Once affectionately called the City of Lights, Karachi—melting pot of ethnic and religious communities, drawn to the nation’s largest port for its ability to absorb people and grant work—has long been overwhelmed by the urban sprawl that has choked its beaches, swamps and mangroves. Built over or blocked by plastic waste, these were its buffers against flooding. A city can withstand crowding without state resources and civic amenities for only so long, and Karachi has functioned under political and environmental duress as best it could for several decades.
My musing this month, as well as Urooj Mirza’s eulogy, accompanied by Humayun Memon’s photographs, are laments.
And yet, this is still a city whose communities—rappers and girl boxers from Lyari, villagers from the hinterland, skilled labourers and artisans—the poor who flock to the metropolis, or are born to parents who made the journey here, live and dream and do battle to better their lives despite the odds. It is still a city where communities of varied backgrounds, social status and faith rub shoulders with little prejudice. It is still a city which pulses with culture, gives intellectuals space.
From the archives of our review, I choose a segment from Palvashay Sethi’s piece, ‘Kalam e Haibat’, from Volume 2 of The Aleph Review (2018)—also about Karachi.
i wanted sunset on water, light rippling orange-gold on waves.
take me to the beach, i said.
skirting the wall, past blocks of parked cars flanking the white finned soaring mall.
through a pedestrian gate, on to brick-paved ground, rickety carts peddling shell ornaments, cheap watches, red sherbet—hawked in a nasal chant played on a loop.
bricks give way to fine powder. the rise and fall of a voice, disembodied, indistinct. there in a depression in the sand, a man, curled foetal, muttering, in garments woven grey with grime.
then sand, laced with nano fragments of shell, marine skeletons. shredded plastic, discarded shoes, cloth, glass, bottles, shards of tin, a swathe stretching wide along the length of the beach. paralleling the path of the waves all the way to the horizon.
close to the sea a strip of sand, wet-dark, skimmed with water, filmed with grease, treaded with the tracks of dune buggies swerving past us in figures of eight, music blaring, white lights flashing along their tops and sides.
camels, festooned with nets of woolen flowers, red yellow blue, kneeling, then rising in a rocking lurch.
darting past us, a man plants a gaggle of narrow benches facing the advancing waves. sea pulling over our feet where we sit.
Lifting their shalwars, a mother and two girls walk in deeper, heads lifted to the rush of the evening wind.
and far and to the right is the sun, lowering, fluttering and dancing orange-gold on water, shooting sparks of light.
Photographs by: Humayun Memon