I heart Karachi

Published: October 19, 2010

The city of lights is resilient in the face of the worst challenges.

I have lived in the United States on and off for almost 10 years. I have married an American man and love all the privileges, freedoms, and opportunities I enjoy in this country. Yet in all these years, I have never been able to call any place but Karachi my home.

I moved to Karachi in 1991. It was a turbulent time for my city. The MQM was at war with the powers that be and the city was constantly on fire. Our weeks were haunted by strikes and many mornings started with a look at the Death File in Newsline magazine—a summary of the killings of the week.

Yet, these facts are not what I remember about being a girl in Karachi. I remember the tight-knit community of my paros—my neighborhood. Every evening, balconies around the neighborhood would fill up with family and friends.  As the matriarch of the community, my grandmother would often receive more than five visitors an evening. Some were the children to whom she gave Quran lessons, who in exchange would make phone calls for her and give her the “down low” on what went on in their homes.

My parents did not worry when I walked out of the gate and into my neighbours’ houses to play with other children. Nor would they worry when I walked around the block with my friends and cousins. Those were the days when we, three girls, could walk around the neighborhood without a worry.

Life continued like this for many years and I could fill pages with all the beautiful memories I have of Karachi. Of all the times we spent on Karachi’s favorite pastime—driving aimlessly from Clifton Beach to Mai Kolachi, around Boat Basin and maybe even all the way to Sandspit Beach. Of all the nights spent with friends talking about Karachi—plotting revolutions over a million cups of chai and Dunhill Lights. Of knowing that in Karachi, you’re never alone. Of the shared experiences and awe that bring together 20 million people from all walks of life.

We are Pakhtuns, Sindhis, Afghans, Makranis, Punjabis, Gujratis, Christians, Parsis, Hindus, and Sikhs. But above all, we are Karachiites.  We are what makes this megacity, this city that never sleeps, this mammoth of human energy and potential, what it is.

Legend has it that for years, we have been protected from cyclones, tsunamis, and the likes by the spirit of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, the Sufi saint who is credited with bringing Islam to Sindh. Each Thursday night, millions of us flock to his shrine to ask for favours, to keep our loved ones healthy, to bring peace to our lives and to protect us from tragedy. We honor his spirit and the community that has grown up around it through a weekly qawaal—a musical performance dedicated to God. Its location in a wealthy part of town means that by necessity, it is one of the few places where the rich walk side by side with the poor.

The attack on the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazar was an attack on who we dare to be. An attack on our definition of Paksitani-ness: a Pakistani-ness that transcends the artificial borders of this country, of a Wahhabi/Deobandi version of Islam; a Pakistani-ness that demands the kind of love of country that will make us celebrate this state.

People have said that Karachi will survive, because its people are resilient. But we’re not just resilient, we’re passionate. We stand up for what we believe in and we believe in nothing more than the magnificence of our city and its way of life. This attack shook us to our very core. But it might have been the wake-up call we needed to realize that it’s not just what we say that counts, but what we do.

In this time of deep despair, I am hopeful. Hopeful that we will be propelled into action because we finally understand that our lives depend on it. Those of us who have been silent behind the walls of Defence, Clifton, KDA, London and New York, must wake from this slumber and take our place in the resistance.

We can’t undo what’s already been done. But we can rebuild, reframe, and re-energize our city with positivity and determination. Together, we can win this battle. We are Karachi—we don’t just survive, we thrive.

samia.khan

Samia Khan

A graduate student at New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, where she studies International Development. She works at the UNDP's Regional Bureau for Africa.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • maheen usmani

    You expressed my sentiments, Samia :) Recommend

  • Deen

    Hats off to you Samia, you really are in all sense a True Karachiete, I salute You, and I am sharing this article on my Facebook profile. If only the rest of the country realised and understood the soul of this city by the sea, and the place this city fosters in the heart of everyone who lives here. We are the city that gives life to this nation, yet we are seen by the rest of the country as outcasts and misfits amongst urban centres nationwide. Like yourself, I too am a proud Karachiete.Recommend

