An Ode to Artisans of Sorts

Diplomas in hairstyling and grooming, sports coaching certification, paramedical licenses, haute couture training, photography courses, culinary degrees and much much more. This, rather qualified, list of possible educational options could go on forever. The above are just some fields of practice where our local Karachi men and women, and those hailing from all over Pakistan, have come into the city and excelled at (within their own limited capacity and thin resources).

Using their observational skills, cognitive prowess, and sheer dexterity, these people have established themselves as barbers, cobblers, ambulatory staff, tailors, sport markers, auto-mechanics, electricians, plumbers and many other professional occupations. Of course, they do not have the degrees, diplomas or the certifications needed to show any formal training in their respective fields. However, the pressing demands of life in Karachi, the desperate need for a source of income and the dreams of making it big in a city like this keeps these people determined enough to achieve what could intially seem impossible to many people.

The zeal in their curiosity, the discipline of their masters, the keenness of their watchful eyes, the sweaty years of their laborious toil, and the indomitable fire inside of them, to imitate the highest of standards and expectations, is what fuels them to achieve success at what they practice and do to make a living. Invariably, these skilled professionals also contribute to an often overlooked, yet thriving, vibrant and important, sector of our national economy. This is the parallel market that, if fully reported in all earnesty and honesty, would yield in a far greater domestic output (higher GDP).

Returning to the topic, barring a few high-end options, one can usually get his beard shaved or trimmed, his hair cut and shampooed, and even throw in a massage or two for no more than a hundred rupees. Or how about haute couture spree for men; suits stitched to impeccable standards, and thoroughly customized for a thousand or two bucks. And then there are the mechanics, though corrupted to the core in many cases, they can fix your transmission for a thousand or two rupees. Or the plumbers and electricians who would do the most intricate of jobs on your flushes and switches, and do them well, for a mere couple of hundred rupees. And the list of privileges available, for a price, just piles on and it is all remarkably performed by men and women who picked it up through sheer observation and trial and error.

In reality, most of the above prices, that I quoted, are probably on the higher side due to my ease of access to more expensive options. In all likelihood, these rates, that sound rather reasonable to many of us, are probably challenging and even exorbitant for most Karachiites. Therefore, in context of our populace and our prevalent purchasing power, the prices on offer are competitive to say the least for most citizens of the city.

The aim of this entry was to make sure that this silent yet crucial component of our city, and its hardworking people, are not forgotten amidst the gliterrati of engineers, bankers, IT consultants, businessmen, doctors, dentists, fashion designers, and others. All it takes is a simple step back and wide-open eyes to look at what many of these artisans do, with the little that they have (in terms of book knowledge or formal training) and the wonders that they achieve.

We must appreciate and admire the display of skills and talent laden across our city, and for that matter the entire country, in various styles and forms. Perhaps, I am more marvelled at it all, due to my newness to the city, but I am sure glad for it. To take it all for granted would be to miss the essence of our city, its glaring realities, its dynamic settings, its vibrant offerings, and the exciting possibilities that make up this greatest of cities.

4 Comments so far

  1. umar (unregistered) on August 10th, 2005 @ 1:54 pm

    we sure do take them for granted. but most of them don’t have any formal education/training in what they do. They just learn the skills from their father or ustaad and start practicing. some of them still use stone-age tactics although much better technology and resources are available to do the same thing, but they stick with their old ways, however risky they might be. Sure, they are an asset alright, but they should learn to adapt the new techniques in order to survive and retain the respect, if there still any left for them.

  2. Mohsin Siddiqui (unregistered) on August 12th, 2005 @ 2:50 am

    You can get suits for a thousand rupees? Where?!?!? The cheapest I had tailored for me, without compromising on quality, were in the 8000 rupee range.

  3. Babar Hashmi (unregistered) on August 13th, 2005 @ 2:16 pm

    I meant the cost of stitching, not the material. It’s the tailor’s labor charges that I was referring to, and they usually can run anywhere between one to three grand, depending on where you’re getting it stitched from. Of course, not even the luckiest of souls can get an entire suit/tux made for a grand or two. Materials, ranging from the cheapest ones to the more Moosajee types (i.e. Lawrencepur) or imported ones like the Winston Churchhill collection can run into five or more figures quite easily.

  4. Mo1984 (unregistered) on December 6th, 2005 @ 8:27 am

    Hi guys and dolls,

    I am of Pakistani stock, and wonder what life in Pakistan would be like. You seem to be resident there, so I was hoping you could provide an insight into life in Pakistan’s biggest, fastest city?



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