Karachi is blasphemous, Lahore is not
If blasphemy is defined as ‘irreverent behaviour towards anything sacred’, Karachi is blasphemous; a city where something as sacred as human life is irreverently and disdainfully extinguished.
As January limped to a close, three health workers administering anti-polio drops to children were shot dead. Bullet-ridden bodies of three young men were discovered and a police officer was gunned down in a suspected targeted attack.
And yet, it is in Karachi, much more so than in Lahore, that a bastion of sharafat (respectability) is present; it is here that strangers smile at you, people say thank you for services rendered or stand aside and allow you to pass. In this sense, it is hard to decide where the blasphemy lies.
Karachi’s heritage including the Empress Market, Frere Hall, Jinnah’s home and Mohatta Palace has been lovingly preserved. When the Indus Valley School was founded by a group of concerned citizens in 1989, the building was transported to the site brick by brick from a location further away.
Karachi is where enterprise is most valued.
It is home to some of the country’s oldest and best newspapers and magazines; its businessmen are the best in the country. Rarely in Karachi does one encounter the Lahori shopkeeper picking his teeth or worse while a customer fruitlessly searches the shelves.
While Lahoris reel from the food street wars and meet over three-tiered trolleys in ornate drawing rooms, you meet friends in Karachi at a show or over a dossa or cappuccino at one of its innumerable cafes. What’s more, you go there without dolling up, in the same clothes you’ve been wearing since yesterday and without blonde streaks in your hair.
Yes, blasphemy is a many faceted word, and Karachi a multifaceted city.
In Karachi, I saw a little ragged boy no more than six-years-old, weave through cars to a water tanker to fill a can from a tap set into its side. The driver leant out but did not stop the child; the urchin grinned in thanks and darted back before the traffic light turned green.
The whole incident was so illustrative of the symbiotic relationships that thrive in this massive city seemingly so alive but where nothing would survive if such relationships did not exist. All it needs is peace for its enterprise to flourish; a peace that appears to be extinct.
Violence is the old man on this Sindbad’s shoulder, slowly throttling it to death.
It would be a rare Karachiite who has not had his purse or phone snatched, his car taken away at gunpoint or his home broken into by armed men. You live in this city alongside gun battles, strikes and public transport shut-downs. Car owners skirt troubled areas with practiced ease while those who use public transport are forced to take expensive rickshaws instead of buses to work and back. On the worst occasions, neither buses and rickshaws, nor cars can run. Absenteeism in schools and workplaces is high.
In Karachi’s Defence and Clifton, there is no Shahbaz Sharif to focus manically on a few issues. Even these ‘elite’ areas are dirty with large tracts of windblown rubbish dumps; the overwhelming issues of the people of Landhi, Korangi and Lyari are beyond the imagination and remit of this piece.
In Karachi, buses are loaded as never seen in Lahore and each one bears signs of being burnt or smashed at some point. There is no rapid transit bus system such as the one Lahore possesses, no clampdown on late and noisy wedding parties such as in Lahore and no controls on the menu.
Will Karachi ever be able to shake the old man off like Sindbad did?
My hopes are pinned on that boy with the jerry can.
It is from such roots that many of Karachi’s entrepreneurs have sprung up and many of its volunteers and workers, such as those who run the Edhi ambulances, go where no man would care to go. Maybe that child’s native ingenuity and of those like him can weave a path around Karachi’s troubles in a way that more privileged scions cannot do, before the lights turn red forever on this tortured but still pulsing port city.
Karachi encapsulates the entire gamut of problems that separately beset the country; overwhelming problems relating to ethnic and religious diversity, poverty and above all, an absence of governance.
The result is its dire absence of security.
In Lahore, one is able to catch a glimpse of what can be achieved in however small a way when someone, anyone, cares, for however selfish a reason.
That is the difference that makes all the difference.
It is also what makes Lahore the better place to live, despite all Karachi’s attractions, interests and dynamism.
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