Karachi is the lover, the tormentor: Mysterious, dark and hurt

Published: January 16, 2014

No matter what, Karachi is home Photo: Humans of Karachi/Citizens Archive Pakistan

With the grace of an old lady, the playfulness of a small child and the impulsive and volatile nature of a teenager, Karachi is everything you can possibly imagine it to be and more. PHOTO: REUTERS With the grace of an old lady, the playfulness of a small child and the impulsive and volatile nature of a teenager, Karachi is everything you can possibly imagine it to be and more. PHOTO: REUTERS No matter what, Karachi is home Photo: Humans of Karachi/Citizens Archive Pakistan

It’s human nature to desire that which is not in your grasp, love which will always remain unrequited and stress about matters that are not in your hands. The worst part is that we know this. And yet it doesn’t matter.

Despite this, certain things are bound to catch our attention, making us fall in love so that it’s impossible for us to simply move on, and accept the stark reality of our existence. A small break, sometime apart, a little space can of course prove healthy for our minds as well our hearts. However, our basic instinct always remains an instinct to return to where we were, to have what we used to. Because sometimes, you will try your hardest to let go of something, but finally end up realising it was meant to be.

That’s where you belong.

That’s where your home ultimately is.

A multicultural, dynamic, complex city that it is, Karachi promises you the versatility unmatched in most places.

Having spent a lot of time outside Karachi, I have learnt the customs, written and unwritten, of Lahore and Malaysia, making these three diverse places comparable, at least for me. While the air in Malaysia is comfortable, intelligent and adventurous, Karachi breathes a frantic, chaotic and daring air. It’s the air that warns you while at the same time beckoning you towards it.

They say,

Jisne Lahore nahin dekhya woh janmya nahin

(He who hasn’t seen Lahore, hasn’t been born yet)

And this is definitely true, to an extent.

With the cultural splendour of Lahore, even one trip, is enough to fill up your cultural greed. The architecture, the mausoleums, the tombs, the mosques, the literature, the air, it certainly boasts of a sophistication and cultural background that Karachi cannot compare with.

However, a few trips to Lahore and you’ll be bored of the same old art, same old atmosphere, and same old people.

That’s where Karachi steps in and takes the win.

With the grace of an old lady, the playfulness of a small child and the impulsive and volatile nature of a teenager, Karachi is everything you can possibly imagine it to be and more.

When I was six-years-old, I moved back to Karachi after spending four years in Malaysia, moving from city to city, not being able to figure out the perfect match for our family. Although I was quite young, and I don’t remember every single detail of Malaysia, I still remember seeing my parents happy but confused.

It wasn’t until we moved back that I finally saw the confusion vanish, bringing those calm, and comforting faces back to me. We used to live in a joint family system, with my grandfather, his older brother and their children’s families.

We were 15 people altogether in a house in Dastagir Society, Gulberg Town.

Recently, having moved back from a protected, healthy, tension free nation, my father witnessed a target killing right next to the lane we lived in.

We had just gotten back from a relative’s wedding reception and my father was getting something from the car when he saw two men kill someone around 20 feet away. The next morning we found out the victim was someone my father used to play cricket with in his school days.

I remember the stiffness in the air.

It felt almost claustrophobic.

I remember my father completely losing it, trying to convince my grandfather to move away from Karachi, but even after the most intense of discussions, my grandfather didn’t budge.

Karachi was not going to see the last of us.


I had a dream that night.

I don’t remember how it started, but there are things in it that I remember quite vividly.

Her long, cold fingers rest gently on my bare-arms, sending an icy ripple of waves down my otherwise sweltering body. I can feel the numerous scratches, bumps and bruises on her otherwise fair skin. She’s looking down at her feet, her long, dark, messy hair is covering most of her face but I can see a scar here and there.

She starts to speak, her voice strong and melodious, narrating a story of her past.

Her voice quivers as the story slowly unfolds, the words rolling off her pink tongue and pinkish purplish lips that seem as if their stitch finally came undone, the thread hanging off a side.

As she speaks, I can almost feel her delicacy on my exposed skin.

I want to hold her in my arms.

I ache for her touch, but I control myself. It’s a little too soon for that.

Even with the pain in her tone, there’s something frisky, almost childish about her.

She goes on and on, and by the time her story reaches its unprecedented end, the sun has finally reached the top and is burning my back through the blue cotton kurta I wore making it wet and sticky with sweat.

I wonder if I should’ve brought her here today.

