To Karachi, with love (from: Zenab Masud)

This letter was written by Zenab Masud, a Karachi resident living abroad.I somehow found it really intersting, love of a Karchiite linking memories with this city and hence thought of sharing it.

“As you look down from the plane window, the lights of Karachi glitter with shameless abandon. They look almost wanton, sparkling like taunting jewels in a city rife with poverty, the first apparent contradiction in a country that thrives on them.

Glistening white mansions bordered by crumbling juggis; aunties getting their feet massaged by young girls from families straddling the poverty line.

A decade ago, I had left Europe and academics to come live in Pakistan. That had been a new beginning. A difficult one in many ways. Never having lived in Pakistan before, I had found much of it overwhelming and lonely. My close college friends were scattered around a lush green, cobble-stoned continent and I missed those timeless cups of coffee when conversation flowed from pure philosophy to lurid poetry, from recipes for warm waffles to dreams of steamy romances.

All this, while the soft fall of persistent rain pitter-pattered against stained windows. But as with all good things, college days ended and I turned towards a place called home. A home I had never lived in before. Strange how the concepts of ‘newness’ continue to change in one’s life. Who would have thought that ‘new’ could come in so many colours, shapes and sizes?

From a scenic little European university town to the crazy metropolis called Karachi. I found myself overwhelmed by the glitzy lifestyle indulged in by the exclusive two per cent of the city. I realized the true meaning of the word ‘socialite’ and was confused to find that the designer responsible for your shoes and bags was more significant to the people you met than you. I slowly began to sense that the people you hung out with, were of significant interest to anyone new you may meet, as were bank balances and their sizes. The propensity to consume alcohol was amazing, as was the ability to behave badly when under the influence.

There was this amazing ability to ape the West. Selectively chosen traits. Sadly, concepts such as punctuality, discipline and work ethics seemed to have been omitted. New make-up products, a ‘Voguish’ fashion consciousness and forced bohemianism were embraced.

It was a crime-infested Karachi where people invited you for dinner at 8.30, the hosts were not ready before ten and dinner served apologetically by midnight (apologetic, because they thought they were serving too early).

After some initial months of bad stomach disorder and embarrassed waits in people’s drawing rooms (I would show up for dinner and no one was ready), I began to get the drift, somewhat slowly. I would now go for dinner at ten, mercilessly ignoring the 8.30 invitation.

This led to my father putting on his glasses and a very dismayed expression and explaining the evils involved in stepping out late at night. He maintains his very optimistic stance that 10.30 pm is the time to return from dinners not to go to them. Dear sweet dad.

So basically I tussled with a huge amount of insecurity: knife wielding, car-nabbing dacoits and the looming threat of sectarian violence. Some unpredictability like warm people with gossipy under-tones and the fine art of social climbing. A desperate attachment to the accumulation of wealth and the burgeoning power of the nouveau riche.

It was to be many months and some frantic escapes to Europe later that things began to fall into place.The fear of dacoits and burglaries dissolved over time and one grew to accept it as an implicit risk in the land of the pure. Punctuality be damned, what seemed more significant was that one had a good time. But most crucially, it was about the people. Are they not what make a place?

I found over time, after many tears had been spilt, that amidst the wannabee throngs that thrive in Karachi, there are people so wonderful, so inherently beautiful that it makes waking up in the morning completely worthwhile.

It took a while to find them. But the wait was well worth it. The friends I made grew to shape a nurturing form of a new Karachi, I found this home after nights of restlessness, blasts from bombs, persistent mosquitoes and KESC’s tyrannical tendencies. But it was home all right, and the friendships, relationships, as rewarding as they were, taught me to find new strengths within myself, new perspectives of viewing the world.

The beauty of Karachi is that as cosmopolitan as it’s essential nature is, it allows you to sift through the sands and find individuals who make it all worthwhile. I found my friends in different places: advertising agencies, social situations, the schools I taught at, through the magazine I edited.

