19 SEPTEMBER 1996. It was close to three in the morning and we were sitting in the drawing room downstairs, a room typical of the house’s abstract art deco style, boxed in with no windows, with maroon velvet walls and decorated with modern Pakistani art. We had just come back from dinner at the Avari Hotel. Papa’s birthday had been the night before and some friends had invited us for a belated celebration. He was forty-two.
The Avari is one of Karachi’s grander hotels, founded by an old Parsi family patriarch, Dinshaw Avari, who eventually passed it, as is the custom in Pakistan, to his son, Byram. It’s rather a plain hotel, painted blue and white on the outside, not too ostentatious, unlike the spate of foreign chain hotels that are the Avari’s neighbours. In the days before skyscrapers captured the imagination of the city’s architects, the Avari was advertised as the country’s tallest building. Now banks compete with each other over whose building is the highest as they struggle upwards to escape from the smog and poverty of the city. In the mid-nineties, the Avari Hotel was known for being home to Karachi’s only Japanese restaurant, Fujiyama. We had eaten there that night.
That Friday evening Papa was wearing a navy blue suit, one of the few he had that still fitted him. Like his father, my grandfather Zulfikar Ali, Papa was a dandy when it came to clothes and grooming. He was an elegant man, nearly six foot three with salt and pepper hair and a neatly trimmed moustache. Papa had put on weight over the past two years, the busy and tense months that marked our return to Pakistan and the start of a newly public life, and we teased him about it. He took it good-naturedly, insisting that he was going on a diet soon, while my younger brother Zulfi and I patted his belly.