“Not Doing Justice To Karachi”

I’m sure we’ve all heard about Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart, a flim which tells the story of the kidnapping of the American journalist, Daniel Pearl, in Karachi in January 2002. We all have our fair share of problems with this city, insecurity of your life and property, civic dis-functionality, absence of law and order, traffic, you name it. As citizens, we live this reality every day. Yet some how, despite the overwhelming nature of some of these problems, we still feel that the image of Karachi that’s sometimes portrayed in the Western media is prejudiced. Exaggerated to a degree that it fails to represent true Karachi as it is. Ananya Vajpeyi, a write based at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, has wrote an excellent review of The Might Heart, which mirrors this sentiment. First published in The New Statesmen, the article was syndicated today in The News, I’ll strongly recommend every to read this:

What I found shocking about this film, however, was its vision of Karachi. The city is depicted as a frightening and incomprehensible palimpsest of urban chaos, poverty and Islamic terrorism, teeming with Muslim men who are scarily numerous, devoutly religious and horrendously violent. Even the sympathetic “Captain” Javed Habib, chief of the Pakistani CID’s counter-terrorism unit (played impeccably by Irfan Khan), who is sensitive to Mariane’s agonising circumstances, tortures a man almost to death and then, directly afterwards, proceeds to the mosque for morning prayers. It seems we can expect nothing but cruelty in this hellish, baffling place.

Winterbottom is too politically discerning a filmmaker to portray Karachi or Pakistan with the outright Islamophobia that makes Bernard-Henri Levy’s book Who Killed Daniel Pearl? (2003) almost unreadable. Winterbottom shows us Mariane Pearl saying publicly only days after her husband’s abduction that ordinary Pakistanis suffered as much from acts of terror as did westerners like her. But while Mariane desists from blaming others indiscriminately, Winterbottom shows Karachi to be nightmarish in a way that is subtly connected to its cultural essence. It is identified as an overpopulated, poor, lawless and radicalised megalopolis, located in an underdeveloped Muslim country, an evil place that civilised, trusting and competent Americans and Europeans enter at their own peril and where they probably end up dead.

This couldn’t be further from my own experience of the city. In spring 2006 I went to Karachi, partly to attend the World Social Forum and partly in an attempt to come to terms with the scene of Danny’s demise: to see for myself how I would react to the city where he died. I was there seven days, during which I slept for about seven hours in total. I could not stop taking it in. During that intense period, I tried to make sense of a city that was so similar to those of India, my home country. I understood at least three of Karachi’s languages — Urdu, Punjabi and English — all of its food, its clothing, its politeness and rudeness, its transparency and its impenetrability. If I wore the right clothes, no one on the street would guess that I was Indian and not Pakistani. But that’s not the point; when I was recognised as Indian and not Pakistani, it earned me a warmer reception, not a hostile one.

Complete strangers took me home, fed me, plied me with stories about their forefathers who had come from India during Partition, questioned me at great length about various aspects of Indian politics, society and (inevitably) Bollywood. People brought me to their houses, to the beach, to the Sufi shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, to the bazaars, to quarters of the city I might never have found on my own, to bookshops, museums, DVD shops, clubs, restaurants and even Hindu temples. I met NGO activists, businessmen, politicians, academics, poets, film-makers, publishers, writers, housewives, teenagers, farmers, shopkeepers, reporters, economists, taxi drivers — people of every age, income group and ethnic background. I thought I had been irrevocably alienated by the murder of my friend Danny Pearl in this place, yet when I got there I felt not only a sense of belonging, but also a sense of kinship.

So, I do not recognise the Karachi that Winterbottom shows us. To me, the traffic was not insane, the slums were not menacing, the alleyways were not dark, the markets were not dirty, and the people were not out to kill each other or to kill me. I did not feel deafened by the periodic calls of the muezzin, nor did the religiosity of the citizens of Karachi strike me as particularly noticeable. In my corner of the world, you are always among others. Others are not your enemies; they are your environment. The big South Asian cities account for a sizeable percentage of the world’s population, but only those suffering from western hubris would see them as threatening, disgusting, or plain incomprehensible. It is not a vision that corresponds with the outlook of Pearl himself.

