karachi, Uncategorized, Writing

Karachi in September

Written in late September, 2017. Muharram. 

Karachi is a gift for writers. This city is brimming with detail and eccentricity. There is so much texture, so much for curious eyes to take apart. It is grimy, dirty, gritty, and resilient. It’s loud and obnoxious. It’s obnoxiousness is also perhaps the cause of its resilience.

*

It is morning and we are on our way to a majlis in Soldier Bazaar. The school traffic blocks the roads. Children in neatly pressed uniforms making their way to school by the busloads – in school vans, chauffeured cars, rickshaws, siblings crammed on a single motorcycle with a sleepy father at the front, school boys on motorcycles driving themselves to school.

There is a lack of traffic lights and many of the streets are narrow (further narrowed by the piles of trash on the roadsides threatening to take over the city). Vans, buses, cars, rickshaws and trucks become stuck at intersections. An uncle from the nearby chai shop walks over and begins guiding the traffic at the intersection we’re stuck at. This is always a pleasant surprise. Karachi can be violent and dangerous, but you’re always being watched and observed by passersby. People don’t mind their own business, which can be very frustrating, but there are times this comes in handy. If you’re struggling to manoeuvre your car, someone will notice and they’ll begin signalling and guiding you with hand motions and bangs on your car.

Every morning at the intersection near my house there will be a massive traffic jam, seemingly incapable of being resolved because of the numerous directions in which the endless streams of vehicles are coming and going. And every morning the traffic jam will be resolved somehow, unofficially, by a different person, jumping out of their car or popping out of their shop to direct the traffic.

In Sadar – downtown – I come a cross a traffic officer shouting directions through a loud speaker. Dressed in a clean white uniform and a black bullet-proof vest, he’s an aging pot-bellied uncle, clearly frustrated by his impossible job of controlling Downtown Karachi’s traffic. He takes turn wiping sweat off his brows, waving his arms around, and barking into the loudspeaker. One driver ignores his directions and takes a turn where he isn’t supposed to. The traffic officer swears at him on the loud speaker, clearly heard across the busy intersection: “Kumbakhat! [Imbecile!] Everyday you turn here, and everyday I yell at you not to turn here!”

We come across a school. A guard with a pistol in his hand stands outside the door of the school as children stream in. Inside, another guard with a kalashnikov slung across his chest, ushers the school children through.

*

At the mall there is heavy security. You must walk through a metal detecter. Your bags are checked. Everyone is checked. It’s a busy mall. The atmosphere is relaxed. But for me, metal detectors remind me of airports, of Brown and Muslim anxiety, of racial profiling, so I tense up, ready to reveal my innocence should the detector go off. But everyone looks like me and everyone is relaxed and it goes off for everyone and everyone’s bags are checked.

 *

At the hospital, I am visiting my cousin. The entrance has a metal detector, a cheap plastic looking thing that is clearly not working. A guard with an AK-47 half-heartedly looks on for signs of danger and full-heartedly leers at women.

In the evening, on the streets of Ancholi, there are police trucks and rangers set up. Roads are blocked off, so we part our walk through the narrow streets for the evening majalises. Rangers and guards loiter around the streets, with kalashnikovs and pistols. Some in dark-blue police uniforms, others in camouflage army gear. One of the young male rangers learns toward a stall, checks out some noha CDs as his gun slings forward, hanging from his shoulder. Another sits on the back of an open truck, his legs stretched out before him, his fingers holding on to the trigger.

How the streets of my childhood memories have come militarized. A truck full of mental detectors passes by. Across the metal detectors is written DONATED BY EDHI CENTRE. And that’s when it really hits me fully: we are in the midst of a war. A decades long war. This war has been going on for so long that the militarization has become shockingly normalized. The Edhi Centre, normally known for its orphanages, shelters, and ambulance service, in an attempt prevent the loss of lives, is donating metal detectors. Guns and metal detectors are a constant reminder of danger.

As a Shia in black during Muharram, walking the streets, I thought I would be more afraid. But here, on the streets of Ancholi, a Shia locality, I am reminded of the streets of modern day Karbala, Iraq. There are vendors selling Muharram related wares, talismans and alams, noha CDs. The imambarghas are built to look like the shrines of Imam Hussain or Hazrat Abbas. There are sabeels set up giving out sharbat and refreshing drinks. Multiple majalises going on at the same time can heard from the loudspeakers on the streets. People opening their windows and doors to listen. People sitting on their porch steps and balconies, head bowed, shoulders shaking, openly weeping when the tragedy of Hussain and his family in Karbala is being narrated. Men and women, children and seniors, sitting on the streets, in their shops, in the imambarghas, listening from parked cars, crying, loudly.