Maybe I should’ve taken her to somewhere a little enclosed.

When I woke up, I couldn’t place the girl I saw in my dream.

I was baffled and confused; the dream seeming to be more of a clouded thought than anything meaningful.

I ached to know more about her, I wanted to know more about her story. Although she never told me her name, I could picture a pretty name for her in my head. She didn’t look too old, but the blood stains on her once new clothes, the lacklustre in what once must’ve been beautiful, hazel brown eyes and the sporadic responses to my questions betrayed a long, tiring journey that had brought her here.

Whilst I could still not understand her, there were parts of her that had started forming some shape in my mind.

With her being a part of my every thought, I carried on.

I thought about her while reading a good book, texting a friend and even when washing dishes.

She became a constant thought amongst the muddle in my head.

Gradually, I made some sense of it.

This girl in my dream could be my vision of Karachi; mysterious, dark and hurt.

Photo: Myra Iqbal/ Express

With the charisma of a lady, the enigma of a silent victim and the tenderness of a loved one, Karachi is what keeps us adventure hungry souls satisfied.

Who likes easy going, happy people who carry their hearts on their sleeves?

Don’t we all crave for the bad person?

The one who’s so close, yet so far away; the one who gives us a little something every once in a while just to keep us on the edge; the one who keeps us begging for more.

She’s what keeps us on our feet, allowing us to mimic her just to have a tweak of that vibrant persona she shows off.

She’s a festival that should be celebrated, because in the end, she’s home.

Hamna Haqqi

Hamna Haqqi

An aspiring writer, overflowing with emotions and words. She is currently studying Media Sciences at SZABIST. She tweets as @Hamna_h (twitter.com/Hamna_h)

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

  • sameer

    The lady sounds more like a vision of Pakistan then Karachi, IMHO.Recommend

  • Sami

    Karachi is the total unsustainable city for the future. 2.5 crore people and still counting. Reverse migration trends must be established along with opportunities in other cities and then small city could progress in a better manner.

    Also the best thing about Lahore is its homogeneity in masses in terms of culture and language as almost all second third generations assimilate and integrate somehow and then they own the city. I am amazed to see Kashmiri Punjabis, Pathan Punjabis , Balochi Punjabis and Intermarriages on a larger scale in Punjab but that type of example is non existent in Sindh.
    On the contrary nobody owns Karachi in a true sense as everyone in Karachi associate with other regions and only few embrace the city. Then there is ethnic tension in Karachi which does not exist in Lahore. Even there are some people and one party in Karachi as well who dont want you to be a part of the city and as a result integration and assimilation fails and that is what the today’s Karachi is all about.
    Anyway if you belong from Lahore you will not want to live anywhere else in Pakistan and same is with Karachi as both cities have their own charm but you have to be born there to understand what this really means actually.

    But in my view Cultural Homogeneity and assimilation is very important in one region for progress and Punjab is a prime example in this regard while SIndh is an example of Polarization that led to non Assimilation and identity crisis in my view.Recommend

  • Kaleem

    You can still praise karachi without comparing it with Lahore. I dont know why there is so khi vs lhr feeling when anyone writes about either. If comparison is must, compare with better developed cities around the globe.Recommend

  • Talha Rizvi

    proud to be a KarachiteRecommend

  • ovais

    Karachi needs its mayor, Recommend

  • ovais

    First see karachis dynamics and comment. Karachi is the only city in the world with no major ethncity unlike lahore where more than 85 percent are punjabi. Karachi is probably the most racially diverse city its only parallel can be mumbai and we all know the problems mumbai also faces. The fact remains karachi desperately needs local govt due to incompetent sindh govt unlike lahore who has enjoyed the center of attention during shahbaz and elahi time More importantly unlike lahore any one from anywhere in the world can come to karachi and get jobs, this city has a heart unlike lahore which is still quite reserved in this respectRecommend

  • Pastafarian

    I don’t think that’s true of Karachi (at least in my experience). I have left Karachi 11 years back, and has sparingly visited on couple of occasion since. Though I did witness cultural homogeneity, amalgamation of different rituals, and existence of ownership of the city. True that older generation families, moving from KP and Punjab must have told their growing kids that the place they belong to is not Karachi, but I didn’t see that sense of disenfranchisement for Karachi in younger generation. May be the affluence and limited social interaction I had can be taken as limiting factors, but overall I don’t think it was as bad as it is portrayed for outsiders. Karachi to me comes out as a gigantic metro with endless issues relating to violence, commotion, politics etc, but that is where the adventurism brews and affection instills, and in the end all that is trivial. I’ve never heard of any Yankee willingly want to leave New York, even though the issues weren’t far off. To a Liyari, there’s a Bronx. But I understand that it could be equally challenging for an outsider to understand the charm.
    You are right in assertion though ownership, birth and rots have a lot to do with it.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I thought the concept was both very clever and quite tender.Recommend