The Danny Pearl I met was a superb journalist and a cosmopolitan man. He was an American Jew married to a French Buddhist. Danny lived in Mumbai, and he loved south Asia. He went to Karachi, his beloved Mumbai’s sister city, to follow a story, like any reporter worth his salt. I am certain that he did not perceive Karachi, Pakistan or Muslims with the racism that scars the work of Levy, and even so fine a film as A Mighty Heart.

“A Mighty Heart” will be released on 24 September, 2007

17 Comments so far

  1. IUnknown (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 5:25 pm

    ah!! at last some one has posted some good thing abt our country and city


  2. Ali Kamran (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 5:41 pm

    Charity begans from home – first and foremost we need to change the impression of Karachi inside our country ( specially in the North ) . Unfortunately it happens to be the people in which are responsible for the image of Karachi.
    a) Ayub Khan’s Son went on a rampage in Karachi during the 60’s – a victory march for his daddy’s riged election .
    b) Then we had a facist Bhutto regime – which tried to forcefully impose Sindi Culture on Mohajirs ( Urdu / Gujrati Speakers )
    c) Then ofcourse the Militry Action which was hurried / hushed up against MQM . It could have been avoided.
    d) Killing of Two Americans from Texaco in Karachi
    e) Hakim Syed Murder which Government blamed on MQM – proved wrong
    f) Daniel Pearl
    g) 12th May

    The Fed’s had proved to be our step-mother – and if not more equally responsible as much as MQM ( because with all the goods about MQM – they should not resort to violence ) to the image of Karachi.


  3. Ali Kamran (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 5:43 pm

    Charity begans from home – first and foremost we need to change the impression of Karachi inside our country ( specially in the North ) . Unfortunately it happens to be the people in which are responsible for the image of Karachi.
    a) Ayub Khan’s Son went on a rampage in Karachi during the 60’s – a victory march for his daddy’s riged election .
    b) Then we had a facist Bhutto regime – which tried to forcefully impose Sindi Culture on Mohajirs ( Urdu / Gujrati Speakers )
    c) Then ofcourse the Militry Action which was hurried / hushed up against MQM . It could have been avoided.
    d) Killing of Two Americans from Texaco in Karachi
    e) Hakim Syed Murder which Government blamed on MQM – proved wrong
    f) Daniel Pearl
    g) 12th May

    The Fed’s had proved to be our step-mother – and if not more equally responsible as much as MQM ( because with all the goods about MQM – they should not resort to violence ) to the image of Karachi.


  4. Ali Kamran (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 5:50 pm

    Charity begans from home – first and foremost we need to change the impression of Karachi inside our country ( specially in the North ) . Unfortunately it happens to be the people in which are responsible for the image of Karachi.
    a) Ayub Khan’s Son went on a rampage in Karachi during the 60’s – a victory march for his daddy’s riged election .
    b) Then we had a facist Bhutto regime – which tried to forcefully impose Sindi Culture on Mohajirs ( Urdu / Gujrati Speakers )
    c) Then ofcourse the Militry Action which was hurried / hushed up against MQM . It could have been avoided.
    d) Killing of Two Americans from Texaco in Karachi
    e) Hakim Syed Murder which Government blamed on MQM – proved wrong
    f) Daniel Pearl
    g) 12th May

    The Fed’s had proved to be our step-mother – and if not more equally responsible as much as MQM ( because with all the goods about MQM – they should not resort to violence ) to the image of Karachi.


  5. Kumail (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 7:11 pm

    I believe that idea of the film, or any film for that matter, is to present the situation, subjects and surrounding at a particular moment in time with regards to a specific context.
    The movie was about Marianne Pearls situation and the ordeal she had to go through. One doesnt expect to see the brighter part of the city in this situation. While Vajpeyis write pays a significant tribute to Karachi, yet it does overshadow the intent behind the movie.
    On a personal note, the beauty of a city like Karachi lies in its diversity. The very angel which has been used by various political elements and agencies to create a continouous environment of chaos. Much like the country, the city needs to embrace the diversity and differences on the ethno-religious lines to overcome the current chaos. The benefits will follow.

    Cheers!


  6. ALAM (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 8:11 pm

    Well, with nuts like Farhat Hashmi and her disciples roaming around freely, how KHI can get a good review from anyone?


