When I told my friends and family that I was going to Nine Zero for a class assignment, their reaction was an odd mix of excitement and trepidation. They were wishing me luck for some odd reason!
For those who don’t know what it is, Nine Zero ─ or 90 ─ are theMuttahida Quami Movement’s (MQM) headquarters in Karachi. I wasn’t alone; my classmates and teacher were going with me. I did not understand why everyone was so scared. What was so terrifying about Nine Zero, anyway?
Having spent most of my life in Karachi, I have heard the words “Nine Zero” uncountable times. As a child, I thought it was the name of a gang. As I grew older, I realised it was a place, but I didn’t know if it was the name of an area, or someone’s house number. All I knew was that it was a very popular place.
When I finally understood clearly what Nine Zero was, I was curious to visit. I found out that you cannot just visit; it’s a high security area and you need all sorts of permissions.
“Photo nahi lain! Delete karein isay!” said a guard to my classmate as we crossed the first barrier to enter the area.
(Don’t take photos. Delete the one you just took!)
I immediately decided to be on my best behaviour.
We were taken to the seminar hall for a lecture on the local governance system in general, and the SPLGO 2012. Hyderabad’s former mayor, Kanwar Naveed Jamil, and ex-MNA Ameenul Haq were to deliver to us a lecture on the topic.
As it was my first time meeting officials of a well-known political party, I expected them to have an attitude to match – possibly arrogant with their noses in the air, and very, very formal. However, to my surprise, they were as humble and welcoming as they could be. It was almost as if they weren’t attending to a class of journalism newbies, but their friends.
There were seats and microphones set up for them on the stage of the seminar hall, but instead they sat very casually on the stairs and began to lecture. It went well, and though they didn’t have enough time to answer all our questions, they did go out of their way to answer a few.
We stepped out of the seminar hall and were guided to a table where snacks had been served for all of us. This followed a nice, detailed tour of the area.
From what I had heard, Nine Zero had seemed like a very scary place.
The reality couldn’t be more different; it reminded me of a peaceful 90’s Karachi. The streets were clean and children played ball outside. Despite there being lots of goats and cows tied outside homes for Bakra Eid, the area was very well-maintained. I found the cleanliness factor very commendable.
There were modern-looking lamp posts and benches on the corners of all streets for people to sit on and just have a good time in the evening. Despite being so well-maintained, I found that it did represent the middle class perfectly. You would expect too much to be spent on polishing the look of a political party’s hub, with expensive-looking homes and flashy cars, but it was the opposite. One could tell that where the party’s motto was to serve the middle class, it also focused on making the area look the part.
“This is so peaceful. I’d love to live here,” said my friend Laraib as we ventured through the gullies of Nine Zero without a worry.
A bunch of girls wandering in any area of Karachi would attract attention of the men there, but that wasn’t the case here. No one ogled at us. The residents greeted us with warm smiles, and you could tell that these were out of respect and humility.
Soon we were at MQM leader, AKA ‘Quaid-e-Tehreek’ Altaf Hussain’s house. Mr Ameenul Haq showed us around and even allowed us to take photographs, which wasn’t the case at the entrance of the area, probably because of security reasons.
It was a small house, neatly kept. The white sheets spread on the floor reminded me of my grandmother who hails from Delhi and tells me that laying white sheets neatly on the floor is a very Muhajir family thing to do. Beside a new paint job and installing air-conditioners, I don’t think much was done to the place since Altaf Hussain lived here. I was tempted to tweet a picture of myself sitting on a sofa at his house, with the caption, “Just another day in my life, chilling at Altaf Bhai’s place,” but I held back my excitement.
We then ventured to the monitoring room – a ‘state of art’ monitoring room as a friend calls it. It literally had walls made of televisions screens and, well, technical stuff, like any good monitoring facility should. They have three years worth of televised programmes stored in their database.
Five hundred volunteers are working only on monitoring social media. Yes, they work and report, unlike many other political parties’ social media monitors who participate and engage in an annoying kind of interaction way too much.
In all, it was a great and very well-organised experience. I would like to clarify that I am not affiliated with the MQM; I am only a journalism student who likes to appreciate what is appreciable.
This post originally appeared here.