With them, I discovered new aspects of life in Karachi. The succulent pleasures of paani-puri and chaat, late night coffees, budding ‘gourmet’ joints, long walks in noisy parks, exuberant poetry readings and heart-to-heart talks, which led to groundbreaking philosophies (at least in our minds they did)!

I learnt to love the aimless walks through Karachi bazaars where colourful fabric is suspiciously fingered and prices dragged down to ridiculous levels: the noisy, all women lunches which happily disrupt the peace of the restaurant.

I miss the seasonal excitement of winter pleasures where family and friends of all shapes and sizes descend to claim Karachi as their very own. The weddings, get-togethers and parties, all crammed into three weeks of December, like December will never happen again. Yes, we complain and it’s chaotic but we love it. Great for the adrenalin rush, bad for the asthma.

Karachites religiously veer from season to season, changing with chameleonesque ease as the climate demands. There’s the sobriety of Ramzan, when the same city exudes a spiritual essence. The partygoers subside to subdued shadows of their raucous selves. Suddenly piety is in fashion and the peace the month generates is powerful. Much cleansing of body and soul takes place.

As Ramzan ends and the whiff of greasy samosas drifts off into a cool night breeze, the sighting of the Eid ka chand and the furious fireworks are yet more reason to celebrate with those you love. A new month unravels the pent-up exuberance and Eid brings with it a new season in itself.

Again, it is the people in Karachi through who you sample the sense of gaiety and energy the city has to offer. The individuals who made my world — some family members and friends — all have something in common. Strength and sensitivity. They are brave and kind, undeniably loyal and unflinchingly optimistic. I saw them take on their challenges in life with resilience and integrity. Through my good and bad times, through happy days and heartbreak, they promised me that it would be ‘all right’. And it was. It’s the people that make a place, they say. It is.

I’m continents away now, and last night I stood by the Mississippi river watching the mist float over the waters and into the town. New Orleans lay steeped in old-world charm; through the mist we walked into the French Quarters where horse-drawn carriages trotted down the centuries old streets. A pale-faced man in a long, black coat reminded me that this was the home of the vampire.

I am far from my own home, trying, tentatively to find a new beginning. But the beauty of Karachi lies deep in my heart. Having found it after much trepidation, I cannot let it go. When the plane glides down, towards Karachi, the lights of the city sparkle with confidence. Wounded and aching after years of violence, Karachi is still dignified in it’s resilience. The energy is luminous. ”

Another leter which described Karachi inside, out.

29 Comments so far

  1. Arsalaan Haleem (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 1:32 pm

    It is only when you are abroad that you realise, how much you miss your home-city, Karachi.

    No matter how much we, the current residents, bad-mouth the ground realities, one truth will always remain as it is: Karachi is our HOME.

    We can take ourselves away from Karachi; we cannot take Karachi away from ourselves.

  2. unaiza nasim (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 2:11 pm

    Wow! Arsalan, you have written it so well.
    I was not born in Karachi, I did not even spend half my life (yet) here, but I just love the city of my ancestors.

  3. saima Nasir (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 2:30 pm

    Its prose poetry!!! so wonderful to read when you are sitting miles away and missing home and the loved ones…..thanx unaiza for the treat….great post after a looong time.

  4. unaiza nasim (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 2:34 pm

    Thanx Saima, I feel more in love with Karachi, on every such comment:-)

  5. Mona (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 2:49 pm

    Definitely, Karachi is home :(

  6. Aussi_Paki (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 3:42 pm

    Oh Unaiza, I have something similar I wrote around a month and a half. How am I able to share?


  7. Aussi_Paki (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 3:45 pm

    Rather its a journal entry, showing how I may feel when I land :).

  8. unaiza nasim (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 4:29 pm

    Aussie email me:
    Do come back! This country might be needing you.

