Lyari lives on the margins of an already lost city. The soccer match was played not between one school or another, or one street against the next, but between two teams both named after a local gangster. Baba Ladla 99 and Baba Ladla 92 battled it out on the soccer field, their teenage players playing deep into the night when the air turns cool and the strictures of the fasting month pause. Baba Ladla himself was supposedly present at the match, as was provincial minister, Javed Nagori. It is alleged that they were the intended targets of the attack. They survived.
The metaphors between sport and survival have been parsed and applied to conflict many a time. With its distillations of loss and victory, its demarcations of what is and is not permitted in the pursuit of competition, there are many parallels. All of them are pertinent to the situation in Lyari and its children growing up in an environment riven with every flavor of violence. Gang leaders, land mafias, ethnic hatreds, poverty, unemployment and drug dependence all coalescing into a panorama of despair that seems insurmountable. Soccer has been a slim lifeline here and saving the children with sport has been a cause that has been taken up by a few. One recent documentary on the Karachi United Football Foundation lays out the problem and the possibilities; children taken off the streets into the soccer camps. The ethic of hard work that pays off, the idea of an inherent fairness; and the real possibility of victory, revealed to Lyari’s nearly lost progeny.
Around them the wars rage on. Since June began and the heat bore down on the hovels and lanes of Lyari, nearly 40 people have died there. The deadliest attack, before this deadly attack, took place on June 21st 2013 killing 16 people, including MQM leader Sajid Qureshi and his son Waqar Qureshi. Less than a week later, a shootout between gangsters and police Rangers in Nayabad Lyari left Saqib Boxer dead. Mandara Mohalla in Lyari became the next battleground four days later when a gang conflict led to hand grenades being lobbed into the crowded slum lanes. Other parts of the slum echoed with gunfire and four were dead at the end of the day. Many of those killed were Kutchis, whose leaders announced a mass exodus of the community from the area. Less than one month ago, they said, over a 1000 people had left hearth and home in Lyari and moved inland to Thatta and Badin. They are left with no jobs and no promise of employment, just because they wanted to live.
In the midst of this mayhem, the soccer players of Lyari play to live. They play because in sport, it is their effort, the bare human ability to transcend physical limitations that matters. In the game they do not need a gun, a benefactor, a hiding place, a hoard of cash, a posse of gangsters or a powerful politician’s favor to make it. In the game, effort means something, togetherness is crucial and victory is possible. Around them Lyari bleeds and burns, an island of extreme want and haplessness in a fecund city birthing new hatreds faster than they can be fought. Eleven of these children, the believers in survival and sport died this week, their will, their efforts to make it all to be forgotten by next week.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.
She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon Press 2015). She tweets @rafiazakaria
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