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Fanning the flames in Karachi

Published Sep 17, 2012 04:12pm


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Last year, against all advice, I flew from London to Karachi.  In a short time I saw what an immensely diverse, multi-faceted city it was – with its demons, but with its angels too.  And plenty in between.

Both my writing and art explores the perception of places as presented in the media.  Karachi is often presented as a grim, backward, and violent city – its plurality, commercial centres, beach and hospitable inhabitants overlooked.  I would argue that a constant focus on the negative is not useful, and can at times fuel pessimism and stunt development.

Last Tuesday, a factory fire that lasted for 15 hours killed close to 300 people in Karachi. I was devastated – not simply because of the tragic loss of life, but because of how the raging flames were broadcast around the world.  Alongside the images of charred remains and of weeping women in headscarves, the words of corruption, of a disregard for safety and even terrorism begin to spill out.  Reinforcing the ill-informed notion that this city – and this country – is home to people who value life less – and live a wild and precarious existence.

As the factory owners are arrested, politicians resign and Pakistanis are asked to blame themselves for the loss, my thoughts turn to the glowing embers of human compassion and bravery witnessed in the past week.

When something very bad happens, whether bought about by human folly or natural disaster, human beings can be remarkable. The media is slow to report on this, but I constantly seek dramatic examples of heroism in such circumstances. In the past I have been moved by The Red Cross in Gaza, the response of passers-by during the bombing of the US Embassy in Kenya in 1998, and the life-threatening rescue of flood victims in Colombia.  With every tragedy such examples can be found – and should be reported on. When I asked Karachi friends for any news of such bravery following the factory fire, several of them mentioned a television report of one man, who emerged from the fire unscathed but returned to rescue his three sisters and mother. It appears he did not survive. Scouring news channels for other examples I found none – but I will guarantee that there were lots: Those who fought the flames, the driver of the crane that slammed into the building making an escape hole, the medical staff battling to save the lives of those injured and those who have the task of removing remains.  If you know more about them, please share them here.  If you don’t contemplate that they do exist.

I also implore journalists in Karachi to hunt down these empowering, uplifting stories and share them far and wide. It’s not that I am untouched by the trauma of such events, nor that we shouldn’t seek inquiries into why such things happen or compensation for loss. But I feel strongly that the immense power of recovery, resilience, bravery in the face of horrendous adversity such as this needs to be covered. There are angels, as well as demons – and the angels help us better.


Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer and artist with a background in media strategy, diplomacy and community cohesion. Her book  A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011. She is currently planning a solo exhibition in London "See Karachi" touching on the perception of Pakistan in the media.  More about Caroline’s work and her contact details can be found here and on facebook.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and international relations. Her main research interests are in the perception of places and people as presented in the media. Her book A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (15) Closed

haris Sep 17, 2012 10:46am
I heard about an MPA from Baldia town, Karachi who has joined with many others in rescue efforts after the ablaze. he felt ill and became very week as he has worked all night long. his name is Hanif Shaikh, i guess.
Aamir Sep 17, 2012 09:07am
Its about our focus. When we focus on bad, we would only see bad. Angels were there but we simply didnt see them as we were too busy looking for the demons. Love your article. Thanks.
Yousuf Sep 18, 2012 11:42am
Very good article. The city has a lot of potential. The common people are good, the times are bad. However I have very high hopes that good times will come and good people will come up again.
Dr Altaf Hussain Rahman Sep 18, 2012 07:37am
An article which is full of positivity and with a judicious approach. Karachi is a vibrant city and has come out of many catastrophes in a brave manner. It is not the gun but it is the man behind the gun which matters.I live abroad but my heart and soul is in my city . The human element can never be superseded by any way no matter how far we go technologically. Caroline I can surely say for yourself that you are a very kind person and you have a good heart and you will have a tranquil and a serene life ahead of you. God bless and keep up the good work.
Shaikh Sahab Sep 17, 2012 11:34am
if no rule then no justice, after a few days no one will remind this accident except of effected people
Someone Sep 18, 2012 06:27am
Thankyou for these wonderful spoke my mind
Anwar Amjad Sep 19, 2012 01:04am
A very constructive approach! Thank you Caroline. There are many things that need to be appreciated in Pakistan. A lot of people make an issue of terrorist acts that occur in Pakistan from time to time mainly in areas bordering Afghanistan. But how many people realize that two superpowers have been fighting fiercest wars in its backyard one after the other for forty years now. Pakistani security forces need to be appreciated for containing spillover and maintaining a normal life in the country. Pakistan Army also deserves credit for regaining control in a few months when the militants sneaked into Swat in 2009. Just step across its three thousand kilometer long border with Afghanistan and see the difference.
Raheel Adnan Sep 17, 2012 08:37am
Caroline, I am moved by your article. This is how it should be; instead of portraying plight, misery and anguish, media should spread hope and positivity. Hope that someone in media is listening to you.
Haroon Sep 18, 2012 05:13am
Hope that the hopelessly negative media might be reading this and may be moved enough to report more positively. Outside Pakistan, I have encountered questions as wild as 'Karachi? You live there? How can you live there, how do you do your daily activities? There are so many killings and bombs happening there".... perceptions created by the media thankfully :(
Caroline Jaine Sep 17, 2012 02:10pm
Thanks for the thanks. Haris - I would love to talk to Hanif Shaikh and any others...please contact me via my website. Raheel - it's an uphill struggle, but I am committed to it
Syed Jafri Sep 18, 2012 11:20am
Hey Caroline . Thanks for writing some positive things about my beautiful city Karachi. I totally agree with you . Our unleasehed electronic media causing chaos and havoc in our society that is why I call them "Media Mafia" . I have lived about 5 years in Canada and now reside in middle east. Just want to say my people how good and responsible the media is in the west. Hope people like Faiza Mirza will take a lead from you who always portray nothing but negative about Pakistan. Thanks ever so much.
Yawar Sep 17, 2012 04:34pm
Excellent! Pakistan is in desperate need for common-man heroes. This is all the more important in a country where lives are being lost on a daily basis to terrorism, poverty, religious intolerance, natural disasters, man-made disasters, etc. etc. We need examples of common individuals who put their lives on the line to save others irrespective of their ethnic or religious tendencies. This will hopefully make a dent in the "standby and watch" culture that is become the norm in our society today.
TIPU Sep 17, 2012 05:29pm
you summed it up .....
Ms. Ras Sep 18, 2012 08:54am
I think you have definitely tried to look at the good in that tremendous tragedy and no doubt ; directing attention in the right direction but from a common man perspective like my self i strongly believe that had it not been for the young men who were on the sight doing rescue work and pulling out bodies ;probably the 258 or so whose loved ones were able to receive their dead bodies the following day of the incident , would not have received if only the official resuce teams were working on the tragic site. The unsung heroes are in plenty and one could sense it while tracking the news on the days following the accident however the tragedy is that the ones officially responsible for this job did not act heroically as it has reportedly been said that the rescue work started three hours after the fire engulfed the factory. Had the official rescue work started on time ; may be we could have many of them alive today. Trust me that this nation is survivign because of these unsung heroes who putting their lives at stake show up in devastating floods, earthquakes and such disasters. May they all live long.
ahmed Sep 17, 2012 10:20am
You said what millions in Karachi wanted to hear!