Skyline von Schanghai

26.1.2007 | Von:
Sultan Rehman

"Charming and full of contradictions"

Sultan Rehman reports from Karachi

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Being a born citizen of Karachi, I have witnessed, with happiness and dismay, the city changing, developing, growing and expanding in many respects over the years.

The city lost many of its charms and memorable distinctions. For instance, it used to be the capital of Pakistan till 1961 and hence the center of gravity as it enjoyed unmatched political and economic clout. With the shifting of the capital, Karachi was deliberately ignored and suffered immensely though the city has been contributing more than 60 per cent revenue to the national exchequer. It was once dubbed "The City of Lights". Sadly and painfully, no more! Now it often suffers from extensive power breakdowns and life becomes totally miserable especially during summers.

It used to be the industrial hub of the country. But due to the serious law and order situation during the 1980s coupled with bad governance and frequent power shortages, the industry started to shift out of the city. It used to be the liveliest and most entertaining city, where people were friendly, social, open minded and liberal. The city used to offer the finest entertainment facilities, it had many bars and night clubs. Exotic foreign troupes were regularly flown in to entertain large audiences especially on the weekends. Bars, alcoholic drinks and dancers were officially banned in 1977. However, these forbidden luxuries can now be enjoyed at private parties. The city used to be clean, un-polluted, un-crowded and almost crime-free. All these virtues have disappeared gradually.

What saddens me the most is the absence of adequate and proper civic amenities and infrastructure. Karachi lacks a modern and efficient rail, road and highway network. It suffers from severe shortages of electricity and water, unreliable sewerage system and mushrooming slums. The lack of a modern, sophisticated public transport system further compounds the miseries of the citizens. Wasting time in the traffic jams really irritates me as it normally takes hours to go from one place to another even for short distances. The phenomenal rise in crimes such as car snatching, armed robberies, snatching of cellular devices, and other valuables has left the citizens in a fix.

Karachi needs urban planning

All is not lost, however. Increased awareness about the importance of these issues has finally forced the city planners to pay due attention. The successive city governments have developed numerous new parks and renovated old ones, providing the citizens with much-needed breathing space. Major projects have been initiated and construction of new roads, widening and resurfacing of roads have begun. Schemes for increased power generation, water supply, drainage system, circular railway, beautification of the city and restoration work on hitherto neglected historic monuments started. Efforts are also being made to check rising street crimes.

Mazar-e-Quaid, das Mausoleum von Mohammed Ali JinnahThe mausoleum Quaid-e-Azam in the center of Karatchi (© Jonathan Haider)
The completion of the 2nd tallest fountain in the world – the Port Fountain, located at the beach – is a major addition to Karachi´s existing monuments. The magnificent pre-independence Ferere Hall, Kothari Parade in Clifton, Merewether Tower, Mohatta Palace, High Court Building and Old Customs House are just a few of many elegant buildings. The beautiful mausoleum of Pakistan´s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah is the most popular landmark of Karachi. The recent inauguration of a luxury cruise service between Karachi and Dubai has added new dimension to the great city of Karachi. Many museums and art galleries are located in Karachi. The one I particularly like to mention is the National Museum of Pakistan. It contains rare material from the Indus Valley Civilization period as well as important art works from Buddhist and early Islamic era. Another museum worth mentioning is located in the Mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, housing his relics.

Karachi continues to play a major role in cultural and social development. Many exhibitions, concerts, films, and fund-raising events are regularly held in the city. By organizing various cultural programs the Goethe Institut, Alliance Francaise and other institutions are contributing greatly in creating interfaith harmony and bridging the gap between the Western and the Islamic world.

The southern part of the city adjoining the Arabian Sea is frequented by large crowds enjoying the vast beaches. A drive along the Sea View, my favorite activity, is very refreshing in the evenings. Clifton-Defence area located in the south is the most peaceful, secure, expensive and posh area of the city. In this area, life is by far the best the city can offer. The area is home to many social clubs, expensive schools and colleges, attractive shopping centers, lively restaurants, upscale, trendy coffee shops and ice cream parlours. Hundreds of fashionable boutiques, bakeries and high-tech beauty saloons have sprung up all over the area.

A city full of extremes

I am lucky to live in that area, in one of the best neighborhoods in the city, where I know most people almost 4-5 blocks away from my home and we regularly meet, dine together, chitchat and share our experiences. My favorite park, the Zam Zama Park, is located only a few blocks from my home, where I walk in the evenings and enjoy crowd-watching at the same time. On Sundays, I enjoy shopping at the popular Sunday Bazaar, a flea market, where one can find almost every imaginable item of interest. Thousands of people throng to these bazaars all over the city. Another of my favorites are barbeque dinners in the lawn especially in summers when pleasant evening sea breeze make me forget the scorching heat of the day.

Karachi is home of various religious minorities: Hindus, Christians, Bahais and Parsis. Another pleasant feature of Karachi, and surprising for many, is the freedom enjoyed by various religious minorities to worship their religion and perform their rituals in an increasingly intolerant Pakistani society.

Karachi is a unique city of contrasts and contradictions, characterized by great extremes of riches and poverty. One can find beautiful palatial houses built on 5,000 square meters inhabited by two 2-3 people as well as dwellings built in slums on less than 10 square meters inhabited by 3-5 people. One can also witness display of unlimited wealth and abject poverty to its extreme.

The people of Karachi are quite friendly, hospitable and love to socialize, a quality much appreciated by foreigners. I believe the brave, enterprising and resilient citizens of Karachi deserve appreciation for continuing the process of development and growth of the city despite all the hurdles.

For me Karachi remains very special, very charming, very unique, very attractive and I hope and pray that someday my Karachi may regain its past glory, fame and prestige.

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