  7. jacktheripper (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 8:47 pm

    city is no doubt CHAOTIC and ppl do fear that their personal belongings/money cud be stolen/snatched at any time inside and outside of their homes.

    one thing that winter bottom depicted is wrong and that is ISLAMIC EXTREMISIM, there are extremist in the city but you cant say that whole city is MILLITANT. He might have exxegerated the city poverty too but you cant say that there are no slums in the city and that you dont come across poors on the street.

    Further Vajpai herself an indian, INdian cities are as chaotic as Pakistanis. So for her its ok if you see beggars on the street, get stuck in the trafic for hours when it rains and to inhale highly poisonous air.

    I think we shouldnt give that much value to her article, after all she is a part of the same CURSED nations called SOUTH ASIAN STATES.

    True picture of the city can only be painted by the impartial OUTSIDERS not necesserily westerners, JAPANESE, KOREANS and other developed nations may also judge us pretty well.


  8. Fahad Khan (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 9:03 pm

    And please don’t forget, that Marianne Pearl (Daniel’s wife) decided to sue a bunch of “extremist” organizations as well. Obviously, that would not net her a big payday so she is also suing Habib Bank for being complicit with her husbands’ killers (?) and the amount she is suing them for is undisclosed (I’m pretty sure it can run anywhere from 20 to a couple hundred million $) Her husband got kidnapped, and Pakistani police ran around the city for days trying to find him, (how many Pakistanis get this luxury, of police actually doing something) and in spite of everything they tried to do for her, her response is to sue a bank so she can retire peacefully with millions in her pocket. Her rationale to sue Habib Bank is that one of the people involved in her husband’s death had a bank account there for a while (Habib Bank said its a ridiculous lawsuit). It is in their interests to defame Pakistan as much as possible. The Western public “learns” from movies more than books, whatever they see about Karachi in this movie, they will accept this as reality.


  9. Ablai (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 9:30 pm

    Thats our biggest dilemma. The “OUTSIDERS” insult us via popular media and then “WE” insult ourselves even further, subconsciously agreeing to our pictures painted by the OUTSIDERS.

    Stop insulting yourself. Begin fighting back through Media and better work. Above all respect yourself.

    Lastly any comparison with India is a mistake and lack of historical knowledge. We are nobody but Pakistan.


  10. Straight Talker (unregistered) on September 21st, 2007 @ 10:37 pm

    Fair Justice to Karchi? What are you talking about? Why would they portray the real image of Karachi, Pakistan, or even Islam in their movies or on their media? Why build such expectations? I don’t get it.


  11. Syed Johny (unregistered) on September 22nd, 2007 @ 12:00 am

    Well I dont blame the west !!

    I got some what of similar views like that of Bernands towards Karachi on my visit to Punjab! and some first time visiting Punjabi students in Karachi too!
    Our Media has also not been playing its role! I agree with Ali Kamran !
    “CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME” first correct our own media ! then go out of the foreign ones,

    What is painful here is that, sometimes foreign Media do potray Karachi a much better place, than our own media!
    here is the example! The three part “Karachi uncovered” documentary that aired on BBC in August on the occasion of 60th anniversary of independence….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67IlH4zhj9Q
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmwLMLKaQNY
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lQvtORG-jg


  12. Jamal Shamsi (unregistered) on September 22nd, 2007 @ 1:05 am

    ALI KAMRAN –

    Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan, Sialkot, Gujrat, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi – Islamabad(the Ghost town)

    Supposedly these VILLE turned towns are also CITIES of Pakistan.

    Pickup any local newspaper of those places, –

    murder, rape, snatching, roadside plunder – all these places have HIGH count then Karachi alone.

    Traffic – Traffic is more chaotic in DUBAI, NewDelhi, Bombay, then in Karachi, trust me.

    Also Remember – GEO reported 30,000 beggers from Upcountry have flocked Karachi cantt station before 1st of ramzan, 80% from Punjab.

    The same 30,000 Plus their relatives can be seen leaving on EID special trains, Bus stations at Cannt station, Mochi Morr (tee eem WIK foto) after 23rd ramzan

    Problem is every TOM D ICK Harry, Mian, Malik, Chudry, Ity, Pity, Ghora, bhora, jeeja, macha, they live, they earn, they socialise, they rob Karachi and yet they talk bad about Karachi – They live in Karachi, they kill people, runaway, and then come back again for having stake in Karachi (saleem shehzad included)

    Pardon me for French — Jis Thali mai khatay hain us mai he mot-tay hain.