  • umar

    Progress has got nothing to do with homogeneity. All the successful metropolises of the world have diverse populations. Karachi was no exception as it progressed rapidly till the 1970s. The current chaos is largely due to weak a civic administration. Effective local government could have made things different for Karachi. It would have led to “ownership” by these public servants and eventually the residents. A strong local government would have also kept a stronger control on migration, especially from the North-West. No person should be allowed to immigrate unless he can show that he has the means to rent a house and earn his livelihood. This would have prevented the emergence of slums and Qabza groups which have become a big problem for the city. People from Karachi are the most sophisticated and educated people in the country. However, people who think that FATA rules apply in Karachi has made a mess of it. Recommend

  • Tanzeel Ahmad


    Ethnic tension in Karachi is due to the fact that OUTSIDERS don’t own
    Karachi. Karachi is a city that welcomes all ethnicity, religions and
    culture unlike Lahore which is comprised by 98% of Punjabi population.
    it is easier for a Punjabi of Gujrat to communicate and understand with
    the Punjabi of Faisalabad which is not homogeneity. A homogeneity is,
    Punjabi, Pashtoon, Baloch, Gilgiti, Gujrati speaking and Sindhi living in the same
    neighborhood as it happens in Karachi.

    In my opinion there is no
    comparison of Karachi’s diversity with any other city of Pakistan.
    Karachi is a true cosmopolitan city embracing entire Pakistan. All what
    Karachi wants is a bit of sincerity towards Karachi and Karachites
    immigrants’. Karachi expects respect from the people literally coming
    from every corner of the nation to earn from here.


    …….But Lahore is too provincial; more Punjabi than even Delhi. Karachi is
    closer to Bombay and you feel its cosmopolitanism in its salty sultry
    air. Its people speak in English, write in Urdu, think in Baluchi and
    dream in Sindhi. As first capital of the Islamic republic, Karachi is
    known as the city of lights. It is actually the city of load shedding.
    Never mind. The metropolis is Pakistan’s maximum city. It has fiction
    writers, fashion designers, globetrotting businessmen, TV actors and
    glamorous socialites.

    Extracted from “Which Pak city is cooler” Karachi or Lahore

  • Sami

    You grossly misunderstood my statement and also your comment is full of unintended sarcasm in the end.
    First of all you stated that Karachi is racially the most diverse in the world. How? I think you are confusing Ethnicity with Race. If you want to see racial diversity then do visit countries like Brazil. In my view Karachi has only dominant race and that is a Brown race. Are you sure Karachi is a mix of Black, Brown, Asian and White Races?

    Also Lahore and Punjab in general is based on the model of Assimilation and Integration. Punjabi definition is geographical and cultural. Punjabi is not associated with any race or any tribe only. That is the reason that many people who migrated to Lahore their second and third generations are known as Punjabis and that is what makes Lahore and Punjab more assimilated and overwhelmingly people here are identified with One Ethnicity.

    Also for your information anyone can come here in Lahore and Lahoris always welcome everyone. It is your own cloud of ignorance that makes you think like nobody can work here In Lahore neither there are ghettos of any ethnicity nor there are any no go regions.Recommend

  • Necromancer

    That comment is “seriously” a joke ;PRecommend

  • Sami

    Progress will remain hypothetical without addressing fundamentals of the Society.Can you name any Developed country that neglected these terms but progressed???? Progress without Homogeneity is not possible and i will stand by my words. Homogeneity of Culture, Language,Thoughts and Ideology is very important for progress. All Super Powers in the past and at present always stressed a Certain Ideology and one language within its land.. Atleast their language and ethnicity remained one to progress. In Pakistan we confuse many terms and i think you are confusing the term diversity as well. The only country with exception is UK and they will repent in the future for Multiculturalism within UK.UK progressed when there was One English Society and UK fall apart with the inclusion of the word Multi Culturalism.

    Multiculturalism within one land promotes Ghettoization and societies based on Ghettos cannot progress.

