DAWN - Features; June 27, 2007

Published June 27, 2007

Lost in translationBy Irfan Malik

A SETTLER’s sense of ownership can never rival the claim of the original resident. Still, even though my Punjabi family came to Karachi only recently, in 1948, I feel out of place in any other part of Pakistan.

The mango tree has blossomed but sadly I still speak only Urdu and English, languages seen as foreign in vast chunks of the country. My father, a businessman to the core, saw to that and it is my lasting regret that I cannot converse in Sindhi, the language of the land of my birth. I can understand some of it but my vocabulary is limited, more or less, to Cossack jo pint.

A pity, really. Settlers in other parts of the country made it a point to assimilate. Not so in Sindh, where people seeking refuge or simply a better tomorrow were welcomed with open arms, only to develop an undeserved sense of superiority and a marked disdain for those who made their stay possible in the first place.

The same thing, with cultural, geopolitical and logistical variations of course, happened in Palestine after the second world war.

So I am to Karachi born and unfit for life anywhere else. Hardly surprising then that my rare expeditions out of the city are marked, or so it seems, by a curious inability to exhale and a failure to let down the sorry wisps that were once a flowing mane.Most of the time I can’t wait to get back to the place where just being myself will do more often than not, where minimal play-acting is in order. There is nothing special about this. Almost everyone feels the same way about their home town, with the possible exception of those living in the vicinity of the Chagai hills.

So I claim no inside knowledge of what makes the rest of Pakistan tick. I rely on informants, most of them still on the ball despite the questionable habits they’ve developed over the years.

I am told there is far more overt religiosity in Karachi than in other cities. If true, why is this so?

My friend Puppoo is fond of saying that people who are drawn to mosques and mullahs are invariably the most sinful, engaged in a perpetual act of contrition if you will. But there is no solid data to corroborate this claim, enticing as it is.

My personal take is that overbearing, as opposed to purely personal, religiosity has something to do with the rootlessness eating away at the soul of Karachi. After all, how many of us are from here, going back several generations? The uniform of religion — big beard, no moustache, the shalwar hitched rakishly above the ankles — affords an instant identity amidst the anonymity of life in an unnaturally large city.

You become part of a community, finally. Your life has meaning.

Of course I could be wrong. As B. Wooster said, one man’s caviar is another man’s major-general. It takes all sorts.

Religiosity is free, come one come all. What’s more, it’s empowering. Put on the uniform and you won’t be just another person who makes the tea in an office but a force to be reckoned with. Just like that. Magic.

So what if you don’t have a Land Cruiser, even a scooter. You can now lecture people, especially the young, and they will listen. Because you have the uniform. Because you can now shove a hand grenade up the fundament of authority.

This allure is not lost on those who fatten themselves through the business of religion. The top mullahs of Pakistan have not done an honest day’s work their entire lives, nor are they from prosperous families, yet they live in the lap of luxury.They have time on their hands, time enough to inspire others to hatred.

Where’s all this money coming from, chief?

Enough said, for now.


Laws violated to install killer hoardings

By Fahim Zaman Khan

HOARDINGS have gradually taken monstrous proportions during the last 15 odd years. These outdoor advertisements were major contributors to the current rain-related death toll following Saturday’s storm. These hoardings may only weigh a ton but there is several tons of money involved in the racket and therefore an early reprieve from this issue may be wishful thinking.

Outdoor advertisements are not necessarily a menace if they are controlled under regulations and their impact is not detrimental to the safety of the people, property and the environment of the surrounding area. During the early 1990s, the then Sindh chief minister, Muzaffar Hussain Shah, had constituted an aesthetic committee for the city. A sub-committee that included people like senior advertising professional S.M. Shahid worked ceaselessly to formulate by-laws for hoardings. Those recommendations and other universally accepted norms and regulations have sat in city files for more than a decade.

In 1995, the then prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, issued explicit instructions to remove illegal hoardings from the streets and the KMC ran a major campaign for their removal. However, it stumbled on two counts: the station commander of the Faisal Cantonment Board confronted the KMC administration head-on during a meeting called by the then Karachi commissioner (currently principal secretary to the Sindh governor) Saleem Khan and the vested interests led by a ruling party heavyweight dressed as the president, Outdoor Advertisers’ Association (OAA).

The brigadier wanted the KMC to pay Rs500,000 for each of the hoardings removed from his area and the OAA drew guns on KMC staff at several locations, including Schon Circle. However, the massive campaign continued for several months.

Advertisements in limited numbers can, if carefully designed and situated, form an attractive feature of a commercial centre.

However, when they are poorly designed, unsuitably located, unduly large or too numerous, they can create visual clutter and become detrimental to the street scene.

Sensitively designed and located illuminated displays can lend a sense of vitality to the streets, but there is a danger that they can detract from amenity or become traffic hazards if they distract drivers.

In residential areas, advertisements should be permitted only in the most exceptional circumstances. Any outdoor advertisement must be kept clean, tidy and in a safe condition. It requires the permission of the owner and other users of the land. The sign should not obscure or attract attention from any official or safety signage.

In case of unduly large hoardings, permission or consent should only be given by the city authorities or the other landowning agencies ie the six cantonment boards, the KPT, Civil Aviation Authority, Pakistan Railways, Site or the DHA provided that the hoarding and its structure would at least withstand the international benchmark wind velocities of over 120 kilometres per hour or 75mph. These have been prescribed under the ‘Unified Building By-laws’ for structural safety features in respect of natural hazard by way of earthquake, cyclone and other forces of nature for buildings and other structures allowed to be put-up in an urban environment.

It should also be mandatory that the hoardings are erected in areas devoid of general human activity, power-lines, and/or any other property so that in case of a structural failure, the damage remains minimal. Such stringent regulations and controls should condemn these monstrosities to waste expenses of the Super Highway, National Highway or alongside some future motorway instead of every intersection within our municipal boundaries.

There also has to be a role of the Karachi Building Control Authority to ensure structural integrity and town-planning references. Unfortunately, someone currently looking after the abattoirs could well be soon transferred and made responsible for outdoor advertisements in the city.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007



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