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Karachi: The great work

Published Feb 09, 2011 03:00am


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I knew even as I clicked, that neither of these captivating photographs would be The One. - Photo by Hasaan Haider/

Nigredo: Blackening, putrefaction, dissolution

The flow of effluence into Lyari river where women congregated with their matkas; the child on the street with two flies copulating on the blood splotched bandage on his forehead; the young man sleeping on top of his onion cart in Al-Asif square; the old man in Saddar promising the stamina for five rounds per night with his virility capsules; the twenty burqa-clad women learning programming at the computer training center off Sakhi Hassan – I knew even as I clicked, that neither of these captivating photographs would be The One. I needed a one picture cynosure of Karachi, the photograph worth the proverbial thousand words; a visual as the city’s self statement. All of the ones so far seemed like anthropological exercises of mapping the other, the very ghetto tourism that now irritated me more than bubbles of oblivion that obfuscated ghettos. Like when we would cut school and have halwa puri at roadside dhabas and celebrate having a native experience. The priapic million-dollar fountain the middle of the sea shoreline; the glitzy designer car showroom opposite a sewerage canal behind Boat Basin; the beggar woman outside the Sheraton; the diamond retailer at Park Towers – blunted juxtapositions that reeked of drawing room revolutions, so not those either.  The mad leg elevations and stomping of boots at the Quaid’s mazaar: the state-sponsored postcard. Barefoot kids playing in dirt: the repertoire of banal saviours. The Pir’s crocodiles with allegorical tears? Or zoom into Waheed’s katakat as a metaphor? Submission deadline tomorrow.

Albedo: Whitening, purification, burnout

I remember you, hiding your camera, and your friend, hiding his fear. You came home with my husband, calling him bhai, me, bhabhi, until you saw the bruises, then whispering to me in the kitchen, you called him an animal, told me about womens’ shelters and protection laws. Sweet. You gave me your sister’s number, she was someone people paid to talk to, and would keep everything confidential. Like privacy mattered where bedrooms were separated by bed sheets and the only boundary walls that existed were between the community and the outsiders, and where talk was the only thing that was free. You really were sweet, searching for evil to fight and victims to portray. You were horrified that I never left the house, except when with him, covered forehead to foot in black. I couldn’t quite tell you then that it was because I feared that someone would recognise me as the drug carrier who spent two years in jail and had Chharra’s child out of wedlock. See, my husband thought I was the widow of an imam. So a photograph was out of question. I remember hoping that the daughter I gave up for adoption would find someone like you to care for her, but then, someone like you but without your money wouldn’t last a week here, so it was not the best thing to wish for her. You want chai?

Citrinitas: Yellowing, spiritualisation, the sun

Crazy night. First he takes me for a photo shoot in a graveyard, the sun had set. It was weird, I felt like a politician, trying to get mileage from the dead – did you know Da Vinci was a grave robber? Anyway, you wanted to know about what happened with him. So there we were, all psyched, the guy we were with had hidden both of us behind these drums to observe the deal, and he switched the flash on his camera off, when his phone rang. It was his mother, in complete hysterics, his father, he did that to the maid, you know the gory story. Couldn’t believe it, his father was a cool guy, we’d hangout, have a drink together, that he would do that to a young girl, a maid his daughter’s age, it was insane yaar. We ran, drove back like maniacs. He wanted to kill his father, dude saw it as betrayal of his mother, of all the dumb reactions. Anyway I tried to calm him down, said we would deal with it, with the maid’s family, pay them off or whatever. But he was like, over the edge.

Rubedo: Reddening, unification of the limited with the unlimited

He swiped at the rivulet of blood running down his temple with his sleeve, as his vision blurred. His telescope to the city had become a kaleidoscope looking in. He didn’t feel the abrasions on his knuckles yet, though the bruises on his face were already swelling. He staggered then braced himself, feeling drained with the violent convulsions of rebirth.  He trudged, uncertain whether he was dragging himself away or towards. He looked up as a car screeched away from the pavement ahead; the sign above the shop stenciled in neon green tubes said ‘Ali chemist’. As he stared, the ‘i’ in Ali slid and dangled upside down, its florescent light fusing out. Stopping, he focused on the remainder of the lit up sign. Medieval philosophers hadn’t gotten it, that the process could work in reverse. He pulled out his camera and clicked.