    The reporter very well said – Karachi is a place of peace harmony, warmth and rudeness of its own,

    I take it as a compliment for Karachi,

    Quote

    Complete strangers took me home, fed me, plied me with stories about their forefathers who had come from India during Partition, questioned me at great length about various aspects of Indian politics, society and (inevitably) Bollywood. People brought me to their houses, to the beach,

    Unquote


  13. ELIZAMANTIN (unregistered) on September 22nd, 2007 @ 7:52 am

    To blame Punjab and Punjabis for all ills of Karachi is too simplistic.

    You can count on fingers that names of committed Urdu-speakers or Karachiities who have accomplished anything for the city.

    Karachiities need to take the bull by horn by taking the responsibility for the city, rather than wailing and cursing for their miseries. That means Mohajirs should not consider beneath their ‘dignity’ to drive riskshaws, buses, taxies and publc transport and undertake general hard labour work; they should willingly go to police and law enforcement services; happy to undertake cleaning and domestic service work; train to become tradespersons. Karachiites have to take responsibilty for the city themselves.

    While we are at it, there cannot be any sectariansim and religious militancy if we do not want it to happen. We know what goes on in Jamia Binoria but has anyone tried to raise a voice against it?

    No other curse tarnishes the image of Karachi than the growing religious violence and militancy, and the proponents are not imported but are longterm residents. Note the world knows the city by the killing or attempted killing of American diplomats, French Navy engineers, assassinations of top social and political figures. Why it all does not happen in, say, Lahore, a more conservative city? Because over there people make it their business to stop crimes against their city.

    The job of CM or Nazim of Lahore is safe as long as he is seen doing something for the city, not on the basis of a blind loyality to an ideology. Not so in Karachi.


  14. Jamal Shamsi (unregistered) on September 22nd, 2007 @ 4:28 pm

    Pardon me for my Persian –

    All religious zealouts who pimp the religion focus karachi for their ulterior motives.

    – I will not comment further on the topic as it is going off track by dragging religion, which is purely personal mental state of individual –

    – For the information of Blogger who mentioned Jamia Banoria – –

    HIV & AIDS patients are inmates of Jamia Banoria in New Town as they practise homosexuality The registrar Liaquat National Hospital called upon SHO New Town reported to Jamshed Quarter DSP filed such report in 2004 April to the then DIG Karachi range for action. (As the patients when dignosed with HIV & AIDS are quietly taken away and send back to home towns in rural punjab & NWFP to perform as Khateeb or imam of some low lying area mosques) –

    The SHO was later transferred away in rural sindh as SHO Gambat., and he is still trying hard for posting back in Karachi.

    – – Pakistan is runied by polticised Islam – – and Whole of Karachi is under that epidemic – –


  15. IUnknown (unregistered) on September 23rd, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

    @JAMAL SHAMSI: this is total propaganda
    u can see our universitiesd like ku ,ssuet ,iqra etc etc

    wat has bbeeen happening theere, every one knows, but any one never says any word.

    would u like me to mention some of the “incidents” at universities

    stop this foolish propaganda against madarsah.

    have u ever been to ne madarsah??


  16. bluemax (unregistered) on September 23rd, 2007 @ 4:20 pm

    @IUnknown, did Jamal Shamsi say anywhere that our universities are clean and nothing evil happens there. Jamal may be wrong but atleast he has mentioned a reference/source, get hold of SHO Gambat and check the veracity of Jamal’s “propaganda”. Why do we have such closed minds that any opposing view is automatically branded as propaganda.

    @ELIZAMANTIN, “Why it all does not happen in, say, Lahore, a more conservative city? Because over there people make it their business to stop crimes against their city.” Can you be kind enough to explain what procedures Lahoris are following that stops a suicide bomber from entering the city and thus they have to opt for either Islamabad or Karachi?


  17. ELIZAMANTIN (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 5:14 pm

    BLuemax: They don’t let have a Jamia Binoria and associated fanatical infrastructure in Lahore.



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