The taxi creaked as it rattled over the rutted road. The driver looked sideways at me and smiled appreciately.
“You look good in that shalwar kameez. You’re practically Pakistani!”.
“ I like Pakistan” I replied. “It is a wonderful country in many ways”.
“Everything here is corrupt. This country has everything: coal, gas, oil, fruit, wheat, and yet people are hungry and poor. This country will never get better”.
We drove past a CNG filling station. Compressed Natural Gas is the fuel of choice for Pakistani taxi drivers simply because it is cheap, yet because of shortages it is only available for two days a week.
“Look at that line of cars!” he said as we drove past a queue of battered taxis several hundred metres long. “They’ll be waiting for five, maybe six hours just to get enough gas for the day’s work. Most of them probably got up at 4am to start queueing. They are poor, and their children will be poor, and their children’s children will be poor, and nothing will change”.
I sat in silence. The taxi swerved around a pothole, then swerved back again to avoid another. The road was corrugated and cracked like the cover of an antique book.
“And look at the roads! Nobody fixes them, and this is not some tiny village, this is one of the biggest cities in Pakistan. Even village roads in your country are probably better than these”.
I didn’t say anything. He was right; they are. His voice was not angry or bitter. It was worse than that: it was numb, as though despondency had anaesthetised his ability to care.
Struggling to make him think more positively, I asked what he thought should be done to improve things in Pakistan. He sat quietly for what felt like an age, then said:
“I don’t know”.