The privilege to be hopeful

Published: October 23, 2010

Will Karachi recover from years of violence?

Every time Karachi bleeds, people scramble around looking for something to believe in. Once again, with 85 people dead in four days of violence, there are articles insisting that Karachi’s spirit, tolerance, pride and resilience will carry it through. Insisting that it will survive. Insisting that it will come out stronger.

I want cling to hope as much as the next person, but as much as I appreciate optimistic articles, I’m getting tired of the sentimentalisation of Karachi and all its problems. People here aren’t resilient because of their fierce pride in their city. They’re resilient because they don’t have a choice. They are proud because they feel defensive about a part of the country whose problems are too often treated like they don’t belong to the rest of Pakistan. They are spirited because if you abuse and batter anybody’s home for long enough, they will eventually fight back. As for the tolerance-I don’t really see who can honestly call this city tolerant. It is tolerant of many things, but considering that most of the metropolis has been soaked crimson in ethnically-inspired killings, I wouldn’t call Karachi a place where we welcome outsiders with open arms.

There are beautiful things about this city, yes. Love for Karachi is love in spite of everything else. You will want to come home to Karachi simply because it is home, even though you know you won’t have electricity, running water or security at any given moment of the day. I’m beginning to wonder whether this is good enough anymore. Is it enough to be hopelessly, helplessly attached to a place while you watch it go up in flames? Do the people on the other side of the city, the ones whose children are being murdered and homes are being looted on an almost daily basis, feel this love? Or do they simply feel gut-wrenching, all-consuming grief?

Our sadness and our sentimentality will only take us so far. I say this as someone who has been sheltered on the “safe side” of this city. As someone who always maintained that the city will indeed bounce back. No, it won’t-I realize this now. It won’t bounce back, because it is too broken and too battered. Half of the city has been affected by the violence, while the other half have convinced themselves it is part and parcel of life in Karachi. The divide remains, between those who are hopeful and those who can’t afford to be. There is no great change coming unless the entire class structure-both literal and geographical, in this city-is altered. Until then, the best we can do is acknowledge how Karachiites who lost loved ones and protest on the streets every day are hurting-and acknowledge our privilege in not experiencing the same.

This post was originally published here

sarah.elahi

Sarah Elahi

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College who works with the Citizens Archive of Pakistan

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

  • parvez

    You make an excellent argument, I have to agree with you, but at the same time I do love my city.
    The saying goes that its only a dog that gives love and asks for nothing in return.
    Now we have the Karachiwala to add to this exalted status.Recommend

  • http://abbasiworld.blogspot.com Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi

    For a person who is critical to the politics of Karachi, grim regarding deterioration of life, worried of the increasing danger, smug by calling Karachi his city of residence and Larkana his hometown, I am deeply saddened with your article. I have spent 20 years of my life in this city, 19 of which were spent in F.B.Area where at one side were ethnic Urdu speakers and the other side Pashtoon population. I have seen battlegrounds where my children in their early teens venture out with arms and ammunitions.
    When times like those when it was ‘shoot at sight’ for anyone other than your own ethnic brethren can be endured, so can the present situation as well. I always believe that greatness can be achieved from the worst periods of time, because it’s the Phoenix that rises from the ashes and not the crow.
    Hope is there until there is even one Karachite breathing and let’s keep it alive for as long as we all are breathing and those who will come after us and so on and so forth.Recommend

  • patriot

    Couldn’t agree more with Wasio. As emotive as your words are, i feel like you don’t connect with the city or feel like a part of it.

    People are hurting and people will move on. It’s not a Karachi thing, its a LIFE thing. Life will go on for the mothers of the victims and for the killers.There is so much good happening in the streets of Karachi that probably doesn’t get attention because it’s not being done by the govt (so no photo ops).

    Also, if you think Karachi is a part of the country that gets neglected, you are very mistaken. It is the financial hub of Pakistan, the city of lights, the port city and the centre of urban activity. We get a lot of attention, so do our problems. And i kind of like that. We’re a big deal.Recommend

  • sarah.elahi

    @patriot:
    If I didn’t connect with the city or feel like a part of it, I wouldn’t be moved to write about it. I’m tired of seeing my city going up in flames and saddened that the class divide isn’t acknowledged more openly. I think in order to move forward and harness our passion for Karachi, we first need to recognise how bad things have become.

    Recommend

  • http://meer-mehernewspappar.blogspot.com Meherzaidi
  • http://ykhan.wordpress.com Yasser

    Things were never good in karachi during 92-99 and off course since 2008-2010. But we Karachities enjoyed the beautiful life during 2000-2007. Seems like the aliens always try to destroy the peace.Recommend

  • http://grsalam.wordpress.com Ghausia

    Okay first off, this was very beautifully written. Second, I couldn’t agree more. Sitting in my home on the other side of the bridge, the only connection I have to the city going to hell is the news, and the status updates from friends on Facebook. But safe as I am, I still end up frantically calling and texting loved ones, ensuring they’re safe. But once that’s done, I still go have dinner at Zouk and ice-cream at Gelato. Talk about being disconnected. I think that was partly why the bomb blast at Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s mazar was exceptionally startling, that such violence had crossed over to our side of the bridge.Recommend

  • parvez

    After bouncing my above comment off my trusted sounding board, I was advised by her to amend it to : Karachiwalla’s love their city but we must not be complacent and settle for nothing. We must fight for improvement. Makes sense and sorry.
    So the dog still remains supreme.Recommend

  • Malika Ehsanullah

    There are a lot of holes in your argument (if, indeed, there is one at all) and you clearly have very limited knowledge of the city. I have to say I respect that you acknowledge how clueless you really are though.

