May 14th 2010, Multi/Interdisciplinary Research Interest Group at AKU-IED hosted a session by Ms. Rumana Hussain which happens to be her birthday as well. The discussion was based on a brief overview and her experiences of writing her book ‘KarachiWala: a sub-continent within a city’. The book celebrates the diversity of the city ranging from ethnicity, religion and occupation; and equally a test of how much familiar are you with your chosen city, at least for me.
The book captivates the spirit of change by which Karachi breathes. The writer humbly stated that she is neither a sociologist nor an anthropologist but it is only her interest in people and the city which drove the project. The most difficult process was the making contacts and accessibility of people and the most rewarding were the interesting stories that came from the elderly and low-income groups, not due to their misery but of cultural richness. The 330 pages covering various stories accompanied by hundreds of photographs is a testimony of the time and amount of hard work that have gone into this piece of art.
Some interesting features about the book that caught my attention are,
• the inclusion of traditional and progressive families of same ethnicities;
• a contrast in urban landscape with respect to socio-economic groups;
• inclusion of few legends, festivals and customs;
• maps that trace various movements (an amusing example would be route of a person on his cycle for selling fish, population growth or anagrams of ‘what we are and what we speak’ ),
• inclusion of street children, jogis(nomads) and pathans living in deras
• assimilation of intra-diversity in specific religions (I didn’t knew that we have Tamil Christian families in our city though have see people of Goan origin very often but I still thought that the Christian population only comprised of Punjabi converts).
A very relevant question was posed about the sense of belonging with the city because there is a constant influx of migrants who are living in this geography but would choose their villages over Karachi. Does Karachi really belong to someone when most of its dwellers are migrants having multiple-identities? This was very-well reflected by the speaker that whoever lives here and gives back to the city has a claim over city. We all are Karachiwalas at the end of the day.
In my personal opinion, the book can serve as a role-model for issues related to pluralism. It radiates humanistic approach and is sensitive yet non-judgmental in its advocacy. Whenever we talk about diversity of our country in main-stream circles, we always limit our talks to provincial diversities and thus raise voices of different claims and rights of these provinces but what we need to embrace is that we are much more than provinces and each minority needs to be given the due its deserves, most importantly the respect.
The book can be ordered from http://jaal.org
Ps: I saw her during an interesting show on state of literature and reading habits in The First Blast on DawnNews channel where she also talked briefly about the book but thanks to AKU-IED, it was an interesting experience to not only know more about the book but also the experiences of the author during the process of documenting it.