  • tahira mussarat hussain

    your article touched my heart you speak for all of us.
    thank you..Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/13/syed-ali/ S. Ali Raza

    Can I give you a hug Samia? :) Wonderfully written!Recommend

  • RJ

    Ppl of Karachi must be tolerant of different nations and welcome them. Just like the native Sindhis welcomed the Muslim immigrants from India in 1947Recommend

  • Saman Jafri

    yes! we are not only resilient but also passionate! and yes we not only survive but also thrive…a great writeup! thank you for penning the feelings of the proud Karachietes so nicely! bravo! :).Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/13/syed-ali/ S. Ali Raza

    @RavezJunejo: People of Karachi ARE tolerant, precisely for the reason there are people from every ethnicity living peacefully here. But when criminals come in and start to disobey the law and bring in their “mountain” culture to urban centers. That is when the problems start :) Please open your eyes, and understand the difference. The graves of the people of Karachi are in Karachi.. they are not flown or driven back to places called “Homes”. Recommend

  • Danish Syed

    wow marvelous Yes We are the Karachities , we thrive :) :) Love you Samia Recommend

  • http://sadaf-fayyaz.blogspot.com/ SadafFayyaz

    Nicely written,,,,,,,,,though i have no idea about karcahi or Karachites…….Recommend

  • Kanwar Nabeel

    wowww i dont have words to describe ….this is simply a masterpiece,,,,,,very well written ….it feels like these r my words / feeling for karachi…….hats off to uRecommend

  • Anon by choice

    Thank you for reminding me of the resilience of Karachi and its citizens. Bless you. A real wonderful read. Recommend

  • Kush

    Samia, simply fantastic!!! This love letter of sorts truly touched me and gave me hope at a time when there doesn’t seem to be much to go around, Kudos!!Recommend

  • Najla

    Yes, It was nicely written. But I wonder how many real Pakhtuns, Sindhis, Afghans, Makranis, Punjabis, Gujratis, Christians, Parsis, Hindus, and Sikhs you knew and hung out with in Karachi within the walls of Clifton, DHA, and KDA. Is that bubble really Karachi?Recommend

  • Hassan

    @ S Ali Raza wow what an ethnically prejudiced comment about “mountain people”, and to think that educated people commented on this blog. Karachi is not owned by any one ethnicv community as you might like to think, it is a part of Pakistan and people from all over Pakistan have a right to stay and live in this city. Crime and criminals are not limited to ‘mountain people’ it is rampant across the board just like in any other mega city of the world. Their are criminals in all ethnic communties to single out one is a reflection of your bias and maybe you should read the blog above and atleast make an effort open your mind, being a bigot doesnt serve anyone.Recommend

  • Sabah Rashid

    So this is why Karachi is so different from Lahore and Islamabad. I get it now.Recommend

  • Iman ahmed

    Beautiful read …
    But..don’t know for how long us Karachiites we can hold fort .

    Blockquote

    Recommend

  • Raamis

    What utter tosh!!! Just because a shrine in clifton is bombed all of a sudden everyone realizes that they live in an unsafe city? And then what do they plan to do? Write uplifting pieces and hold vigils?Recommend

  • Polly

    Beautifully written darling little sister. What an exquisite love letter to a city that surely loves you back!Recommend

  • Anon

    I was reading this article and it strongly reminded me of my family and then I saw who wrote it and realised it WAS my family. Very nicely written!

