Cee…Emm…Oh…Enn (CMON)! My cousin said, as she impatiently nudged me to ask our parents the much awaited question.
It was the summer of 1998 – the year our lives changed. McDonald’s had finally opened it’s doors in Karachi. We were visiting from Riyadh those days and whenever we would pass by the golden arches, it seemed like a mirage in the midst of the bustling Tariq Road.
We were trying to convince our parents one week in advance if we could go have a taste of the fast food goodness that was the talk of the town.
It was no surprise that us kids were impatiently waiting for our chance to munch on those crispy fries and burgers. It wasn’t everyday that we had the luxury of eating out, let alone have ice cream from the melodious Walls truck passing by my grandparents house.
Making a plan to go out with friends or go to their house was yet another mountain to climb. I was lucky that my best friend was my neighbour for many years. But planning to meet my school friends wasn’t an easy task.
For one, living in Riyadh had its fair share of transportation issues since women aren’t allowed to drive. Not everyone had a full time driver and the birth of Careem and Uber was far away.
We were dependent on our dads for even getting milk or bread from the nearby bakala. Our dads would be the main drivers of the house and wouldn’t be too keen on picking and dropping us all the time. Naturally, all they would want to do is have dinner and watch the news after work.
There were countless times when I had a plan with my friends and it got cancelled at the last minute. Either their parents didn’t allow them to go out frequently, or their dads were too tired to pick and drop them. It would crush me every single time, but it was something I had to live with.
Before the boom of extravagant shopping malls in Riyadh, there was only one lone mall in the city, Al Akaria. Everyone would flock to the mall on Olaya Street on the weekends, which was the only form of entertainment. My best friend, older sister, and I were dying to go together and begged our parents to allow us.
We finally got permission on one condition: my friends father would chaperone us. We readily accepted and stuffed into the backseat of my friends grey Subaru.
We hurriedly got out our glittery purple and blue stick eyeliners and smeared it all over our eyelids. I still wonder to this day how ridiculous we looked since we never bothered checking in a mirror!
It wasn’t everyday we could roam around the mall freely. My friends dad sat on a bench while we made our way to what seemed like the roads to paradise. I had such a surge of excitement rushing through my veins that I still remember it till this very day.
If we look at our lives now – many things don’t hold the same value, with charm hanging by a thread. I think it’s because everything has become so overly exhausted now. There are an influx of shopping malls, restaurants, events held for entertainment purposes, and many avenues for leisure activities.
Traveling has also become excessively common as compared to before. When I visited Turkey for the third time, I couldn’t help but notice the stark difference in terms of the number of tourists.
On my first visit in 1997, the horse carriage rides we took in Princes’ Islands were incredibly peaceful. We roamed around and had lunch in a fairly peaceful ambiance.
Now the islands were overcrowded with tourists and long line ups for restaurants, ice cream stalls, and horse carriage rides. The experience just didn’t feel the same anymore.
Eating out or going to the shopping mall doesn’t hold that same level of charm, either. Everything including holidays has become so excessively commercialized, which is why we have gotten used to it. I think once we start getting used to something or a habit, we begin to take it for granted.
The days of not being allowed to go out alone with friends or plans being made weeks before feels unreal to me now. When I observe the lives of many teenagers these days, I realize they won’t ever feel that.
The sense of adrenaline and excitement pulsing through their veins while taking their first steps in the mall together has a completely different meaning to it now.
After mobile phones, most kids wouldn’t experience the feeling of being allowed to use the cordless phone to call their friend while dialling the number with their heart racing.
The enjoyment of flipping the channels or watching their favourite movie over the weekend wasn’t the same anymore either, thanks to the internet and influx of multimedia.
Many kids can’t relate to how buying clothes, shoes, or any other accessory was a big deal to us because we only bought things on special occasions or ofcourse, sales.
When I bought my jelly multi-colored pens, I finally had something to impress my classmates with. The lights switching on and off on my LA Gears as I walked across my compound lanes were another reason to show off to my neighbours.
Now, you might be wondering: how do we bring that charm back? The fact of the matter is, in most cases you won’t be able to.
There are unlimited things that are easily replaced or readily available today. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the house anymore, everything will arrive at your doorstep. But you can at least try to bring the charm back with your own children.
Treat them to their favourite things on special occasions or make a monthly chart with a day marked for something exciting if they complete tasks and help around the house. This will surely keep the whole family motivated throughout the month!
To add to that, it will teach them a lesson of responsibility and independence. An added bonus is that they will learn the value of certain things in life and hopefully continue pass this on to their future children.