Dear Karachi, you shall survive

Some of the finest cities of the world — London, Chicago, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Beirut — were once unlivable.

Saad Shafqat October 06, 2013
The writer is a neurologist by profession. His novel Breath of Death — a medical thriller set in Karachi — was recently published by Chlorophyll (New Delhi)

Karachi, you beautiful, bold, brilliant thing. You possess the full range of human attributes, and then some. You have ambition and avarice, guilt and greed. You have pride, passion, pain, perseverance and pathos. You have drive and desire, danger and depression. You have history, culture, arts, music and entertainment. And you can cook up a storm and eat it too. You even have geography, Karachi. You have mountains to the west, the desert to the north, a river delta to the east. And to your south sits the sea and the salted evening breeze that comes with it. Karachi, you have nearly everything.

The one thing you don’t have is peace. You are in perpetual chaos, suffering a chronic uncertainty and a restless urgency. Villains are roaming your streets, vultures are circling the air above you. There are vermin picking at your flesh, scratching you in the face, poking you in the eye. Karachi, you have been left bleeding and we are bleeding with you.

People call you all sorts of names. They say you are unruly, unforgiving, unkempt, unrefined. They say you are lawless, crime-ridden, miserable and decrepit. They say you are deceitful and decadent. People are forever casting aspersions on your character. But these name-callers fail to understand you. They neglect the reality of your many tragedies, the sabotaging of your many hopes.

Karachi, your reality is that you are suffering deeply. You are trapped in a trauma of torture and torment. You begin each day in agony and you end it in ignominy. With each new dawn, there are fresh kidnappings, renewed extortion and another wave of snatchings and muggings.

This is not the time for us to push you away. This is the time for us to hold you close. At this most disturbing moment in your life, we must embrace you. We must pacify you, stroke your back, smooth your ruffled hair. You need our love, Karachi, not our venom and vitriol. This is the time when we must pour out our tenderness for you. We must open our hearts and let the warmth flow into your weapon-laden streets, into your drains and ditches stained with injustice, into your dwellings draped in dishonour, into your water reeking of tragedy, into your mud rancid with misfortune.

Karachi, we cannot let you wither. You mean so much, in so many ways, to so many people. In 1947, you were home to less than half a million. Today that figure has swelled fifty-fold. Today, you are a fountain of wealth, an engine of business, a nexus of commerce. You are home to every stripe of Pakistani, speaking every language that the varied peoples of this nation speak. They have come from villages, towns and cities scattered across our blessed land. You have also attracted migrants from all corners of South Asia — India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even Myanmar. Yes, many have left you too, but no matter how far they have gone, they still long for you.

You are now the victim of your own success. Everybody wants a piece of your riches and they will go to great lengths for it. They will kill to claim your territory and taste your affluence. And they will do it by hook or by crook. They will metastasise into mafias and gangs. They will wield arms. They will think nothing of destroying peace and crushing the innocent. There is an enormity at stake, which sadly ensures that the dark forces will stop at nothing. This is a horrendous ordeal for you, Karachi, but it is not timeless. You are not the only city to be ensnared in a spasm of lawlessness and crime. History is witness that some of the finest metropolises of the world — London, Chicago, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Beirut — were, at one time, unlivable. The likes of London and Chicago reformed long ago, but in the case of Rio and Beirut, the transformation has been very recent. The lesson is that circumstances change. Geopolitical dynamics improve, laws get enshrined and implemented, and a stable political culture evolves. It’s been done before. Karachi, we know that you can do it too. We know that you will.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2013.

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Faheem Khan | 8 years ago | Reply

Great! Crying as i read the complete article, but hope is there...IA

Ayesha Otto | 8 years ago | Reply

@The Reader: I have been living in Karachi for the past 5 years and unlike most of my comrades, I have the privilege to live in the best area here which is still comparatively safe from incessant load shedding, water, shortage/contamination , general unrest etc. Yet I think that we Karachiite are continually being raped and physically abused by this city … We don’t deserve this…Our children do not deserve this. We (everyone I know) pay our taxes and bills on time. We work hard to get degrees but the unemployment rates are so high. Even if we do get a decent job, the pay is not enough to sustain in this city. We try to keep the city clean and adhere to laws as much as we can. I have lived abroad for many years and I know that we are not as uncultured as everybody thinks. We are just stuck in a very unfortunate city. I don’t understand how educated and well-read people like you, Dr Shafqat, can manage to turn a blind eye to this. You must be a great person to be able to love your abuser. Though I do smell a Stockholm syndrome there. I don’t love this city, though I have a lot of compassion for the people who live here and I feel bad that we and our children are being denied the basic necessities of life.

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