    Re. Najla– how do you define a ‘real’ Pakhtun, Sindhi, etc? I see your point, but is a ‘privileged’ Pakhtun in DHA less real than one who lives in Qasba Colony? Just a thought. Recommend

  • kashf shah

    Nicely written good one……Recommend

  • Syed

    @ RJ
    People of Karachi are more tolerant to outsiders than anybody else in the country.!
    But if you start to spread terror in the city, forcibly occupying the lands, taking over the transport system and not allowing others to operate, then the residents are bound to stand up against them, the citizens of Karachi are from many backgrounds, UP, Bihar, Lucknow, Dehli, Memons, Katchi Memons, Indian Punjab, Pakistani Punjab, Hazara, Balochs, Pathans, Pukhtuns, Pukhtuns from Afghanistan, Tajiks, Uzbeks and offcourse Sindhis. What is being potrayed in the media is that Pukhtuns are being threatened, But if you talk to a common Karachiite, people are threatened by Pukhtuns, and not the other way round, and only those that have background in Tribal and rural areas of NWFP and rural Afghanistan. Otherwise there are almost same number of Punjabi brothers and sisters living here peacefully. there are other peoples here too, but every body is at peace with each other. Stop going to MAsala media for information and ask a common Karacchiite.Recommend

  • R

    Lovely piece! Perfectly summarizes the feelings of a true Karachiite :)
    Allah bless our country.Recommend

  • Sunil Gavsakar

    For good sake don’t use the word Hindus. We really dont care if our city is burning…the fire started when you over ruled Jinnah promise to use for a secular state

    sitting in America and gving theese fatwas is not going to change nothing….come back and face the musicRecommend

  • Amadeus
  • D Khan

    Samia, I’m truly touched by this article. Brought back tons of memories walking on the streets of Karachi (all girls), playing cricket with neighbours or just strolling down the area for a sweet treat. Yes we did it without a worry, infact our parents would be taking an afternooon nap while we were up to all this……………… I wish I can take my kids to Karachi without a worry……………. I fondly remember your grandma and her yummy “tikkies” ( sweet cookie treat). Recommend

  • Kush

    @Sunil Gavsakar:
    Really …. is this all you can draw from this uplifting, hopeful and loving piece?Recommend

  • Khoulah.

    Beautiful!! :
    “We are Karachi—we don’t just survive, we thrive”
    and,”in Karachi, you’re never alone.” Recommend

  • parvez

    It’s great to read a “feel good” article once in a while. I love Karachi even with all its faults.Recommend

  • Karachiite

    I heart Karachi with all my heart :) Recommend

  • Nadira

    Moving article but that was the past and I’m sorry but the future doesn’t look too bright either and I’m very happy where I am – thank you Recommend

  • raamis

    @Sunil Gavsakar: I so agree… so easy to be loving when you’re sitting in NYC faraway from the madnessRecommend

  • Erfan Afghan

    We are Pakhtuns, Sindhis, Afghans, Makranis, Punjabis, Gujratis, Christians, Parsis, Hindus, and Sikhs. But above all, we are Karachiites. We are what makes this megacity, this city that never sleeps, this mammoth of human energy and potential, what it is.

    I second that … As an Afghan, I have lived in Karachi for 22 years and I believe it’s the best city in the world. I miss Karachi, I wish we could have the Karachi without ethnic violence. Karachi where we can spend all night on the roads of the city. Recommend

  • Erfan Afghan

    @Syed:

    How come they were never threatened by the Pakhtuns & Afghans few years back? I mean we have lived peacefully for decades and we never had that issues. We Afghans have been friends with Mahajirs, Memons etc. for all these years. How come you are threatened now? Lets not become the victim of politics. We all own this city and we can exist peacefully with each other.

