In days of yore, our finest in law enforcement reposed their trust in the most dreaded of reactive measures, namely the ‘naakaa’, a hastily arranged and poorly equipped gauntlet, through which the decent law-abiding citizen would be wrung through while the proclaimed offender would bypass it all together to live and commit a crime another day. The years rolled on, a dictator died, a perverse sort of democracy (pronounced like most Pakistanis say ‘photography’ or ‘geography’) took root, only to be uprooted every few years and the scourge of young lovers, the Eagle Squad, was replaced by the Elite Force. However, the naakaa retained its place in our civil life and national subculture. The decade of terrorism and civil unrest began and the naakaa seemed destined to propel itself to the higher echelons of our tools against terror and the restlessness of the natives. And, for a while, it did so, till there appeared, on the scene, an innovation of international trade and commerce — the freight container: sheer metal nearly 4,000 kilogrammes in weight, and capable of blocking roads and alleys like the naakaa never could. And life has never been the same since some smart-thinking sycophant in law enforcement conjured up the image of a container cordoning off a street or an area.
Since that fateful day, we have become a nation obsessed with containers. The police love these rectangular constructs while our political leaders love these even more. The general public talks about containers and the inconvenience — or distraction — they create with the same frequency they talk about power shortages and the travails of running a generator. While our finest use these metal boxes to block traffic, our elite have converted these into roaming homes, equipped with luxuries. Pretty soon the politico-container will become a status symbol a la the Pajero of the 1980s. If he has one, so must I, will some upcoming political leader say. If he has one with an air-conditioner, I will do it better by having one that is bulletproof, will say another prima donna. Then there are those amongst us, motivated by zealous devotion, who love containers for the personal challenges these throw up for them; they climb over containers, slide under them and push them over with the agility and strength that would put to shame a decathlon athlete.

It is now becoming worrisome to even consider life without the container in our cities. The sight of these metal boxes has been imprinted on the silk of our psyche. Imagine, if tomorrow your route to work were not blocked off by a container, you could be mistaken for thinking all is well in the realm. Hence, the powers that be will do their damnedest to make sure these metal behemoths are continued to be used inland rather than aboard vessels. It is said, opportunities are born out of crises, so soon we can expect a container mafia to rise from the swathes of criminal entrepreneurs, like the water mafia in Karachi, which will attempt to keep more containers on-shore in order to raise the price of those available for transporting goods from point A to point B. Given the ubiquitous-ness of containers and the expectation that more and more of these will dot our landscape, we now run the risk of soon being known as the Republic of Containeristan!
Published in The Express Tribune, October 28th, 2014.