This essay is the winning entry to our photo essay contest of #HeroesOfPakistanEdition, It Happens Only In Pakistan 2021.
Updated 15 Nov, 2021

This is a story about stories as they play out in the streets of one of Karachi’s most historic neighbourhood, Pakistan Chowk.

In it, you will meet characters that contribute to the essence of the space. In it, are the heroes whose stories go undiscovered by people around them, but who find their way easily into the lens of another.

But maybe this isn’t a story, instead just an invitation to think deeply about the stories we bury within ourselves and our surroundings in all of our great hurries.

A Hindu woman has set up her makeshift stall at the point where Kutchery road meets MA Jinnah road.

She sits on her little stool all day, in front of the Karachi Municipal Corporation building, a hundred year old iconic piece of Karachi architecture. She does this in a society that is still coming to terms with sending women out to work.

Sometimes she brings her little baby with her. Both stay under the stall, trying to sell their dry fruit while staring at the gates of the very institution that sees her and her little business as illegal, until of course she pays up.

Nothing comes for free in Karachi.

Deep inside Botal Gali the streets are narrow, just like any other in Old Town.

The resident Afghan is roaming the streets in search of recyclable trash that circumstances have taught him to treasure.

Every day he wakes up in the land of the pure and sifts through piles of rubbish. He started doing this when he was a boy, and now, after many years, he has become a man, assimilated into society.

The breadwinner of his family.

A hero in Karachi.

The Mazar of Bachal Shah is located on main MA Jinnah Rd, one of the most important arteries of the city.

Baba Bachal Shah was a pious man who found a shelter in the small corner where the shrine now stands. He is said to have led a quiet, ascetic life in this very space after coming to Karachi decades ago. Somewhere down the line he must have made a name for himself among the locals who have ensured that Baba continues to bless the area, even in his death.

Muhammad Ismail might just be the resident 'character' of Pakistan Chowk.

He seems to be a walking, talking embodiment of the larger neighbourhood; a hero perhaps lost in time.

Always in the same clothes, with a stick in hand, he introduces himself in English.

A true gentleman, a hero for being true to himself despite how maddening it may get.

Outside a medical centre two men sit wrapped in a chador.

It is a hot day, but the chador stays. Everybody needs shelter from the storm. This is theirs.

Ostracised by society, they live in the city. They too are denizens of Karachi, heroes just like all the rest of us.

We are lucky to have something to fall back on.

They have just themselves.

The entrance to the Max Denso Hall that had been lying in neglect for the last couple of years is being revived by a leading architect.

A local has been involved in the gardening aspect of the project. He stands proudly among the fruits of his labour, talking about the diversity of the flora.

His eyes have a childlike shine to them; you can sense that a fire, long extinguished, is perhaps being rekindled.

Shaheen Aunty showcases the colonial heritage architecture of the neighbourhood to a participant, while a local worker demonstrates curious interest.

Having led over a hundred walking tours since the past three years, Shaheen Aunty is a force to reckon with. She might just be the most popular person in all of Pakistan Chowk, but what makes her a hero is not very different from our other heroes.

It is a fierce dedication to the mohalla that makes them a fundamental part of the ecosystem. They become tied together; inseparable.

They become the essence, the gel that keeps it all going when things are sometimes quite literally falling apart.

It Happens Only In Pakistan is a nationwide video story and photo essay contest organised by and Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany's international broadcaster.

Digging deeper into the lives of the heroes we often overlook, this year's #HeroesOfPakistanEdition of #ItHappensOnlyInPakistan contest had themes exploring inspiring people who give us hope of a better tomorrow.