    1) “People here aren’t resilient because of their fierce pride in their city. They’re resilient because they don’t have a choice.”

    Why is resilience based on pride somehow better than resilience based on having no other option? I mean seriously look at where national, provincial, ethnic pride has got us. Think about what you’ve written and how it doesn’t make much sense.

    2) “As for the tolerance-I don’t really see who can honestly call this city tolerant.”

    Yes 85 people have died. Yes my heart bleeds for the city, those people, their families as I’m sure yours does. But can you really call the city as a whole intolerant because of these incidents? That’s a big big claim to make Ms. Elahi and you really should have given it more thought.

    3) “Do the people on the other side of the city, the ones whose children are being murdered and homes are being looted on an almost daily basis, feel this love? Or do they simply feel gut-wrenching, all-consuming grief?”

    How about venturing to this so-called ‘other side of the city’ sometime and finding out for yourself? What good is wondering after all?

    4) “Half of the city has been affected by the violence, while the other half have convinced themselves it is part and parcel of life in Karachi.”

    What a convenient and simplistic assumption! If only things were so simple in our city.

    5) “There is no great change coming unless the entire class structure-both literal and geographical, in this city-is altered.”

    What ‘great change’ do you a think an altered class structure will bring? It seems to me that you have a really poor conception of Karachi’s class structure. Problems in the city are not a result of ‘class inequality’ primarily. Many other factors play into it, some of which are definitely more noteworthy.

    6) “Our sadness and our sentimentality will only take us so far.”

    Agreed. Ironically, your article is a good reflection of the fact in question, since all your claims seem to be motivated by emotion and not reason.Recommend

  • sarah.elahi

    1) the proud resilience vs not having a choice was a critique of those who argue that karachiites survive because of their pride in the city. it’s not a value judgment. i have not advocated pride anywhere, certainly not of the ethnic or nationalistic variety. the entire point was that resilience is resilience and you can’t romanticise it.
    2) i never called the city “intolerant.” i simply said that it’s not tolerant. there is a difference. tolerance in general is not something i can attribute to this city.
    3) i wasn’t “wondering”. it was a rhetorical question. suggesting that i venture to the other side is irrelevant-you don’t know me.
    4) hyperbole. if you took it to mean literally “half,” you missed the point. the purpose was to illustrate the class divide.
    5) if you aren’t cognizant of what change will come through less inequality, i can’t help you. i would argue that the huge class divide-and resulting desensitisation of the people who possess the greatest agency-is one of our biggest problems.
    6) it was an emotional blog, ill give you that. if i had wanted to make a serious argument, rather than conveying my personal experience, i would have sent it to op-ed and not blogs.Recommend

  • rayyan k

    I think the problem with this article is, as patriot and wasio implied and malika stated, that your sole focus is the class divide and don’t think other factors are as or more important. As someone who has spent 75% of my life as part of the lower lower middle-class I can safely say that the class divide is only responsible for a fraction of Karachi violence and problems. Ethnic tension based on provincial inequality manifests itself in Karachi since it is so ethnically diverse.

    I can also say that the divides you talk about are not as clean and clear cut. Call it ‘hyperbole’ or what you may, but I must say that you really don’t have a good sense of this city and the roots of its problems. That’s why you’re resorting to simplistic and cliche reasoning. I must also say that your tone is quite condescending, which put me off a little bit when I was reading the article. I thought I was being unnecessarily harsh in my judgment though, but when i read your response to comments I knew I wasn’t imagining it. Wouldn’t hurt to be a lil more polite.Recommend

  • zehra

    when things go bad in Karachi (or Pakistan for that matter) there is a tendency to either explain their occurrence with conspiracy theories or to make ourselves feel better by talking about how Pakistanis are the most unique/brave/strong people in the world. And in the case of the latter, people go to the point of accusing those who don’t agree with their views of being disconnected from the city or being apathetic. I think the comments section proves my point.

    But while it is important to keep faith in the Pakistani people and their resilience, we cannot deny that we as a people are emotionally and psychology battered from the years of corruption and violence. The article is just reminding us to recognize this abuse and while it may sound harsh (or impolite or condescending as someone else said above) it is true. Deal with it. Nitpicking the rhetorical language of the essay or questioning the writer’s understanding of the city is not only irrelevant and rude but is also a refusal to budge from our collective state of self-denial. And it is that kind of self-denial that leads to statements like :
    “We get a lot of attention, so do our problems. And i kind of like that. We’re a big deal.” – Patriot.
    I’m sorry “Patriot’- I don’t like it that my city’s claim to fame is targeted killings and load-shedding. Recommend

  • M

    @rayyan: The writer’s sole focus was not only the class structure. She was focusing on “the sentimentalization of Karachi’s problems” which in turn leads to people not acknowledging the hurt felt by those families. Please refer to comment by “Patriot” above-for whom the fact that this city is a big deal or that a meaningless phrase like the “city of lights” seems to matter more Personally, I’d rather Karachi have a proper electricity supply than an unfulfilled, romanticized claim to being the city of lights. Similarly, for the patriotic “Patriot” too, the 85 dead do not seem to be 85 individuals suffering and 85 families grief-stricken in the face of loss-they are just people who will have to move on.

    Please try to concentrate on the article as a whole rather than being fixated on one line alone-where she was suggesting a solution to the problems. If you have more intelligent solutions to offer-by all means Go Ahead and Offer Them. If you have a better sense of the city, please make us aware of IT rather than attacking the author’s “condescending” language. As you put it yourself, “Wouldn’t hurt to be a lil more polite”.

    Finally, I think the article is well-written. And I share your frustration and grief, Sarah. Recommend