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Karachi - People and Places

 

Hasan Square is virtually at the center of Karachi, in the Gulshan-E-Eqbal

area ("Garden of Eqbal", named in honor of the famous poet Allama

Mohammad Eqbal).  It is close to the National Stadium, where the big

cricketing events are held, and right by the Civic Center, a modern office

complex, that is something of a city landmark. 

 

It is well past midnight when we reach Hasan Apartments, driven

there by a kind friend of Aslam Khwaja's from Hyderabad-Sindh.  We

learn very soon that this is how the two Hyderabads on the sub-continent

are referred to in Pakistan:  unambiguously - as either Hyderabad-Deccan

or as Hyderabad-Sindh. The apartment blocks, despite such a central

location enjoy an enclave like privacy behind a row of shops. There

are large parking areas between the blocks - full of cars - and there

are even a couple of people around, despite the late hour.  We

eventually locate the apartment we want - the home of Khalique

Ibrahim Khalique and his extraordinarily kind and gracious wife,

Hamra.  A few minutes later, ensconced in their very comfortable,

book lined living room, with a picture of Ghalib on one wall - we sip

chai (at 1am !) and get to know our hosts-to-be for the next several

days.

 

The Khaliques are a remarkable family.  Ibrahim Khalique is a

renowned documentary film-maker of Marxist persuasions, who is

now largely confined, by age, to his home.  Many years earlier, his

much acclaimed, and much-screened film on Mirza Ghalib ran

afoul of General Zia's censors who found a song and classical dance

sequence featuring the incomparable Noor Jehan, 'objectionable'. 

In our conversations with him over the next few days we get a

sense of the man he is - totally unconvinced by the logic of partition,

he still sees the two 'countries' as really one land.  He is a man of

ideas and ideals, a writer of fine poetry and embodies great

humanity.  He grew up in Lucknow and entered the business of

film making in Mumbai before he moved to Karachi in the early 1950s. 

He has never 'been back' to India but lives with great nostalgia about

his 'home land'.  Hamra (the name means 'red', in Persian) is

working an unbelievable schedule of looking after home, her

husband and an infinite stream of friends, relatives and

guests streaming in at all strange hours of day and night

(such as us !)  We find it remarkable how she manages all of

this with such grace, but very soon our inhibitions about 'adding

to her chores' dissolve in the great hospitality and camaraderie

of the entire household.

 

Read this profile of Khalique Ibrahim Khalique from the Dawn

Review of Feb 2001

 

Tariq Khalique, who works with a Karachi business newspaper,

his wife Bushra, and their wonderful daughters Misaal and Imbisat are

our constant companions over the next several days.  Harris, Ibrahim

Khalique's older son, and poet in his own right, flies in a few hours

after we arrive, from Islamabad.  He heads "SPO", an NGO that

is a key participant in the WSF.  In a few hours, we already get the

feeling that the Khalique residence has become an extension of the

bigger event at the KMC Complex.  Over the next few days several

visitors to Karachi & the WSF, as well as volunteers, will visit the

Khalique residence for conversations, for a chat, to relax and to

get a cup of tea.

 

Karachi's  population estimates range from 12 to 18 million

- and so it does possess a certain cosmopolitan character.  There

are people in Karachi from every part of India (the population of

the city doubled in one year, after partition, with the influx) and

of course from every corner of Pakistan, drawn by its ability to

provide jobs and opportunity in much the same way that Mumbai

continues to.  There are also over a million Afghans who migrated

here during the Soviet occupation and a very substantial population

of Iranians.  It is home to a sizable community of Parsis and still

has Roman Catholic and Hindu populations that are not insubstantial.

The city's architecture is decidedly mixed, too - with numerous notable

colonial buildings (The Customs House, Frere Hall, Empress

Market),  modern and traditional Islamic structures and mosques,

as well as Hindu architecture (the Swami Narayan Temple, the

Mohatta Palace)  - along with the usual explosion of contemporary

office, housing and shopping complexes.  It is Pakistan's main port,

has a huge manufacturing and industrial base, is the country's

pre-eminent financial center and likes to claim for itself titles such

as "the Revenue Engine of Pakistan" (we saw this proclaimed on

several hoardings and city offices) making it truly Mumbai's

counterpart. 

