Dear Ms Fiza Ali, how can you say Karachi has no culture?

Published: March 9, 2017


They say the best way to discover a settlement’s “culture” is on foot. Try walking around on a busy street of my city (and yes, I say the “my” with a sense of unapologetic pride and ownership).

Try sitting in a bustling chai dhaba here. Try taking a walk on one of its beaches on a crowded Sunday. Try experiencing the sights and sounds and smells of Karachi. Try and shun stereotypes and just enjoy the Karachi experience…. Karachi is the dream of a writer and a photographer and an anthropologist and of anyone who has an eye for detail and is interested in humans and the fabric of human culture.

And then one day as a Karachiite, I stumble upon a morning show, one of the generally better ones with the host talking to one guest on the show about his/her life and times. The show is shot on board a boat sailing on the Bosphorus. It’s visually catchy. I watch it for about five minutes and am about to change the channel when, in answer to a question posed by the host, the guest, a TV actress called Fiza Ali says,

“Lahore has culture. Karachi has no culture. Fishermen have no culture”.

Her comment was offensive for more than one reason. Seriously offensive. If by saying, “maacheron ka toh koi culture nahin hota” (fishermen have no culture) you are alluding to the original settlers in Karachi who belonged to this soil and were fishermen by profession, it is offensive that you use such demeaning words for a community. Descendants of the original Karachi still reside here, they have rich traditions and a unique way of life unlike any other community.

Secondly, the remark was comparative – juxtaposing two of Pakistan’s biggest cities, Karachi and Lahore, which was bound to trigger unnecessary debates and flaring of arguments. With Pakistan facing so many other challenges, do we need public figures triggering such debates to create rifts between people belonging to different parts of the country? The two cities are both brilliantly rich in culture but very different and any comparison is, thus, unfair. One is a diverse multilingual megacity; the other is monolingual for the most part, and is rich in history and architecture. One is the soul if the other is the heart of Pakistan. Why, then, must we compare?

But more than anything else, it is offensive that she said that this city has no culture. Clearly, Ms Ali, you know very little about Karachi. Neighbourhoods in Karachi bustle with pluralism. What started out as a small coastal settlement is now the teeming hub of people from all over Pakistan.

If I start listing the communities and languages and dialects, one blog would not suffice. Artist Rumana Husain who produced two brilliant books based on Karachi’s diverse population, exploring the culture of those belonging to various ethnicities and speaking different languages, mentions 64 communities in her first book ‘Karachiwala’, and says that experts feel that up to at least 76 languages are spoken in all of Pakistan, and all of these are spoken in Karachi, if not more. As Pakistan’s largest multicultural agglomerate, the city of Karachi houses speakers of every possible language of Pakistan in every possible dialect. Rapid urbanisation has made Karachi the hub for not just the economy and industrial activity, but also a melting pot of culture – a culture that is rich, layered and ever evolving, for Karachi is not static; it is fluid in nature.

Television as a medium, and morning shows in particular, have viewership in the hundreds of thousands. What an important and immensely productive role these shows could play in sensitising the masses and raising awareness about important issues. This is not to say that all shows are always bad. Giving credit where due, every once in a while a show comes up that raises the bar a little and people are talking sense. But most of the times, there seem to be no limits to the kind of provocative and senseless conversation on these shows that can have a negative impact on viewers.

As for Ms Ali, may be its time she took a detailed tour of Karachi, and rethink the meaning of the word ‘culture’ before it is uttered so callously.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets on @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at

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

  • xishan for 1

    We should kill the root cause of such poor debates, and promote only Pakistani culture. The positive sides should also be promoted in case of cultural backgrounds.Recommend

  • Plural

    Agreed. Such shows must be under censorship.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Taking umbrage for an inane remark made by someone called Fiza Ali on a TV morning talk show ……. makes little sense. But highlighting her remarks about culture, Karachi and fishermen was good because it showed how ignorant the poor lady really was on the subject.Recommend

  • peter pan

    Unfortunately true. Karachi’s culture has been destroyed by the PPP and its clear bias against the majority Urdu speaking people who live there.Recommend

  • Aam admi of Karachi

    Every blogger , siasatdaan , fauji ,TV anchor always claim Karachi is a mini Pakistan ,just like this lady blogger but nobody bothers to write or provide the due rights to its people .Shameful!Recommend

