Karachi and Cambridge are poles apart on many different levels and yet the British artist and filmmaker Caroline Jaine manages to find palpable connections between these two cities – one, a British university town of up to 120,000, and the other a sprawling megalopolis that is home to over 18 million Pakistanis. The contrasts are compelling: Cambridge with its serenity and its elitism and Karachi an economic powerhouse grappling with terrorist atrocities and lawlessness.
In a collaborative body of work known as “The Cambridge Karachi Portrait”, Jaine has prepared eight short story-telling films covering both cities. Four of these films focus on the Karachi participants. The work encompasses a 23-minute film, a book of 60 photographs with the two cities in juxtaposition; and a five-minute film “portrait”.
Though Jaine is no stranger to Pakistan and has served as head of communications for the country at the UK Foreign Office, she had never met any of the subjects of her film before. She rarely chooses people for her films. Instead, “they choose me,” she said in an interview with The Express Tribune via email. “The process began with an appeal on Twitter and via business networks for Cambridge-based businesses who would like to get involved.” Jaine also made use of the networks of Pakistani friends she already had. Once she had made the four Cambridge films, she began to explore their “matches” in Karachi.
Beyond extremism and violence
Another Face, a 23-minute film about Karachi, is Jaine’s attempt to show people in Britain a different side to Pakistan and its largest city – one that is not hopelessly mired in extremism or violence. “The perception of Pakistan is at its worst among the British Pakistanis – so I am hoping that some of them will get to see the film and look at my photographs and understand the many layers there are to any city or country,” she said. Jaine does not believe this is an overly optimistic view. “It’s not about rose-coloured spectacles, it’s about picking apart that very two-dimensional face of Pakistan we usually see.” Jaine said that her film will be screened in both Cambridge and London this summer. She is also seeking funding and a venue to bring the film to share in Karachi.
Diversity not hard to find
Jaine confessed she wasn’t expecting to find the kind of diversity she witnessed in Karachi. “Diversity is something I was specifically looking for … When people heard about my quest many pointed me in the direction of Karachiwala author Rumana Husain and I was delighted to meet her. And she took me to the Saddar area,” Jaine recalled.
She was bowled over by the sight of, “Hindu women road sweepers in their colourful saris, a transvestite, a Goan Catholic family, an old Pashto man with a white beard, a woman with cancer who had haunting good looks.” “The Catholic Church was incredible – and I thought to myself, ‘I would only have got to hear about this place if it had been blown up’ – which is a shame.”
Huge potential in education, tourism
Asked whether Karachi could become a little like Cambridge, Jaine said that the education and tourism sectors had huge potential in the city but clearly needed much more investment. “Cambridge University is hugely wealthy – and I know this is old money, but education in Karachi could be developed in partnership with businesses and using a commercial model. It really could become an education centre for the whole region,” she explained. Both the youth of Karachi and the University of Karachi are impressive. “I used to live in Sri Lanka – an island no stranger to suicide bombings at the time, yet with a thriving tourism industry. Karachi could certainly benefit from an increase in visitors.”
What Cambridge can learn from Karachi
Jaine discovered “some smart business people” operating in the challenging environment of Karachi. By comparison, some of the businesses she met on The Mill Road in Cambridge felt in decline, and there “was a sense of recession and hopelessness”. But in Karachi she says, “the spirit was of resilience and thinking a way out of a problem”.
One of the Cambridge participants, Marie, drew inspiration from Faraz, a young, successful Karachi businessman with a social mandate. Following his lead, Marie says she wants to set up a social enterprise. Such exchanges are useful no doubt, because Jaine reckons that it’s important in the British-Pakistan relationship that Britain is not seen to patronise Pakistan by always assuming the role of teacher or adviser. Her own work is about a mutual exchange, a dialogue of equals.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2011.