 

Karachi also shares Mumbai's reputation for being the

home of the rich and famous.  Areas such as Clifton,  Sea-View

and the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Enclave (referred

to simply as, "Defence", by Karachiites) could outshine Mumbai

& Delhi combined, in terms of its concentration of wealth and

power.  From everything we hear, and the little we ourselves

see of it, the Pakistani elite live in another world - of their own. 

Their children drive frightfully expensive cars, go to fancy

"Grammar" schools before going away to the West and look

and talk like they just popped out of West Hollywood, or New

York's Upper West Side.  There is also, of course, as the name

would suggest, a very substantial population here of current and

ex-military elite, indicating the highly influential and self-rewarding

role that institution continues to play in affairs of the country. 

 

The massive new constructions along the Sea View coastline -

towering housing complexes, wide boulevards, vast gardens

paved with white stone, even a fountain out at sea, suggest to us

Karachi's aspirations to the opulence and grandeur of the

Persian Gulf, where many hundreds of thousands of

Pakistanis go in search of fortune and success.

 

Shahrah-E-Faisal - Karachi

Picture: Courtesy Wikipedia

 

Everything stays open really late in Karachi.  At 9 at night - you can

call someone to tell them that you will drop in to see them in the

next couple of hours (!)  At 11pm, the streets are abuzz with traffic

and shopping areas are packed.  The restaurants are crowded past

midnight and so are the beaches with their flood lights, camel rides,

cava sellers and families.  And at 2am there are eateries and

ice-cream shops that show no signs of being in a hurry to close

down. This takes some getting used to - coming from somewhat

restrained India, where most cities are forced by law-enforcement

to shut down at 11pm.

 

Karachi's old commercial areas - the 'Tower' and Sadar areas

make for interesting exploration on foot. Textile and handicraft

stalls, endless quantities of shoes and chappals, alongside the usual

infiltrators into modern sub-continental bazars - stalls selling

smuggled 'foreign' goods, pirated DVDs and music, the odd

assortment of toiletries, sex-aids, Chinese electronics and

toys - line the alleyways.  The air-quality on the main roads is

atrociously bad - even by low Indian standards.  It is hard to see

very far into the haze of vehicle smoke on a March mid-day.  Old

auto-rickshaws and the ornate, though rickety, mini-buses seem

to be the biggest contributors to the particulate soup - although, as

everywhere else, on a "per-capita" basis it is probably the individual-

driven cars that are doing the worst damage.  We find relief inside the

cool, narrow alleys of the bazaars, with their friendly store owners

(and especially so when they hear we are from India), chai and

fruit juice stalls.  Our taxi driver, Pervez Mustafa, with whom we

have established, by now, much more than a client relationship -

tells us that the days of the old auto-rickshaws are numbered and

moves are underway to get Karachi's air cleaned up.

 

Old City - Karachi

Picture: Ka-Neng Au; http://newark.rutgers.edu/~au/tourist.htm

 

We bounce off the touristy Zainab Market where I am captivated

by scale-model, toy versions of baroque Pakistani trucks, but which

we are quoted a thousand PRs for - curing my captivity instantaneously.

We chat up a seller of antique furniture from Peshawar in his store

close by.  While we chat and look at photographs of old doors and

wooden screens from that region and sip a chai he has got us (in

exchange only for our Indian-ness, and no business) he calls down

a worker of his who is from Bombay, he says, and migrated to

Karachi some 20 years ago.  We are repeatedly struck by some

things on the streets of Karachi - the number of people who will trace

their origins to some part of India, the extraordinary warmth with

which we are received once anyone (whether they have 'Indian

origins' or not) knows where we are from, and the very gracious

human interactions we have had - devoid of the edginess of interactions

in many of our own over-busy, big-city market places.  We could

be imagining some of this - we think, at the time - but the evidence

is mounting that this is a city where people set aside a little more

time and mind-space for, especially, someone they see as a

'guest'.

 

At some point, I spot the Pakistan National Museum on my

map.  Pervez does not know about this and has never been there.

He asks me what is in this museum - so we invite him to come

and see it with us.  We walk to the ticket counters and I read a

sign that says tickets are PRs 10 for adults & PRs 5 for children.

So I take out PRs 30 from my wallet, for the three of us, and

wait for the ticket attendant to show up. My wife is gesturing and

pointing something out to me on the sign.  Line 3 of the sign reads

'Foreigners - Rs 200'.  I ignore her because I think she has

misread or misunderstood something.   In reality, I seem to be feeling

so comfortable in this city that I have simply forgotten I am

a foreigner in Karachi.