  9. Aussi_Paki (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 4:38 pm

    Hello Unaiza :)

    Thanks I have emailed. You can use my real name to publish it if you wish.

    I wish I could make more difference to the many poor people in Pakistan :)…I’d try make a difference however I can:)


  10. unaiza nasim (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 4:41 pm

    That’s the spirit we need. Thinking makes it half done.

  11. Captain's Log (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 5:25 pm

    Unaiza , pls. always include web link for external resources whenever possible.

  12. Yahya (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 5:28 pm

    Home is where heart is whether Karachi or elsewhere. Good to feel for your “home”.

    Why does everyone keep telling us expats that our country needs us? There are 160 millions people already there. Please use them wisely. They will do just fine.

  13. Arsalaan Haleem (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 5:50 pm

    Thank you, Unaiza. I glad you like my ‘comment’, though it didn’t necessitate a ‘wow’.

  14. unaiza nasim (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 9:11 pm

    @Captain’s log: this letter was read by me sometime back and I had it saved on my Hard disk. Just do not remember the link. But, incase any one knows, I would readily put it there.

    @Yahya: Sorry! but I said “might need” :-D If you think the country does not need you, stay happy where ever you are.The comment was for Aussie_Pak

  15. Original-Anon (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 9:49 pm

    This was printed in Dawn back in early 2005. So Unaiza, did you get permission to post it here ? Or does your love for Pakistan and Karachi not extend to respecting copyright laws?

  16. IllusionFS (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 9:53 pm

    Very beautifully written, thanks for sharing.

  17. unaiza nasim (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 10:20 pm

    @ Orignal-Anon
    I did not read it in the newspaper, infact it was found in a soft copy format.
    And it had no copyrights, as long as I remember.
    Any links, let me know please.

  18. SWA (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 10:22 pm

    Yeah I was just about to mention that Ms Zainab should send this letter to the DAWN Sunday Magazine. It would be excellent for publication there. However, Original Anon seems to be pointing out that it was already published in DAWN earlier. Is that correct?

  19. saima Nasir (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 11:42 pm

    @Captain’s Log

    Unaiza , pls. always include web link for external resources whenever possible

    here is the link for this article

  20. saima Nasir (unregistered) on November 5th, 2006 @ 11:57 pm

    is the link to this letter…published in THE REVIEW on the 17th 0f february,2005

  21. danny (unregistered) on November 6th, 2006 @ 1:31 am


    Could you please post the DAWN link where this can be found?


  22. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on November 6th, 2006 @ 4:59 am

    Orignal is correct. Amazing memory Orginal.

    “When there is a google, there is a way” search link

  23. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on November 6th, 2006 @ 5:00 am

    Orignal is correct. Amazing memory Orginal.

    “When there is a google, there is a way” search link

  24. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on November 6th, 2006 @ 5:00 am

    Orignal is correct. Amazing memory Orginal.

    “When there is a google, there is a way” search link

  25. Adnan Siddiqi (unregistered) on November 6th, 2006 @ 5:06 am

    oops,sorry bad internet response. kindly remove the duplicate posts.

  26. unaiza nasim (unregistered) on November 6th, 2006 @ 1:06 pm

    Thanks Adnan for sharing the link.
    Is there soem way to contact Zenab???
    I would love to do that.I think she should write.

  27. unaiza nasim (unregistered) on November 6th, 2006 @ 1:09 pm

    Thanks Adnan.
    Is theer some way to contact Zenab? I think she writes really well.

  28. original-anon (unregistered) on November 6th, 2006 @ 5:41 pm

    Adnan, thanks so much for finding the link. Yes, I was surprised too that I remembered :) Obviously, it made quite an impact.
    Unaiza :Her name is ‘Zainab’ and not ‘Zenab’ and yes, she does write refereshingly well.

  29. Jamal Shamsi (unregistered) on November 7th, 2006 @ 1:56 pm

    Home is where the heart is – Heart Belong to Pakistan and Home is Karachi.

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