    Take the example of America where Racial diversity do exist but there is only one Language English and Naturalization of American citizen dictates that one person must conform to the American culture to be fully integrated into the society. The same norms must be adopted in Pakistan as well to progress.Recommend

  • Sami

    It is not a Joke for the Pakistani Society where Ignorance Prevails and reason does not exist. You dont have any Arguments to disprove this statement but calling it a joke is the easiest way to disparage it without any motive or rationale.? Talk with arguments kindly.
    There is a difference in Ethnic definitions and kindly study and comment here. Sindhi and Punjabi definition are different than Pukhtoons. Pukhtoon believe on Strong Tribal system and you cannot become a Pukhtoon unless you belong from a Pukhtoon Tribe whereas this is not the case with Sindhi and Punjabi Definition.
    How come Agha Sirraj Durrani is considered a Sindhi when his ancestors came from Afghanistan and how come Zardari who are a Baloch tribe are considered Sindhis is also based on the same definition.Recommend

  • Ovais

    i agree with the wrong word choice b/w race and ethncity , but give me a break i have seen lahore ,its a great city with 0.0 percent population from baluchistan less than 1 percent from sindh and Urdu speaking. Lahore is about 85 percent Punjabis so please dont say it is a true representative of pakistan. Plus lahore’s economy is such that getting employment is much difficult there as compared to khi for non locals which i have personally seen. Karachi is so big and diverse that anyone who is here to work hard will get an opportunity to earn a decent living that is why since 2001 more than 10 million people have moved to karachi and not lahore. Its a difficult city, lahore is lucky to have a caring CM while we are stuck with useless Qaim Ali Shah, MQM demand for a new province is justified if you just see the atrocities this city has seen in terms of incompetency of PPP and even MQM.Recommend

  • Sami

    Well unfortunately again you failed to understand my last comment. Let me explain a little bit. We should first define what makes an ethnicity. In Pakistan there are many and every ethnicity can be uniquely defined.
    In Punjab the definition of Punjabi is unique. its geographical and cultural. It is not related to tribe or any race. So if you are born and bred in Punjab and wants to be identified with a Punjabi culture then you are simply considered as a Punjabi. In the future as well the overwhelming majority here will always be seen as a Punjabi. But let me explain that My own Sister is married to a guy whose ancestors came from UP India now settled in Lahore and their second generation identify themselves with locals. Similarly in my view more than 10 percent of Upper Punjab have Kashmiri roots but now they are simply known as Punjabis and Kashmiri Punjabis. Gujrat, Gujranwala and central Lahore has predominantly Kashmiri roots but now they all speak Punjabi. Even Nawaz family has Kashmiri roots but now their consecutive generations are identified with a Punjabi identity.
    Also in Punjab there are more Balochs than any other place in Pakistan. I knew Lahore more than you and let me tell you that there are hundreds of thousands of Baloch but they simply speak like locals , act like locals so you cannot differentiate among locals and them unless you have to check their identity card.
    In Karachi people stick to their roots of ancestors while In Punjab they assimilate and become a local. In Lahore majority speak Urdu as well but for us The term Urdu speaking is Bizarre and calling some third generation as a Muhajir does not make sense. So i dont know how you define Urdu speaker in that regard.
    Also just have a check on people like Khwajas, Baigs, Mirs, Minhas, Butts, Qureshi, Naqvis etc and they all came in the last 200 years in Punjab but you could not differentiate them with the locals now.Recommend

  • Adnan

    Just one thing….who says homogeneity is good…not at all..EVER HEARD OF DIVERSITY?!!…thats what karachi is all about…diversity in lingo..art..culture n cuisine…similiarity breeds contempt…which the writer has explicitly mentioned..one needs toc break the shell n come out of this cocoon Recommend

  • Adnan

    Dear sir your whole verdict about punjab sounds like a hyperbole…dont get the wrong end of it.Recommend

  • Adnan Afaq

    There is a term called DIVERSITY!!…well countryman thats a blessing..diversity should b assimilated for national progress. Homogeneity is only in national interest. My friends verdict about punjab is a hyperbole…why sindh karachi n punjab..why this comparision?? i hope good sense prevails and there emerges more light than heat from this discussion.secondly…who owns karachi…i guess its an open secret now…the one who rots here born here lives here..who else??Recommend

  • Adnan Afaq

    U made the point!! Recommend

  • FarihaAfzal


  • Saad

    wao hamna mashAllah vry awsum post.Recommend