  • Sane

    Mostly showbiz persons are not aware of geopolitical, cultural, economic, social and religious aspects of our country. Having little knowledge they must refrain giving comments. Karachi does not have the culture to what she attributes as ‘culture’.Recommend

  • irfan

    These pretty looking ladies on the morning shows, most of them have little brains and all body. Did she ever know that Bombay or Mumbai, came out from the fisherman’s colony. Did she ever watched Raj Kapoors Shree 420, released in 1955 I think, where the whole community of fisherman aspires for a house. Recommend

  • Atika Ahmed

    Karachites are sober and civilized, we are away from “meerasi”
    pan,chichorpan,luddi bhangra kinda things,she means that type of culture which exist in HEERA MANDI,
    so we are proud that we have no cultureRecommend

  • only truth is nature

    Luddi, Bhangra has made a place even in Oscars .soberness or lack of humour according to psychologists shows sick state of mind.Heera Mandis exist everywhere in each province.Karachi has a rich culture,many languages,many accents,many dresses,many types of foods,etc etc.Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    I’m with Fiza. She’s just being politically correct.

    Karachi has a culture alright. A culture of target killings, sectarian violence, kidnappings, extortion, mugging, looting, death threats and what not.

    Im so glad I live in the peaceful city of Lahore.Recommend

  • only truth is nature

    According to psychologist sense of humour is one of the positive attributes of culture.pakistanis have much higher sense of humour than of neighbouring countries.There is a difference in sobereity and boring personality.Bhangra and Luddi is a sign of life ,even the Prime minister of Canada likes these.Red light areas exist in all big cities.Let us become honest and refrain from ethnic biases.First clean the garbage from your areas and then be proud of your culture.Recommend

  • Grace

    You sure have thin skin but remember that the two women speaking here are from Indian migrant backgrounds just like the majority population of Karachi who are Urdu speaking Muhajirs. One of them says Karachi has no culture and you are all worked up and being down on Lahore and the majority culture of Pakistan which is Punjab. Do you not know that all Indian cities have Red Light Districts which are much bigger than Heera Mandi or that prostitution in India is at a much higher level than anything in Pakistan including Lahore. Dance, music, culture is alive in Punjab but it is also alive in India but the difference is that the Indian dance and culture is much more risque and more sexualized than in Pakistani Punjab. I don’t know who you are calling “meerasi” but I would think that you must really hate the Indian culture which is 100 times more meerasi and liberal with dirty dancing. I like Bhangra, Luddi and Punjab folk culture much more than Bollywood sexist culture from India. Think a little before you put down Pakistani Punjab when the Indian culture of your families is far from “sober and civilised” like you think.Recommend

  • hore choopo

    There is a difference between being sober and unpleasant,dry,boring,unwelcoming,unwitty,cold shouldered,,rotten,and robotic.Recommend

  • only truth is nature

    Poets;Faiaz Ahmad Faiz, Amjad Islam Amjad,
    Writers:Ashfaq Ahmad Khan,Bano Qudsia,Ahmad Nadim Qasmi
    Cricketers:Imran Khan,Wasim Akram.
    Historical:Badshahi mosque,Shalimar gardens, Fort,Jehangir’s tomb
    People of Lahore are not depressing ,and tiring
    Karachi:Many ethnicities,languages,dresses,foods,sea shores.Recommend

  • uzair khalidi

    I am really fascinated these Punjabis who have abandoned their language and feel proud to speak our language are now lecturing us about culture. They should always remember that if it would not have been the muslims of awadh they would have never got Pakistan. We muhajirs created Pakistan and are now running its economy from Karachi. so stop your hegemony of PakistanRecommend

  • only truth is nature

    @Uzair Khalidi..Urdu developed from turkish and persian languages spoken in the areas closer to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and afghanistan which remained in control of sikhs for long. The Up/Cp were at that time were using Sansikrat,including area of Awadh.Urdu became the language of muslims and was not confined to Awadh.Indian muslims voted for Pakiustan in the interest of all the Muslims. However certain Nawabs and Jagirdars of Awadh only wanted to save their Jagirs from take over in non partitioned India as was announced by the congress.Recommend

  • Faisal Shahzad

    Karachi defended furiously by Farhana Zahidi …
    Certainly glittering Urban culture exists in Karachi … Eye and un biasness nature needed perhaps.
    I blessed to stay Karachi only just for 5 years but Karachi will live in my heart forever.
    “Uth kar to aa gae hain teri bazm se magar ……….Kuch dil hi janta he ke kis dil se aae hain “Recommend