And yet there isn’t a sense of fear, or at least not to the extent that I expected. This is everyday. Life goes on. Maybe something will happen, but probably it won’t, and that’s what it’s like everyday, so why be afraid?

Karachi is booming to the point of bursting. It is open for business and unable to control its own greed and urges. If you see an opening in traffic, you rush in and speed through because you might miss your chance. There’s no “you first” on the roads here.

Karachi is aware of itself but helpless at controlling its exponential growth. Its arteries are clogging up. The trash piles on, the roads get narrower, the traffic increases but keeps pushing through even when it can’t, even when there isn’t enough space. People keep adding levels and floors to their homes without permits.  Somehow, and not always, the city adjusts. It just keeps going. But for how long?

 

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karachi, Uncategorized

Dear Karachi: It’s me. I’m back.

Memory has a way of being deceptive. Each time I am back in Karachi, I find myself taken aback. Things are not how I expect them to be. Somehow in my memory, our home in Karachi is always a little bigger, our street a little wider. Maybe it’s because I was younger, smaller, and so the spaces seemed bigger. Or maybe things really are shrinking as this city grows and becomes more crowded.

It still hasn’t truly hit me that I’m back and I’m not sure how I feel about it. My surroundings are coming to me in bleary, hazy doses as I drift in and out of sleep. The weeks leading up to the move, and the journey here were exhausting. My body is still recovering and adjusting.

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Karachi’s On the Map

One change that has altered Karachi-life is the introduction of Google Maps. My street did not used to have an “official” name. My honours thesis in university centred around this fact, on the lack of official names for streets and how people used landmarks and anecdotes to navigate the megacity and give directions. That has changed. There is a very large blue sign denoting the name of our street; i.e, the new official name. I think this probably has to do with Google Maps. The streets need to become navigable in a way that’s not just restricted to locals or dependant on local knowledge and directions. I can now look up directions on my phone to get to places in Karachi and this certainly makes the city less daunting and more accessible (although I’ve heard the traffic is atrocious). I wonder what we are losing though, with this introduction of Google Maps. An entire culture and way of navigating spaces has now changed.

The introduction of Google Maps has also allowed different ride sharing apps to thrive here. Uber has arrived.  You can order a motorcycle and the driver will arrive with an extra helmet. There’s also an app called Careem app. It kind of works like Uber, except apparently it’s safer and the drivers are all directly trained and hired by the company. I’m excited to use it and review it. I’m also curious to observe the effects of such apps and technology on local businesses and every-day life. It has a way making you feel both safer and more exposed. Nonetheless, I think the Careem app may be a way for me to see the city independently.

Neighbourhood Wildlife

The most I’ve seen of Karachi so far is the route from the airport to the house at 4 in the morning, and what I’ve observed from the roof. I’ve been getting aquatinted with the neighbourhood bird life. The racket the birds make in the morning is astounding, as if there are hundreds of birds shouting at each other. There is a rooster in our neighbourhood that crows incessantly all day and has made my jet-lagged sleep very difficult. No shortage of crows here, either. They are loud, clever and obnoxious. They have a sharpness and alertness to them that catches me off guard.

The mosquitoes and flies too have advanced survival instincts. Despite wearing full length pants, covering myself with bed sheets, and having the fan on full speed when I sleep, I still wake up with mosquito bites all over my arms, legs, stomach, back, and neck. I really don’t know how they get there. I’m determined to figure out a way to outsmart these mosquitoes.

I am looking forward to recovering from my jet lag so I can get into a routine. I really do feel different here. I feel more creative, and I can feel myself wanting to write creatively again. I have different ideas of what I want to do during my time here, but I’m a little afraid of going out and about on my own because my foreignness really sticks out like a sore thumb. Or maybe it doesn’t. I’ve lived here before. I should give myself some credit. Although it doesn’t help that I’ve been mentally converting rupees to dollars to understand how much something is. I just need to get out there and adjust. But first, I must get over this jet lag.

Stay tuned, more to come.

…It’s 12:40 AM and that rooster is crowing.