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Comments (14) Closed

tahira mussarat huss Feb 09, 2011 09:14am
great piece of writing..
Hareem Feb 09, 2011 09:54am
wow... what an engaging tale told through these three vignettes. Captures a lot of emotional imagery, really impressive!
Rahim Munir Soomro Feb 09, 2011 10:10am
Karachi is karachi. Its the best city if only we can achieve the peace in it.
Shah1987 Feb 09, 2011 01:28pm
I was promised a picture. I didn't get one.
The Reader Feb 09, 2011 03:51pm
I have no idea what kind of writing is this and How am i Supposed to understand this no head or tail, Enlighten me!
Stan Feb 09, 2011 06:30pm
Whats missing is some burning cars and some dead body. Thats the todays real picture, we can't deny the fact.
Hali Feb 09, 2011 08:09pm
Totally agree with Rahim, "Karachi is Karachi". I always get goose bumps whenever it is announced that we will be landing in 15 minutes at Quaid e Azam airport. About the peace.... no comments.
Nadeem Ayub Feb 09, 2011 11:44pm
Karachi is city were there is no stress. If you want to enjoy the life here, simply be like Karachite. Every year I come from North America to enjoy this city. Things are easy in Karachi its very relaxing city. You find rich type of living at one end and poor neighbourhood on other hand. You have Macdonald as well good nehri on other end. You have high price eating item then on roadside you enjoy pan, Chola and burger( ban Kabab.) When I come there instead of prefering to drive Mercedez and enjoy 7A bus. The cool breeze of arabian sea in evening after shinning sun and hot humidity in day have its own relaxation. When you drive on main roads its looks very impressive but inside mohallas have not change for last 40 years. Its same old karachi. The Roshani City have bulbs lighting in night, but glow is not white as other city of world NY, LA houston, Montreal, London or Tokoyo. Due to low voltage the karachi bulbs has own brown colour due to dust and low voltage. As you see the picture on top, its bulb has own colour. Thats Karachi. Be simple here you will enjoy it. Your article is excellent
ali Feb 10, 2011 08:50am
Karachi is the best in the world ! I left Karachi for good with my family after 1996 as every one is aware of the reasons why mass exodus took place between 90 and 99 ! I loved the city forever but now scare to visit. It was a nightmare!
nadeem kamal Feb 10, 2011 09:39am
i have seen dozen of cities of the world, and compared it with karachi, i found karachi is the best place to livein even there is electricity shortage problem, water crises, and others. i would like to request our politicians/leaders, specially the police/law enforcement agencies for god sake please resolve the worst law & order situation of karachi, and handle it without any discrimination.
Fahd Ali Raza Feb 10, 2011 10:13am
I don't get it.
Sameer Feb 15, 2011 06:34pm
Karachi is one of the great cities, with very diverse culture, and you have plenty of things to do here. The weather is nice, specially in evening. But the place is getting very stressed for the people who live here for a number of reasons 1 Street Crimes & other sort of crimes too 2 Uncontrolled growth or migration from other parts 3 High inflaton and Lack of buying power, high rate of unemployment. If problems are addressed then this is really nice place, a lot of industries has been closed because of high utility cost and unavailability (like Gas, power & water)
shehzad Feb 20, 2011 10:13pm
Karachi was the best city in the 90s but the political turmoil has taken over the city. I hate to say to this, but cant live there if there is no peace. Karachi is Karachi and will always be close to my heart. From the guy who grew up there and will always love && miss Karachi at the same time. My only wish is I get to come back and see some peace in a city where I grew up.
Amad Uddin Feb 24, 2011 12:10am
For those who didn't get it. These are 4 snaps of Karachi in words. Something which pictures can never tell. City of Karachi has so many stories and so many angles. I am going to save this link and read it again and again, specially the comments by my brothers and sisters. I really miss Karachi, as well. May Allah protect and let sanity prevail. KARACHI IS KARACHI!!!