Shiza Malik of Dawn in Karachi interviewed me for Dawn’s regular Living Colours feature. Her questions gave me an opportunity to reminisce about the Islamabad of old. See the excerpt below and the full interview here.
Q: How has Islamabad changed as a city, from what it was like in the 1970s?
A: Islamabad is a mess of a city now compared to what it was in the 1970s when it still seemed spanking new and wide open. There were few sectors to keep track of, the Islamabad Club was one of the farthest corners, Margalla Road was a single lane in each direction, one Seventh Avenue was a border of the city, and the Blue Area did not exist.
In those days, the city was also peppered with houses frozen mid-construction and characterised by balconies hanging from the wrecks, bushes growing into window holes, and concrete stairs rising up or falling down but never quite reaching the roof or the ground. These ‘ghost houses’ were left behind by the fleeing Bengali residents of the city in 1971. I noticed the last of these houses disappeared some years ago.
In addition to overpasses, new far off sectors, mammoth construction and the upcoming Metro Bus, the biggest difference today is the prevalence of an endless range of security barricades and the inaccessibility of certain parts of the city, such as the Diplomatic Enclave. Thank goodness for the Margalla Hills which, although often hidden behind a haze these days, remain the city’s defining characteristic and are what I miss most when I’m away.