The elective for my Academic Career Writing class was ‘Karachi.’ I wasn’t very pleased about it since I don’t particularly like this city, but now I am glad I was finally forced into writing about Karachi.
Alicia Keys’s song, ‘Empire State of Mind’ has succeeded in doing what I failed to do so many times; it has captured a city in words. A city like Karachi which is so diverse that no one description truly shows what it really is. When I heard this song for the first time, although I heard New York in the lyrics, I saw Karachi in my mind. To really absorb what this piece is about, the song needs to be heard.
For me the one thing that Karachi will always be famous for is the tsunami that took the city by storm (pun intended) on December 25th 2011. Nine hundred and twenty-three kilometres away, an ignorant 13 year old girl wondered, what was the significance of Mazar-e-Quaid in relation to a tsunami?
When I hear the references to noise in the lyrics, I immediately think of Shah-re-Faisal and the deafening roar of traffic. The sirens make me visualize the road outside Jinnah Hospital, clogged with ambulances and big colorful buses in a struggle to overtake each other.
“On the avenue, there ain’t never a curfew, ladies work so hard”
Hearing this, the image of Zamzama Boulevard pops into my head and the striking contrast of this city comes through. While people eat and shop in all the high end places on this boulevard, prostitutes stand on street corners, looking for work.
‘Selling rock’, takes me back to the first time I was offered drugs in my life, in this city, by a kid in school. ‘Preachers’, bring Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s Mazar and the fanatic religious association of people here with it to my mind.
The whole city rejoices and rushes to Seaview when it rains; the joy is shadowed by the repercussions of load shedding and flooded roads when the rain stops.
When I saw the plethora of beggars in Hyderi and expressed concern, I was told, “No one in this city ever goes to sleep hungry.”
By now I have realized hunger is subjective.This concrete jungle is hungry. It is hungry for a challenge, a struggle. It takes you in and the game begins.
Do you ever walk out? And if so, at what cost? .The city of lights is caught in the turmoil between hope and utter desolation.
Karachi is not characterized by its infrastructure, its past, its heritage. Its beauty does not lie in the beaches here, or in the sky scrapers or the food. Karachi is characterized by its people. Its beauty lies in their diversity. The fact, that you can see both ends of the spectrum and everything in between in Karachi, is an attestation that it is not the people who are products of Karachi but that Karachi is a product of its residents. It is a characterization of humans. This city is mean, cruel, harsh, and relentless. It breaks you down and leaves you in pieces. Yet, at the same time it has the potential to build you up into something breathtaking, something unique, something inspiring.
Karachi changes people, completely. Looking at me now and 4 years ago, no part of me is the same as before. Every iota of my being is influenced by Karachi. This city has opened my eyes; it has made me angry, it has made me stubborn, it has made me feel.
The miracle of Karachi is that a city so broken is the backbone of an entire nation.
This song inspired me to write about Karachi, Karachi inspired me to write; to put words to paper when speech and people failed me.
Karachi is not a city; Karachi is an experience.