    And how many Pakhtun businesses has been closed? I mean go to Johar you won’t find a single chai wala. It’s normal people like us or the poor people who will suffer from all of this. Recommend

  • saher

    Have spent only 8 years in karachi but no one can ever make me move from here. karachi is home :) totally relate to ur sentimentsRecommend

  • Asim

    We can only talk about these beautiful, idealistic and hopeful articles in the secure environs of our houses in America or in Karachi, and now we have started to see these in the papers as well. If you really care about Karachiites, go ask a daily wage worker who has to play on life and death everyday to make ends meet, he will tell you what he thinks of this city. To live in a city, where you can be shot down anytime, anywhere, dont talk about the resilience of these who are few and far between. They have guards and arms, and mighty houses and defenders and what not to protect them…Recommend

  • DANISH JAHANGIR

    Really its hurted for us that our city karachi going back to old era.Recommend

  • madiha

    beautifully summed up:

    “We are Karachi—we don’t just survive, we thrive.”Recommend

  • saadi

    @S. Ali Raza
    i think he needs a lesson in culture and politics
    what do you mean mountain people? Your the epitome of ethnocentric inanities which have destroyed the fabric of this city.Recommend

  • Aisha

    Love Karachi!Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    To those attacking the blogger be nice
    She’s just expressing what Karachi means to get
    And people it’s just a blog
    But one thing one pattern I’ve noticed from many blogs here
    Many who blog here are often attacked for belonging to a socio economic background and not knowing some realities
    I mean cmon
    It happens everywhere around the world, we all have our world view shaped by everything our life gave us or take awayRecommend

  • gem

    I loved your piece. But couldn’t help noticing that you missed the Muhajirs. My point being, i get that we are divided but we are united in our sentiments for our respective cities Well written and emotive though, thanks. I heart Karachi, and you too a little bit, after reading this :)Recommend

  • Salman

    read your blog just about the right time , i plead guilty here infront of all as i felt like giving up on this beautiful home of ours since this morning when read all these ugly news about dozens killed !

    love u samia ,for the title ” I heart karachi ” very creative and honest and the other two lines of inspiration picked up from your article, hope that we keep thriving and stay passionate ….

    @ karachi

    We dont survive we thrive

    we’re not just resilient, we’re passionate!! Recommend

  • hopeless

    I am realy sick of this resilient stuff, Do people living in Karachi have a choice?. Those who do have been trying to move out. So stop that “passionate and resilient” rhetoric. No matter whay happnes life goes on every where, Baghdad, Kabul, Karachi.People dont have a choice, its a power battle going on between MQM, ANP, PPP, religious parties and some criminal gangs. People are reaping the crop of hatred, ethnicity and religiosity and discrimaination sown by all successive governments in order to control Karachi. Army, MQM, ANP, JI, PPP, are all resposible in the same order for the mess, Karachi is in. Karachites have no option but to get killed if they are living in areas other than DHA, Clifton and KDA. The upper class is not realy concerned whats going on, its only the middle class who is writing these hopeless blogs and articles about passion and resilience. Recommend

  • Urooj

    You have spoken the heart out of every passionate karachite. Karachi stands for energy. Its been treated like a battle ground and also like a host from which its parasites suck up all goodness, but still its surviving and thriving. The credit for this goes to every Karachite who is doing his or her job honestly.Recommend

  • Salman

    @ hopeless
    we live in the world of hope this article is that little ray of hope for me atleast “” that there are still sane minds out there “”" negativity isnt good these are very tough times for Pakistan .

    yes army – all political parties – mullahs all are responsible but also dont forget we are also a part of the problem cause we listned to them we bought their cr*pRecommend

  • nadya

    @Syed:

    What sort of gibberish is that? I have lived in Karachi all my life and not once have I felt threatened by a Pukhtun. Learn to accept diversity and stop this system of prejudice and divisions that is doing none of us any good.Recommend

  • hopeless

    @Salman: Yes hope is important, but a cancer patient cannot survive on hope and positive blogs written by expatriates about the days of good health.Recommend

  • Hafsa Zubair

    A lot of the negative comments here show the despair and disgust many of us feel from time to time, if not all the time. But I completely understand where the writer is coming from; visiting the US for the first time since 9/11, I am compelled to stand up for my city and country when people question me about things back home, because no matter what, the love for the place to which you belong is real and fierce. Expressing your love for your hometown is not the same thing as whitewashing over current realities, it just is what it is – a strong feeling of loyalty for the only place on earth you can really call home. I only wish that all of us ‘educated and enabled’ people could bring about some real change. Recommend