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Writing

a necessary trap?

when your writing becomes not about you but about addressing the gaze that others you. there is a loss there. but there is an immediacy to it – you feel compelled. no, you are compelled. it is demanded of you. i wouldn’t call it a phase (it will always be there). perhaps a passage. a necessary trap. it needs to be done, so that perhaps your writing can move on, and you can represent yourself without looking at yourself from the outside in, without always being angry and traumatized. and finally, find true liberation in your work. when i no longer always need to write about trauma, and can write about fuzzy caterpillars and dust bunnies and why i like my egg yolks runny.

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Uncategorized

reminder to self:

reminder:

history repeats itself. i, on my own, cannot change that. it is not my job to change that. it is not my job to change the world. i cannot. i can shout and be enraged and cry and be bitter, but there will always be suffering. many of us will continue to be outcasts our entire lives. empires of oppression have much longer life spans than i do. i am not responsible for humanity. i cannot end systems so much bigger than myself. that is too big of a task and i am not up for the challenge and i will always be disappointed and overwhelmed. change is too slow. i am brief, fleeting, flailing.

my task is to hold up the/a truth, always the truth, my truth, and what i know to be true. i cannot change the world but i can hold up the truth, side with it, be a testament to it, be a vocal witness to it. that is all i can do. and that is immensely powerful. hopefully, it is enough.

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healing words

i’ve made a conscious decision to speak openly about my struggles with my mental health. i’m slowly learning what my body needs when i am anxious, depressed and the different ways my PTSD manifests itself. i am learning to become comfortable with how fragile and vulnerable i am as a human.

the last few days have been particularly difficult for various reasons. but i find that in those intense moments of pain and brokenness, help finds its way to me.

a few months ago i had just experienced a racist incident and was feeling emotionally and physically overwhelmed.  a friend texted me out of the blue and asked if we could meet. she met me in the hallway right after my class. we held hands and cried. another time i ran into her, she slipped two beautiful bracelets into my pocket. i have been wearing them everyday and throughout the day run my fingers over them. they make me smile.

this past week has been especially difficult. the following words have been life lines extended to me.

  • an instructor handed me a copy of Lenelle Moise’s Haiti Glass and said i could keep it. i read these words again and again:

Instead I took a deep breath. I channeled my outrage into a form of meditation. I reminded myself that I am a writer. My job is to observe and to remember. When push comes to shove, memory is my greatest self-defense. I can be a warrior but I would rather be a poet. Poets live longer.

5. I WISH I COULD “LOVE MYSELF” OUT OF SYSTEMIC OPPRESSION. TRAUMA IS A STRUCTURE, NOT A FEELING.

  • a mentor/writer:

Your job isn’t to change the world. It is to hold up the truth.

  • someone special:

you are so different from every angle and so beautiful.

My God, who has been so quiet,
This must be your work.
As baffling as all of your other mercies

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Uncategorized

On Creativity and Spirituality

I am most creative when I am spiritual. When I am able to connect the beauty around me with the beauty within me, I feel energized to create, to express beauty, and to interact with the mysteries and beautiful peculiarities around me. When I feel spiritual, I notice that I become happier, I become kinder and more patient, and I love more strongly.

I was more spiritual when I was younger, and perhaps that is also why I felt more creative and motivated when I was younger. I don’t necessarily feel I have become a better writer with age. I have to struggle to keep that purity and honesty when I set my pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I have to take a moment, a deep breath, and deliberately attempt to wipe away cynicism, doubts, cliched ways of thinking, all the rhetoric of every-day “adult” life that gets accumulated in my head and finds a way of seeping into my writing, the lack of passion, and notions of what is “realistic”, or “practical”. I have to try harder to simply be.

I used to write to find myself, the core of my being, to connect with the Creator, the Oneness, the Open. I would constantly be composing poetry in my head, thinking of beautiful ways of phrasing anything interesting I saw, my fingers itching to write EVERYTHING down, to describe it all, to paint it with my words and preserve it.

I don’t do that as often anymore. In fact, I rarely write just for my spirituality, for myself. I rarely write now just for the sake of writing, of BEING on the page. Mostly because I have no time.  And also because I’m too busy writing academic and analytic essays, which have a way of sucking the passion and creativity out of me.

I have an action plan to get in touch with my creative, spiritual, writerly self.

PLAN:

  • Write min. 1 page of free writing first thing every morning. In freehand, on paper.
  • Meditate. Take 5 minutes everyday and devote it to silence. No thoughts. No worries. Just silence.
  • Read for pleasure! At least one page. Every day. Just simply for pleasure, and no other reason.
  • Be grateful. Before I go to sleep, think of 3 things I am especially grateful for.

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
― Ray Bradbury 

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