"Karachi Kya Hai?" ("What is Karachi?")
As I entered the outdoor area where we were meant to be seated, I was greeted by a man saying this in a video that was playing on loop. By the twelfth time I heard this phrase, I thought to myself, "Karachi wo jaga bhi hai jahan har event aik ghanta late shuru hota hai." (“Karachi is also the place where all events begin an hour late.")
True to its calling, this particular Karachi event also began 45 minutes past the designated time. Once the managers of the IBA Literary Society declared the event officially open, I looked around, feeling surprised and proud to see a good number of youngsters in the audience, who wanted to be part of a meaningful discussion on the history, culture, and hope for change in Karachi.
Day 1 of ‘The Narrative – Karachi Calling’ began with the screening of a short film by a group of 3rd year Karachi University students. The film featured snippets capturing the essence of Karachi – the inside of a crowded bus, camels on our beautiful Arabian seashore, colourful shops displaying bangles, and steam rising from mouthwatering katakatt – all hitting that sweet spot in the heart of a die-hard Karachiite like myself.
Mr. Akhtar Balouch of Dawn, however, followed this sweet serenade by shedding light on some bitter truths in the history of Karachi: how Pakistanis have an inherent need to obliterate any sign of non-muslims/foreigners from their homeland, even if those individuals helped build the country. I believe Mr. Balouch was referring to Karachi's lost Jewish community. He explained how Jinnah's Flagstaff House was designed by a Jewish architect, Moses Somake (1875-1947), never to be accredited. How controversial names of places like Raam Baagh got changed to Araam Baagh, and Abraham Road to Ibrahim Road. How the Magen Shalom Synagogue was razed to the ground in July 1988 to pave the way for a shopping plaza – Madiha Square. He shared insight about how Seth Naomal, the so-called "Traitor of Sindh", did what he did to avenge his father of the doings of the 'Mirs' of Sindh. Mr. Balouch ended his talk by recalling how Karachi had started becoming intolerant centuries ago, when its diverse range of inhabitants were gradually driven out.
Next came Mr. Imran Azhar, Founding CEO of AzCorp Entertainment. Team AzCorp aims to instill a sense of social consciousness in our younger generations through the art of storytelling. They create engaging comics with heroes that are relatable. Notable storylines include a team of multiethnic, multicultural youngsters fighting for socioeconomic justice, a Makrani orphaned transgender girl zipping through North Nazimabad on her Vespa, and a team of kids solving a mystery using education. Their comics create awareness on sensitive issues such as child marriage, acid attacks, pollution, gang wars, drug problems, and many others.
It was inspiring to see how so many different people and organizations are doing their part to improve the city. Feica, the famous cartoonist took the mic next, explaining how he uses cartoons as a tool to create sparks of change. A multitude of representatives from student-run NGOs like ‘First Hand’, ‘Pakistan Speaks’ and ‘Patients Helping Hands’ shared their stories of conducting voluntary welfare work. A student gave the simplest message for anyone who desires to bring change: “Just start!”
Representatives from Youth Unity Movement (YUMs) explained how they aim to unite the youth and shake their moral conscience into working for a better society. Farooq Soomro AKA Karachi Waala took his ten minutes to explain to us how there is still so much culture and heritage in Karachi that no one really aims to preserve. He talked of a few old businesses that are facing a looming threat of being wiped out. Amongst his examples were Karachi Antique Market in China Shopping Mall Saddar, bookstores such as Thomas & Thomas, Tit Bit Book Stall, Pioneer Book House, Anjuman-e-Taraqi Urdu bookshop, and music stores like Abdul Waheed Music Shop in Lalukhet, Saleem and Sons and Sohail Music Shop near Atrium.
Next came Ali Shambeel Jaffri, an IBA student who had an interesting talk about his research on the writings on walls that we see around us so often but choose to ignore. He discussed that no matter how violent the spray-painted messages are on the crumbling walls of Karachi, the citizens have a habit of accepting the message and internalizing it without giving it much thought, resulting in growing intolerance.
Two of the most motivational speakers were Mr. Salman Elahi and Mr. Imran Ghanchi. Elahi is a visually impaired man who has completed a double Master’s and is now pursuing a PhD, while being Chairman of Pakistan Blind Sports Federation and Team Lead of K-Electric Head Call Center. Ghanchi, while living with bilateral lower limb impairment, discovered his niche of creating retrofit cars for the disabled. Both human rights activists left us with a staggering message: if they can achieve so much and turn their lives around while being less fortunate, why can’t we?
The final speaker of the night was the renowned stand-up comedian, Shehzad Ghias. He ended the night on a lighter note, presenting a fusion of all themes highlighted through the night in a flavour everyone could enjoy. His motto? To use comedy to stir the stone-set thoughts that keep our society from progressing.
As I was leaving the venue, I noticed a beautiful exhibition of photography and art by students of IVS, KU and Indus University, showcasing their representation of Karachi.
The night left me feeling reinvigorated. It was an enlightening and encouraging experience listening to such a diverse panel of speakers. And this was just the first day, with the second day including speakers such as Jibran Nasir talking about the ghettoization of Karachi and DIG Aamir Farooqui speaking on policing extremism. All in all, ‘Karachi Calling’ provided a refreshing variation from the usual clang and clamour about this city (and Pakistan in general) heading speedily down the road of doom.
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