Karachi is like a mosaic – thousands of distinctive scenes that not only coexist, but also serve as a collective wonder for the world to speculate, rant and rave about its unbelievable diversity. While a tourist or a visitor will label the city as over-populated, dirty, loud and polluted, a true habitant will speak about it with an ownership and passion that one reserves for an intimate, yet toxic lover. The love-hate relationship compels its dwellers to use it and abuse it, but when the need arises, to tenderly tend to its bruises.
Trying to pass off the street life and culture of Karachi as one dimensional is as oversimplified and unjustified as calling the sunset merely ‘pink’ or the Grand Canyon ‘big’. While the streets of Zamzama scream nouveau riche, the quiet opulence of Old Clifton gives a sense of foreboding, old money, and past glory. The young man clad in the fake Levis jeans and Calvin Klein shirt selling dhaaga kebab at Burns Road will exude the same enthusiasm for fashion that a girl attired in expensive designer clothes at Zamzama Boulevard would.
Not far from Burns Road is the “Wall Street” of Karachi – I.I Chundrigar Road. Young men and increasingly women, rushing to their interviews, jobs and client meetings is a common sight. Some faces are confident and determined; many are disappointed and exhausted from the constant rejection and stress of the cutthroat corporate world.
But Karachi is not all about big buildings, shrewd businessmen and corporate sharks.
The city has its (not-so-healthy) share of zealous believers, delusional souls and passionate rebels (often without a cause), such as the mystical malangs at the tomb of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, crazy motorists on the Seaview road on New Year’s Eve and the ecstatic addicts on “Kaala Pull” are all a part of this metropolis.
So, what is common in this strange breed of city dwellers? What is that element that saves it from becoming a miserable cacophony and instead into a heart-wrenching symphony?
Predictably, it is not happiness, contentment or peace. It is the desire to survive, to repeatedly rise from the ashes and to pursue happiness – even if you never achieve it.
While some cities smell of greenery, some of opulence and grandeur, Karachi evokes a sense of urgency. The spirit of resilience, with hints of stubborn madness enables its people to resume work only hours after witnessing a suicide attack, planted bomb or target killing. It is the same resilience we see in poor but hopeful young men dancing in the rain although they know their humble abodes have high chances of being destroyed by the rain. Perhaps, they believe in Carpe Diem. It is again the same resilience where massacres in the city are a part of small talk.
Some would say that the tenacity and stubbornness of Karachiites borders on insensitivity, but only Karachiites can understand that this resilience is the only way to survive in this schizophrenic city. This is one city that cannot be truly explored in days or even weeks. For me, it’s the most intriguing place on earth, a place that teaches me to accept and love people from every social class, caste and colour. A place that teaches me to love your country unconditionally, to constantly battle political disarray, religious extremism, and resolutely work towards a better place for the generations to come. A tourist can never fall in love with this city, and a Karachiite can never truly belong to another city.