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

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.