The Broken Chair

The Broken Chair (2)

Post 2 of 12 – On Karachi Continued…

I wish I had known her better. Twenty years of calling her home, and still knew the city at the surface. In a way, I wanted to make up for the regrets taking hold before I departed. Just a few weeks before, random assailants had stormed through the airport, wreaking havoc on the tarmac. Karachi paralyzed in terror. Her bazaar shutters rattled shut shortly after due to civil unrest, triggered by a political party in the city. And yet, she remained sturdy and resilient. Life went on.

One afternoon, when I could take a break from work, I decided to wander off on my own. My office building was located at the cusp of Saddar. The city’s old, colonial heart. Three years working there, and I had never appreciated that fact. But it felt too little, too late. Karachi had always been there, and I had always been asleep.

Just across the street from Zainab Market, I noticed Karachi’s invitation to sit awhile. To observe the life teeming through her smoggy vessels. Sometimes, I felt surprise at how a city like her can keep going, day in, day out. The chair broke once, worn down, but somebody still found a way to make it work. Nailing it to a lop-sided tree trunk. The innovators with all their jugaars. It made me see Karachi for who she really was, a staunch survivor. In a way, it felt like the whole city stood on a network and foundation of different scaffoldings. One piece supporting another, built out of an urgent need, until they were made to function as permanent cogs in a rusting machine.

But the ones on wheels have no patience for the ones walking by, and the ones strolling are blind to what goes on to the left and right. She’s a busy, chaotic city. If only we were not ignorant of the consequences of our doing. Short term solutions are only that. Short term. If only we were aware that termites from the diseased tree would eventually consume the chair. If only we had sat with her awhile and learnt. If only we knew how all the scheming behind closed doors makes her suffer and crumble.

I continued walking, grateful for the invitation to observe. Enough reason to believe that Karachi’s heart was still there. There was much more to see, hidden only so that we can learn to find it for ourselves.


On Karachi

Karachi sunset (2)

Post 1 of 12

Karachi. Half forgotten, yet cherished like a mother. From where I am now, she feels so distant, a far away city. Most of my memories, good and bad, are all part of this vast metropolis. I took this photo from the rooftop of my office building a few years ago. It was merely the eleventh floor, but most of the city’s rooftops were clearly visible. There are no skyscrapers in Karachi, and it is hard to get a bird’s eye view of the scattered mess of streets and buildings from most rooftops. A privilege. Sometimes I felt rewarded for drawing my gaze out among the maze of buildings, identifying a landmark. The old Imperial Bank building, the high rising cranes near the port or the mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam, the nation’s founder.

Most days, like everybody else, I would be lost in the thick of things, unable to ingest Karachi in her entirety. Sometimes, when my mind became clogged and jammed with work, I would often come upstairs for a few minutes to get some fresh air. To refocus. The rooftop was mostly empty except a few employees taking a smoke break by the stairwell. A hint of Karachi’s sea-ward breeze was always stronger up here, always a great help in the hot summers. Whenever I heard the mad chaos of traffic in the streets of Saddar nearby, I felt grateful for being stuck working past the rush hour. Life made it difficult to look past oneself. And so it has been for most of Karachi’s citizens. For most of us.

I think it was those little trips upstairs that helped me get some of that greater focus back. In a way, I learned to observe Karachi in my last year in a way I had never looked at it growing up. A broken city often plagued by civil unrest, and yet diverse in cuisine, culture and home to over twenty million people who made it through their day. Day by day. Every day. She was the perfect fit under the definition “Rising Asia.”