-Illustration by Fahad Naveed.
-Illustration by Fahad Naveed.

Karachi has arrived. And it seems to be having a curious effect on its citizens, many of whom are moved to write tortured paeans to it in lyrical prose; a veritable cornucopia for the city dwellers’ soul.

Karachi teases and tantalises, it infuriates and amazes, it energises and depletes. Are you getting the drift? The juxtaposition of opposites? The ingenious fusion of content and style? The contrasts of the megapolis encapsulated in the antithetical patterning of prose? Never has it been more popular to write about the city. Many have risen to the challenge, and many are going to continue to do so. But why are so many people suddenly moved to such profound effusion?

They do so out of charity and goodwill. The Karachi article is no ordinary article – it is the writers’ noble quest to make sense of the chaos of the city, an attempt to resolve the polarities they face every single day.

Also see: Karachi Time Machine

The fact that anything they have to say will be swallowed whole by a voracious press and provide them with the gratification of publication has very little to do with their motives which are, without a doubt, well meaning and worthy. They write not to exploit, but to enquire, to discover and to defend.

And they do so in ways that are infinitely imitable, thereby ensuring that anyone can write about the city. This is to their credit, for the key to representation is not quality but quantity.

By following the basic tips outlined below, you, too, can climb the Karachi donkey cart every time Karachi is under crisis. There is a story under every rubble stone. Here is how to tell it

  1. Apply a tortured metaphor (preferably oxymoronic) – Karachi is a neglected wife, a beloved schizophrenic, a furnace of violence and passion, a ticking time bomb, a poetic gunshot, a majestic explosion. Not only will metaphors allow you to conserve on word limit, they will leave enough ambiguity so that you will be saved from actually explaining what you mean under the mantle of poetic license.

  2. Personify the city. Talk to her. We all know that second person narratives are in vogue. O Karachi, you must be saved. You must be hugged, you must be loved and you must be rescued. O, Karachi, do not ask me who is to rescue you. I cannot get into facts while I am waxing lyrical.

  3. Get into an alliterative frenzy full of abstract nouns so no troll can bother you in the comments section by asking questions about specific details. So Karachi is bold, beautiful, buzzing. It is dazzling, dangerous and daring. It is wanton, warm-hearted, wary. It is cultured, crime-ridden, cut-throat, callous (but of course, stoically calm amidst all the ravages).

  4. To uphold the morale of Karachi, make extensive comparisons to the West – so readers can see the hidden potential that you have glimpsed. Equate Zamzama with Bond Street and I I Chundrigar Road with Wall Street. Tell them that Karachi is the New York of Pakistan. But since most overcrowded and urban third world megacities make the same claim, you can aim for originality and say that it was once dubbed the Paris of the East. In fact, if you look hard enough and go to Saddar, you can see old Britain in its buildings and even make a documentary about how Cambridge and Karachi are actually tremendously similar.

  5. Sentences. Without verbs. Karachi. A melting pot. City of tragedy. City of hope. Et cetera. Et cetera.

  6. Talk about the people. The people are its salvation. Tell them not to get bogged down by water shortages, electric breakdowns, transportation strikes, targeted killings, bomb blasts and all the like. And tell them to stop associating Karachi with only negativity just because you have listed it all down all over again. Tell them that they must keep positive. The world is their hand grenade.

  7. Make sure you talk about the ‘fibre’ of Karachi and its resilience. You have heard of other cities that decided to wrap up and go home because the going got too tough? Just.Stopped.Existing. It happens all the time. So unfortunate. In this context, do mention the slum dwellers, the survivors of sectarian bombings and all such victims who unfortunately don’t write romantic articles about the city because they are too busy surviving to write about survival.

  8. Talk about the places you love in Karachi. Let the reader glean what he will from your experiences, but make sure you talk about Lyari, Botal Gali and all non-tish tosh areas that are unusual and exotic, areas which your audience probably doesn’t know about so you can show how awami you are. Make sure you add something semi-derogatory about Clifton and Defence to compound the effect.

At the end of it all, take heed, for there will be many readers who will attack you for producing yet another unoriginal piece of writing. If this happens, you can always say that writing about any city is destined to fall into these clichés, that the destiny of 'The Karachi Article' is doomed, because the city is doomed. (See that false syllogism that will have everyone running round in an endless loop?)

Or you can say your failure was a deliberate one, thereby turning it into an unassuming victory. If anyone points out that you are contradicting yourself, say this is only because Karachi itself is a maze of contradictions. Tell them that an article about Karachi which does not befuddle and bemuse is not authentic; it is not true to the soul of the city.

Karachi is dying, but there is value in its dying breath and the recording of each breath is worthy and not at all opportunistic. I am sure you will rise to the challenge and stand tall like the historic Habib Bank building — the Empire State Building of Pakistan.

- This article was published in The Herald's April issue.



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