I am Karachi! – The Friday Times

Faisal Kapadia thinks the recent festivities show how vibrant and functional the city can be

I am Karachi!


The city of Karachi has had a very tumultuous ride in the last decade. Downgraded from the striking mega-polis it used to be – as the financial nerve centre of this nation – it has now become a teeming mass of humanity with neither the infrastructure to govern it nor the means to entertain it. As it grows and grows, pushing at the seams for yet more space culturally and economically, it loses out on many things a healthy city needs: green spaces, sporting avenues and above all, venues for arts and culture – save for the solitary arts council it possesses.

And that is why the whole city has recently taken to festivals like the proverbial fish to water with every angle and form of festival being explore. From literature to tea to food, these festivals have been aiming to provide the teeming throng that is the city some respite at least in terms of where to go on the weekend. The attempts haven’t done so well as far as the masses are concerned, though, because despite being well attended these festivals require pockets deeper than the average middle class person or family possesses in Pakistan.  That being said, opening up a festival in a city of upwards of 20 million people – and of those many with a fairly conservative attitude when it comes to music and arts – does come with its plethora of challenges as well.

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What happened is too much to comprehend, even for those who attended from start to finish

No wonder what happened last Saturday night is still a bit too much to comprehend, even for someone who was there from the start until the finish – which was at around 1:00 a.m. The society I am Karachi is not unknown to this city since they have been doing events and reclamation projects, such as their ‘walls project’ – which basically takes grimy exteriors and decorates them with truck art native to the city – ongoing since last year.  However even for them to take the entire Frere Hall – a Victorian marvel with huge lawns spanning acres – and to turn it into a giant free-for-all event was something fairly extravagant to attempt. The key, though, was not in just the I am Karachi Day they celebrated but the fact that thirty other organisations joined their efforts before this grand finale, to do several events on a small scale – from book drives to street theatre to just ‘put up a smile’ campaigns around the different areas of Karachi, which made it all so special. It seemed as if everything in the city, at least for a week, was all about the different elements that make it a great city. And this made everyone pause and reflect.

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Nobody, though, anticipated that the pause would turn into the biggest party of the year with musicians like the Sounds of Kolachi, Sara Haider and Hadiqa Kiani (to just name a few) performing before a massive crowd of close to 10,000 people in Frere Hall. People thronged to it as if it were the last concert they would ever attend. It was preceded by a ceremony in which awards for resilience, hope and bravery were given to the citizens of Karachi who aren’t of any celebrity status but have achieves miracles in their respective fields. Conventional wisdom would assume this to be something the masses would get thoroughly bored with…

So, just for the sake of understanding, let’s count off the urban myths of this city shattered by this one festival:

1) Karachi events must have security like the Kremlin to ensure the baddies don’t get in – SHATTERED

2) Karachi events must have crowds of only a certain social segment to ensure smooth execution and order – SHATTERED

3) Karachi’s heroes all come from urban affluent classes with access to power and resources – SHATTERED

4) Karachi does not know how to have fun or enjoy music – SHATTERED

5) Karachi’s masses are too burdened with day-to-day grievances to come out and just be themselves – SHATTERED

The most striking myth which was shattered, though, is the perception constantly pushed upon us as denizens of this place through our mainstream as well as international media – that of a place doomed to fail. As a city which supposedly does not and cannot function properly, Karachi certainly did on Saturday and it can do so again, provided we give it an opportunity, of course. So it remains to be seen when we can get rid of our presumptions regarding Karachi, so it can perform up to its full ability as a giant urban centre of Pakistan and the world.

Faisal Kapadia lives in Karachi

Published in The Friday Times on April 08,2016

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