When a child grows up in Lyari

Published: August 11, 2013

I dislike the environment with which he interacts - playing in the narrow streets and chewing gutka. PHOTO: REUTERS

Ferjal Hussain is just three-years-old. I love him a lot. He doesn’t eat or sleep well when I am out of the city. I don’t allow him to go out and play with his contemporaries — though he does insist. We both play at home. I sing him folk songs and share with him the good stories I know. Sometimes, I recite Shah Latif and Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s couplets. He likes ‘lab pe aati hai dua banke tamanna meri.’

I dislike the environment with which he interacts — the abusive language, playing in the narrow streets and the habit of chewing chaalia and gutka. There is only one playground in the area, which mostly hosts drug addicts. Parents don’t allow their children to go there. Most of the children play right outside their homes. Women, men and young boys abuse and sometimes slap kids if they make a lot of noise out on the streets.

I planned to move out of Lyari, for the sake of providing Ferjal with quality education, last year. I dreamt that he’d develop the habit of reading books and find good friends in schools and in the neighbourhood. I thought he won’t know ‘bad things’ till he turns 10.

Before I could move to a safer locality in the city, my area of residence — Lyari — started echoing with intense firing and explosions. Faiza, my wife, and I tried hard to keep Ferjal inside the house, closing windows and doors so that he wouldn’t hear sounds of rounds of bullets, but he heard not just the intensive firing, but also explosions after the May polls this year.

“Papa, there was too much firing and I saw people running here and there,” he told me when I reached home.

Papa apna khayal rakhna,” he recited his mother’s words to me, on the phone.

(Papa take care of yourself)

I felt that all was okay, that he had only heard the noises. I thought he’d forget everything within a few days. But then, I saw that he kept his toy pistol inside his pants and covered his shirt before demonstrating its usage.

“This is the magazine and this is the chamber. Load it and fire dishon dishon.”

Sameer Mandhro

Sameer Mandhro

The author is a freelance journalist. He tweets at @smendhro (twitter.com/smendhro).

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

  • Rational Liberal

    Lyari is like the Harlem of Karachi, all it needs is a renaissance.Recommend

  • Indian

    What a touching story. I’m stunned to read about children chewing gutkha- isn’t there any age limit for making such a purchase..Recommend

  • Indian

    The part about the toy pistol is heart breaking.Recommend

  • haider

    this is sad but this is reality.Recommend

  • dancing troy

    here in KpK, children play Khud kush Khud kush… thankyou for providing such unique games for these children to play…

    when hearts become stones, man becomes beast.Recommend

  • Ali

    Even I had a dozen toy guns when I ws growing up…..and I haven’t grown up to be that violent actually :p ….stop exaggerating and making an issue out of everything….Recommend

  • Asgher

    This is true even we were also living there but by the grace of God we leave lyari and and now in a peaceful place of Karachi.situation is worse day by day.Recommend

  • Gp65

    @dancing troy: Khudkush Khudkush? While I can understand that but it is heartbreaking nevertheless. I hope peace returns. If nothing else, the children deserve hat. For this to happen though the leaders of the country would have to realize that this good terrorist bad terrorist game isn’t working too well for Pakistan and go not just after the terrorists per se but the terror creators I.e. madrassas and mosques that spread hate.

    @Author: well written.Recommend

  • Irfan Akram

    Toy guns are not restricted to Lyari. it has been become the most popular toy among the children of our country since few years. on every Eid festivals, children play with the toy guns. we all should discourage the children for these toys. This would be great step if the government ban to produce these toys to save the minds of the children of this country.Recommend

  • http://nil Abdulsultan

    Gutka is baned and illegal. After its ban its manufacturers and sellers have to pay more money to area police and inspecters. In goverment all are crrupt from top to bottom. We pray for Pakistan’s safty and prosperity but all are fighting against prayers.Recommend

  • Danish Xuberi

    I was ten years old when my father gave me a tiny buck knife, and taught me how to be responsible with it, at 13 I had an air-gun and at 22 years of age I gifted my dad a .30 Chinese TT. Mom said “never trust Chinese or Russian always buy German, British Spanish or American guns. Dad’s .32 Spanish Llama had been stolen and he would be uncomfortable sleeping without her on his side. We were law abiding citizens and never misused our weapons. GUNS ARE GOOD PEOPLE ARE BAD. Recommend

  • PBS

    Khud kush khud kush = suicide bomberRecommend

  • Deepak

    I didn’t follow what that meant as well. Thanks for the clarification.

