DWL Karachi Meetup March 2015

March 14, 2015
DWL Meetup Photo Credit: Batool Curmally

DWL Meetup
Photo Credit: Batool Curmally

Karachi chapter of Desi Writers Lounge met at Liberty Books BBQ Tonight outlet on Friday, 13th March, to discuss Laurent Gayer's book Karachi: Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City.

With nearly a dozen people in attendance, it was a lively discussion on Karachi city for primarily two reasons:

1) Desi Writers Lounge had organized a public talk about the book with the author himself on 2nd March 2015 at T2F, allowing most members to not only recall it vividly but also connect the dots after reading the book.

2) The recent raid on Nine-Zero by Rangers made the discussion of the book even more illuminating, combining modern situation with historical facts and figures.

DWL Meetup Photo Credit: Batool Curmally

DWL Meetup
Photo Credit: Batool Curmally

With some new faces and several people already done reading the book, Farheen initiated the discussion with the question about author's grasp on the city realities and how much of it he successfully explained through his book. Most agreed that the sheer level of fact-based research into the history of Karachi and how those realities affect its political situation in modern times is undeniably accurate. At no point does the author labels Karachi as a violent city but in fact proves that it is much less violent than many other American cities; with about 13 murders every 100,000 people Karachi is much better than 100 murders every 100,000 people of some of the violent towns of South and Central America. Khalid Muhammad, who spent his childhood year in the US, shared his experience of Detroit that a murder happened every 30 seconds during his days and compared to that, Karachi is a heaven. It's mostly the media that starts labeling "Breaking News" to even a falling stone. Another member shared her unease about reading the book, confessing that if it was written by a Pakistani author then she may not have taken it seriously and reading it from a foreign author makes her feel protective of the city against any (perceived) criticism.

Another point that generated long discussion was about Karachiites living in a bubble. People from Clifton and Defence not wanting to go to the other side of the bridge, Urdu speaking population not venturing into Pushtoon population, Baloch of Lyari feeling themselves unsafe in Defence and Clifton and Pushtoon unable to venture in Urdu speaking areas. Jalal shared his experience of moving around Karachi (courtesy to his profession) where he met many incredible people who, after a short conversation, he felt were just like him ... normal, aspiring for better future and earning a living. Some shared their experiences of visiting different parts of the city, either accidentally or for some project, and briefly described what they saw.

The discussion veered towards politics and politicians, Baloch of Lyari and MQM in particular, and some of the points discussed in the book came up such as military operation of the 90s and Baloch perspective on Karachi's development. When Farheed indicated how MQM chose not to confront Rangers raid and back away to cooperate including removal of blockades, Wasio added that something same had happened during 1992 operation where after army raid the barriers and blockades were smashed to destroy the No-Go area ... this shows MQM has learned its lesson from history.

The historical development of Karachi and the myth that Karachi was in its full glory during the 60s was also discussed. With 250,000 people living on the roads in early 50s and the number rising to 550,000 till late 50s, it was no way in its glory and pockets of violence still plagued the city. The greater rehabilitation program of Ayub Khan, through a company from Greece, created setallite towns to take working class away from city center (Saddar area) that include places like Nazimabad, Liaqatabad, Malir, Taj Colony, Delhi Colony etc. It was, perhaps, the forced movement of the poor people away from Saddar area that causes urban elites to remember bars, dance clubs and other attractions of Saddar area as golden time of the city. The housing crisis and creation (and growth) of the informal economy and power vaccuum left behind by Hindu and Parsi communities (who had developed Karachi and left from the area after partition) were pondered upon by the members. Early student politics including introduction of firearms by IJT and its escalation to street power was briefly discussed.

Karachi's existing problems were also discussed where Jalal said the only thing he truly fears in the city, despite being a law-abiding citizen, is the police. Omer shared his experience of dealing with a police checking where, despite fulfilling all legal requirements of driving in the city, the policeman in the end asked for chai pani (local vernacular for bribe). Transport issues, mafia controls and problems with bureaucracy also found their way in the discussion with comparisons with other areas of Pakistan including Peshawar, Swat and Dir.

In concluding remarks people shared some of their ideas about Karachi situation, what past has taught us and what future may hold for us.

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