  • Ammar hasan

    very nice..loved it. Recommend

  • Anil Khan Luni

    For the elitist any city is a great place to live in irrespective of the problems…its the opinion of a common man which should matters and unfortunately they are unable to write:PRecommend

  • Anil Khan Luni

    @Najla:

    Loved ur comment!!!Recommend

  • The Protestor

    Nonsense…..how dare you people relate safety, well-being and what else to the spirit of a human? You should realize that being Muslims your faith must be set in the right direction. Stop this Shirk and correct your live, and I guarantee that life will turn out good for you if not for the rest of Karachiites. I heart Karachi too but strongly criticize the Shirk associated with the shrines of Sufi Saints.Recommend

  • Mohammad Ali Amin

    I have nothing to say regarding all the damage which has been done to Karachi, nor do I have a comment on how “some” people on this forum are still foolish and ignorant enough to talk about who is Pakhtun and who is a Hindu. All I have to say to you, Samia, is that “I am Hopeful too, and will always be”.

    AlyRecommend

  • Chi M

    I don’t know your Karachi. From a faraway land and culture I share no memories be told in your heart. But your Karachi love resonates in me. For that I’ll stand by you and thank you for sharing your soulful prose, your genuine feelings and thoughts. And for courage and the love for your people. Now you’ve got a non-Karachiite care about your dear city. Recommend

  • Batool Fatima

    You’ve expressed feelings of so many people. Brilliant!Recommend

  • http://humayuniftikhar.wordpress.com Humayun Iftikhar

    I have spent only one month in Karachi in my whole life but I would say it’s the real picture of Pakistan, bearing all colours of this country. Recommend

  • Humanity

    @The Protestor: “You should realize that being Muslims your faith must be set in the right direction. Stop this Shirk and correct your live, and I guarantee that life will turn out good for you if not for the rest of Karachiites.

    Or else you will blow me to smithereens. Right? You bigot, who has given you authority to act in lieu if Malak-ul-maut? Don’t you see shirk in taking people’s life as you please? The arrogating, holier than thou sorry souls with hearts of stone end up worshiping their own presumed piety. It is ironic they don’t realize the shirk in their own way of life.

    Instead of committing shirk by fearing you, I’d rather love my Allah in the way I choose, as long as I don’t harm others. Permit me to suggest with humility that you mind your business and worry about your accountability on the day of judgment instead of judging others!Recommend

  • sikandar

    Seriously bring tears to my eyes !!!!!!Recommend

  • irfan urfi

    KARACHI JAN HA HUMARY ! beautiful Style !Recommend

  • Kamil Haider

    “The attack on the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazar was an attack on who we dare to be. An attack on our definition of Paksitani-ness: a Pakistani-ness that transcends the artificial borders of this country, of a Wahhabi/Deobandi version of Islam; a Pakistani-ness that demands the kind of love of country that will make us celebrate this state.” — You stole that from my heart, I claim copyright. With what you said throughout the article, can anyone be truer than you? I will forever doubt. Brilliantly written.Recommend

  • Shehzad

    You dwellers of DHA Clifton and Derence just behold one sode of the coin.

    Everything is groovy , cool and blah blah .

    Had you been a working woman of Orangi Town , you would have known how it is everyday braving and surviving the drug Mafia Pathan dens at Banaras and Landhi .

    Karachi belongs to all …… sick of listening this . It is a pity people who never even live and know the Karachi as it is now , are trying to shade lights of the diversity of Karachi sitting miilion miles away .Karachi belongs to those who developed it from Kolachi by their hard earned dough NOT to Mountain hoardes or to those who eat here and call other places home . Recommend