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I Heart Karachi: Powerful stories from the 'city of death'

Updated September 02, 2014
Shahid Anjum. — Photo by Nadir Siddiqui
Shahid Anjum. — Photo by Nadir Siddiqui

A teeming metropolis of 20 million people, Karachi is rife with unabated violence and is frequently euphemised as the “city of death”. Yet, there are some who continue to hold the city up even though it constantly lifts its people down. Five such individuals were befittingly honoured at the screening of “I Heart Karachi” series held at Nueplex Cinemas on August 28.

The series showcased five documentaries — three minutes each — profiling an individual from across Karachi. The one thing that, however, unites these individuals is that they are all in high-risk professions.

How does one survive in a profession where criminals are constantly threatening you behind bars and your wife cannot virtually sleep at night because of your duty?

Because you put other peoples’ lives above your own, says Abid Farooq — Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU) in charge of Red Zone — who has neutralised 75 bombs till date.

The first documentary that chronicled the life of the brave BDU expert — with him explaining the perils of his profession — was also a jolting reminder how thankless we are to those on the job amidst the surge in bomb threats and scares.

 Dr Seemin Jamali. — Photo by Nadir Siddiqui
Dr Seemin Jamali. — Photo by Nadir Siddiqui

The second documentary focused on Dr Seemin Jamali — head of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre's emergency department. It is hard to say what hit home the most — how she couldn't sleep for several nights after seeing the decapitated head of a suicide bomber or how she always wanted to reach for the stars and felt that she was now doing it by serving people.

Moving on, the third short film looked into the life of firefighter Zafar Ahmed. The latter revealed how an accident left him feeling like his “shoes were filled with scalding hot water”. Having undergone at least 10 operations, he was once told by the doctor that it would be at least five years before he could get back on his feet but due to sheer will power and encouragement from his wife, he rejoined work in six months. “I want people to remember me for my hard work and honesty,” he said quietly, with a wistful smile.

Pakistan is known as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists and little is known of the hazardous conditions in which people on the job operate. Those who get into the realm of reporting are at highest risk as was shown in the case of crime reporter for Abb Tak News Shahid Anjum in the fourth documentary.

 Late polio worker Naseem Muneer. — Photo by Nadir Siddiqui
Late polio worker Naseem Muneer. — Photo by Nadir Siddiqui

The final documentary examines the life of polio worker Naseem Muneer. Divulging how they had regressed 15 years in the fight against polio and the dangers associated with her job, it is heartbreaking to watch her say “When I return from work, I am simply happy to be alive” and when she tells her children who are fully aware of the constant threats issued to their mother that "I am doing the work of a warrior." Even more heartbreaking is the note at the end of the documentary, which says that she was shot dead by her husband.

I would have liked the screening time to be longer as three minutes seemed perfunctory, otherwise the five-part documentary series hit all the right notes.

The screening culminated with Dr Jamali, Anjum and Farooq speaking to the audience. Dr Jamali drew chuckles from the audience when she said how people often called her the "iron lady" because of the nature of her job while Farooq received a standing ovation from the audience when he detailed how he had, more often than once, a brush with death in the line of duty.

Life in Karachi is very fickle as Director Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy aptly put it but despite the glaring wrong in the country, seeing these individuals who are doing more than their bit to make it better and right reinforced the flickering ray of hope.