    @ Author
    Almost thought that I was reading something from the poetic license section. Good article..sad and moving.Recommend

  • Parvez

    What is happening in Lyari is gang warfare, drugs and crime supported by local politicians and the politicised police.
    The fact that a lot of every-day people live in Lyari and face a miserable existance is nicely brought out by the writer.Recommend

  • Saif Baloch

    I was born and raised in lyari still living, its not just about your surroundings but how you and your train and educate your child. Since i was a kid my parents raised me with one simple formula of calling right right and wrong wrong. Im 20 years old but never had the habit of chewing gutka and abusing people in street. AlhamdulillahRecommend

  • mdsr

    Madressa and Mosque are not the places that spread hate, Recommend

  • mdsr

    Madressa and Mosque never spread hate or terrorism.
    It its an act of individuals, like you never blame a car for accident but driver.
    Please correct your misconception.Recommend

  • Gp65

    Thank you for being kind enough to explain. I wasn’t actually asking what it meant. Just expressing disbelief/ horror that kids should be playing such a game.

    @Deepak : Khud means self and kush means killer. In fact khudkushi just means suicide. Khud kush hamla is the term for suicide bombing.

    This is why I find it heartbreaking that kids should be exposed to this term and play Khd kush Khud kush. I also find it understandable given how much violence these young eyes have had to see at such a young age robbing them of their innocence.

    @Parvez Agree completely. My heart goes out to the author who is fighting a difficult challenge in providing a safe and wholesome environment for son – a universal desire for parents all over the world.Recommend

  • Deepak

    Thank you.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @mdsr: Living in denial will not help. At random go and stand outside a few mosques after Friday prayers and listen to the demented hate that spews out. As for the madrassas if you are unable to see that they are the hatcheries for breeding extremist thoughts and providing ‘ cannon fodder ‘ for a mis-guided political adventure that has crippled this country, then you need to look again.

  • Noor


    Mr.Parvez is right.Recommend

  • Noor

    @ Parvez

    You’re right. But the reality makes me lose hope..Recommend

  • gp65

    @Saif Baloch: Good for you and kudos to your parents. You are correct of course that parental guidance (and the child’s own temperament of course) is key to raising successful well adjusted kids. But it is easier for the parents to do this in some environments compared to others. It looks like the author is also doing his best to guide his kid correctly – just as your parents did and yet despite all his effort the child has internalized violence which the parents were trying to protect him from.

    But you are right that well adjusted kids can grow up in any locality and I doubt that the author or any of the readers are trying to stereotype all Lyari residents – which appears to be your concern. In fact the effort seemed to be the exact opposite.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Noor: Thank you for the support.
    I am extremely angry but loosing hope is not an option.

  • Dp

    @ Parvez
    There would be peace,stability and economic progress,if more people knew, what you know.Recommend

  • Dp


    Your remark has reinforced my faith the existance of wise people who have a balanced outlook in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Dp: Thank you for that………I simply call it, like I see it.Recommend

  • Another Indian

    @ Sameer

    Electrifying article. Very good writing.Your son will be fine,since you’re putting in so much effort to mould his mind.
    Happy Independence day to everyone across the border :)Recommend

  • http://sulekha.com Deva

    GOD Bless Pakistan, amin, … from the depths of a foreign heartRecommend

  • Another Indian

    I was thinking about this stunning article,and took some time to find it again.
    If E.T ever publishes a volume of ‘best reads’,maybe this article can go into.it.
    Beautiful and painful.
    A haunting piece.
    I’ll never forget it.Recommend