in an open area near where we were staying. Windows rattled, doors shook, we were all spooked. I was ten at the time.
nmafzal: Tell us about your parents and relatives please.
Wayne: My mother was born in Karachi before partition, the youngest of four sisters. My father was born somewhere in the south of India and his family finally moved to Karachi before partition. Most of my relatives today are scattered around the world. Some of my relatives are still living in Karachi. Some cousins are in Australia, Canada and India. Many relatives remain undiscovered since partition.
nmafzal: How do you find the change? Going to Canada, I mean was it planned or just an opportunity?
Wayne: The move to Canada was planned. My older brother was here a few years before us and then he sponsored us (mom and myself) in 1992. I had mixed feelings about leaving Karachi: Sad to leave my birthplace; happy and excited to start a brand new life in Canada. The first thing I noticed was it was not a crowded place, not like Karachi. Very few people on the roads, most of them in their cars going to work or kids going to school in buses. Traffic was very orderly, and people friendly. The bad thing was there were no jobs. Canada was in a deep recession. It was hard to find even part time, menial jobs and for newly arrived immigrants, it was near impossible to land a job.
“Do you have Canadian experience?” was the first question on employers’ lips. How does a newly arrived immigrant gain Canadian experience without getting offered a job in the first place? I wondered to myself. Did my previous work experience in Pakistan not count at all?? With thousands of Canadians out of work, the answer was obvious.
All in all, it was a big change for sure. Frustrating at times, and yet a whole new learning experience. I learned to love Canada at the same time not forgetting traditional values learned while growing up in Karachi. One thing I could not adjust to is the food, and still cannot survive without my curry and rice or dal chapati.
nmafzal: How is life in Canada?
Wayne: It depends on which city you live in. I have visited Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal and live in Winnipeg, which is right smack in the very middle of Canada, not far from the U.S. border. Edmonton is cold and lacks social life; Calgary is a booming city and has a lot of immigrants from India/Pakistan but is getting to be too crowded and expensive to live in (housing); Toronto is one of the largest cities and is a real rat race. Housing is very expensive, people seem stressed all the time and this is mainly due to the travel time to work and back which can take upwards of two hours a day depending on where one lives and how far work is. Toronto has a lot of Pakistani/Indian restaurants and this is the only reason I like that city.
Montreal is of course mainly a french speaking city and the people are very proud of their language, so trying to converse with the locals especially in the outlying areas can be a challenge.
The city has a lot of night life, and there is a lot to see and do in Old Montreal. I have come to love Winnipeg. It is very cold in winter but summer can get as hot as Karachi.
We normally head to the beach at least once a week during the summer. Housing is relatively affordable compared to the other cities. It is more laid back and the people are mostly very friendly.
nmafzal: I have been told Karachi used to be very peaceful once, tell me about it please.
Wayne: Karachi was one of the cleanest cities in Asia. Streets were washed at night, during my parents early days. There were no drive by shootings, kidnappings or other things to worry about. During my early childhood days, we came from school, did our homework and then went out to play till the sun went down. We did not have to be supervised. No one bothered us. We always felt safe. After the late seventies, things started to go downhill. Ethnic violence, strikes, shutdowns. Yet people go about their daily routine and life carries on even today.
nmafzal: Could you trace when things started to change for the worse in Karachi? Or how did it start?
Wayne: As I mentioned above, things were okay till the late seventies, then slowly the law and order situation/violence began to get out of hand. Sadly things never did improve. A few peaceful spells in between but violence begets violence and sometime in the early eighties, ethnic awareness and the spread of radical hatred and ethnic cleansing led to killings and revenge killings.
nmafzal: Did you ever experience any unpleasant or indecorous thing I mean before and after things changed?
Wayne: There was one horrible incident I remember from the late eighties. I woke up one morning to go to work. I lived in Nursery at that time. I got on my bike and began heading to Drigh Road (Sharah-e-Faisal) and stopped in shock: Dead bodies lay strewn about. An old lady lay dead on the sidewalk, shot by several bullets. It was one of the most shocking moments of my life. I had to get off my motorbike or would have fallen off right there. I had to shut my eyes, and turned back, knowing it was not safe anymore to go to work. Still cannot get that image out of my mind.
Then there was another incident when we were a few weeks away from leaving for Canada. My mom and I were heading to bid farewell to some family friends who lived in the Soldier Bazar area. We were on my bike and were passing through a famous park in the Garden area, when a man armed with a shotgun came running across the street, gun leveled at us (or so we thought).
Mom put out her hand in a defensive/submissive move. The man raised his gun ,and at that moment we noticed two men on our left writhing in their own blood. He had just shot them and was apparently going to finish them off. I heard bullets whiz by inches from my face. People were running for cover. I remained calm (maybe in shock?) and turned into a side lane, weaving my way in and out of other streets in order to get out of the line of fire. Mom was in panic mode and when we got to our friend’s home, she simply broke down. We were lucky to survive that day.
nmafzal: How do you see Pakistan from Canada, like the everyday news and things that you get to hear or see on TV?
Wayne: We rarely see Pakistan on the news now. During the raid on Afghanistan was when Pakistan was really in the news on a daily basis. None of the news was ever positive. The only thing positive was that the authorities were co operating with the U.S. government. The press has a knack of reporting negative things, they rarely show the good things about other countries.
nmafzal: You have recently published a book “Karachi Backwaters”, so how did you explore the writer in yourself?
Wayne: I never realized that I could write. One day at work I was thinking back (fondly) about my childhood memories and adventures and decided to start writing them down little by little as they came to me. My children would never know about those days unless I told them these stories. Writing them down is a sure way to preserve them not only for my children but for future generations. I had a lot of encouragement from family while writing the book, and this helped a lot.
nmafzal: Do you intend to write more?
Wayne: Yes indeed. There is still so much to tell: Adventures, carefree days, ghost stories passed down by my grandparents. All in my mind but hard to put down on paper. Working on it though.
nmafzal: Is there a Pakistani or Karachi community in Canada where you live? And how close knit are they?
Wayne: In Toronto there are several places like this. In Winnipeg, nothing!
nmafzal: Have your kids seen Karachi? If not will they ever?
Wayne: My children have never visited Karachi. Hopefully they will one day when things are a bit safer and they are a little older. Sure.
nmafzal: Do you miss Karachi? And what do you miss most about it?
Wayne: I miss Karachi in a big way. I dream of getting off a plane, kissing the ground there and visiting old places and friends. Have to keep reminding myself that Karachi has changed both physically and socially. I miss the food the most and the weather. The chat/gol kuppay in bori bazar, Student Biryani, Hanifya Burger, Korma, hot nans…gosh, I feel hungry now. I hope and pray for the citizens of not only Karachi but Pakistan that peace and prosperity will find its way back into the hearts and minds of all the people regardless of their religious or ethnic back ground.
A big thanks to Wayne for sparing his valuable time for this interview, I wish him all the best.
Please enjoy the pics….a trip down the memory lane.
Old times in Karachi!
Kevin, Ralph and Wayne.
Family visit to Sandspit.
Wayne’s best friend David.