Nudrat’s Climate Story
How are you sensing climate change?
Growing up in Karachi, Pakistan, a megacity along the coast of the Arabian Sea, I always had a sense of ways in which nature shapes and molds the everyday texture of human life. One of the most well-known myths in Karachi is that of the 8th century Sufi mystic Abdullah Shah Ghazi, whose shrine straddles Sea View, one of Karachi’s biggest public beaches. Legend has it that a community of fisherman came to Abdullah Shah Ghazi and requested his help as the rough sea was preventing them from going into the waters to earn their livelihoods. Shah Ghazi was able to control the whims of the sea by placing a bowl in the water and ordering it to stay calm, and even today, when there is a threat of a cyclone or a storm heading towards the city, Karachiites joke about how the saint will protect the city from any destruction from the sea.
Many such legends about the interconnectedness of nature and humans are embedded within the fabric of South Asian cultural and social life, speaking to a centuries-long understanding of the truth that there is no separation between us and the natural world. Intense episodes of freakish weather have organized my childhood memories of the city.
Within my own family lore, an oft-repeated story is that of my birth, on an August afternoon in the middle of monsoon season when my father had to wade through waist-level water to come meet me in the hospital for the very first time. An early clear memory is when I was eleven years old, and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had just come out. I was in the car with my parents, driving back from the bookstore when it started raining and we were stuck in a massive traffic jam as water started collecting on the roads, slowing down the pace of the cars to a crawl. I still remember it getting darker outside the car, and me reading the book in the crisscrossing light of the streetlamps with the noise of thunder in my ears.
In recent years, however, these rarer weather events have become alarmingly recurring and exponentially greater in their intensity and the destruction they cause to my city, leading to a growing sense of unease and helplessness in every resident of the city. Last summer, periods of prolonged rain caused massive urban flooding in many parts of the city, including in my neighborhood. My family and I watched from our windows in horror as water started rising on the streets and eventually started coming in through our garage and from the balcony doors. As electricity was turned off in our area as a precaution, my family gathered around the kitchen table discussing the possibility of braving the weather outside and going to my uncle’s house in a close-by neighborhood which was, thankfully, built at a height and was therefore protected from flooding.
Eventually, I stepped out of the house, with my terrified pet cat in my arms. Even though the storm had passed, the water on the street still came up to my waist. As I carefully made my way to the end of the street, trying to remain calm and attempting to soothe my cat, I remember being filled with awe at the might of nature and wonder at our human arrogance to believe we could ever master it.
How do these changes make you feel?
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