The privilege to be hopeful

In Karachi, a divide remains between those who are hopeful about the future and those who can't afford to be.

Sarah Elahi October 23, 2010
Every time Karachi bleeds, people scramble around looking for something to believe in. Once again, with 85 people dead in four days of violence, there are articles insisting that Karachi’s spirit, tolerance, pride and resilience will carry it through. Insisting that it will survive. Insisting that it will come out stronger.

I want cling to hope as much as the next person, but as much as I appreciate optimistic articles, I’m getting tired of the sentimentalisation of Karachi and all its problems. People here aren’t resilient because of their fierce pride in their city. They’re resilient because they don’t have a choice. They are proud because they feel defensive about a part of the country whose problems are too often treated like they don’t belong to the rest of Pakistan. They are spirited because if you abuse and batter anybody’s home for long enough, they will eventually fight back. As for the tolerance-I don’t really see who can honestly call this city tolerant. It is tolerant of many things, but considering that most of the metropolis has been soaked crimson in ethnically-inspired killings, I wouldn’t call Karachi a place where we welcome outsiders with open arms.

There are beautiful things about this city, yes. Love for Karachi is love in spite of everything else. You will want to come home to Karachi simply because it is home, even though you know you won’t have electricity, running water or security at any given moment of the day. I’m beginning to wonder whether this is good enough anymore. Is it enough to be hopelessly, helplessly attached to a place while you watch it go up in flames? Do the people on the other side of the city, the ones whose children are being murdered and homes are being looted on an almost daily basis, feel this love? Or do they simply feel gut-wrenching, all-consuming grief?

Our sadness and our sentimentality will only take us so far. I say this as someone who has been sheltered on the “safe side” of this city. As someone who always maintained that the city will indeed bounce back. No, it won’t-I realize this now. It won’t bounce back, because it is too broken and too battered. Half of the city has been affected by the violence, while the other half have convinced themselves it is part and parcel of life in Karachi. The divide remains, between those who are hopeful and those who can’t afford to be. There is no great change coming unless the entire class structure-both literal and geographical, in this city-is altered. Until then, the best we can do is acknowledge how Karachiites who lost loved ones and protest on the streets every day are hurting-and acknowledge our privilege in not experiencing the same.

This post was originally published here
WRITTEN BY:
Sarah Elahi A graduate of Mount Holyoke College who works with the Citizens Archive of Pakistan
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

COMMENTS (13)

M | 10 years ago | Reply @rayyan: The writer's sole focus was not only the class structure. She was focusing on "the sentimentalization of Karachi's problems" which in turn leads to people not acknowledging the hurt felt by those families. Please refer to comment by "Patriot" above-for whom the fact that this city is a big deal or that a meaningless phrase like the "city of lights" seems to matter more Personally, I'd rather Karachi have a proper electricity supply than an unfulfilled, romanticized claim to being the city of lights. Similarly, for the patriotic "Patriot" too, the 85 dead do not seem to be 85 individuals suffering and 85 families grief-stricken in the face of loss-they are just people who will have to move on. Please try to concentrate on the article as a whole rather than being fixated on one line alone-where she was suggesting a solution to the problems. If you have more intelligent solutions to offer-by all means Go Ahead and Offer Them. If you have a better sense of the city, please make us aware of IT rather than attacking the author's "condescending" language. As you put it yourself, "Wouldn't hurt to be a lil more polite". Finally, I think the article is well-written. And I share your frustration and grief, Sarah.
zehra | 10 years ago | Reply when things go bad in Karachi (or Pakistan for that matter) there is a tendency to either explain their occurrence with conspiracy theories or to make ourselves feel better by talking about how Pakistanis are the most unique/brave/strong people in the world. And in the case of the latter, people go to the point of accusing those who don't agree with their views of being disconnected from the city or being apathetic. I think the comments section proves my point. But while it is important to keep faith in the Pakistani people and their resilience, we cannot deny that we as a people are emotionally and psychology battered from the years of corruption and violence. The article is just reminding us to recognize this abuse and while it may sound harsh (or impolite or condescending as someone else said above) it is true. Deal with it. Nitpicking the rhetorical language of the essay or questioning the writer's understanding of the city is not only irrelevant and rude but is also a refusal to budge from our collective state of self-denial. And it is that kind of self-denial that leads to statements like : "We get a lot of attention, so do our problems. And i kind of like that. We’re a big deal." - Patriot. I'm sorry "Patriot'- I don't like it that my city's claim to fame is targeted killings and load-shedding.
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