Despite protests and heavily jammed roads on the evening, people in large numbers managed to visit the I Am Karachi Museum set up at the Alliance Française de Karachi.
I AM KARACHI and The School of Writing (TSW), was an audio-visual exhibition of photographs taken by amateur and professional photographers from all six districts of the metropolis namely Korangi, Malir, East, West, Central and South.
“It’s not just a photography exhibition. We have collected 70,000 photos, creating Karachi’s largest archive to date,” said Mohsin Tejani, the founder of TSW.
Prior to the exhibition, the photographers had travelled around the city’s busy streets, bazaars and colonies, shrines, churches, temples and mosques in their endeavour to capture the true essence of Karachi.
Clicking the not-so-quintessential Karachi:
Visiting unfrequented places like Ranchor Line, Chowkandi Tombs, Essa Nagri and Shanti Nagar was quite a challenge, one of the participants told Dawn. But anyone could witness the distinct aesthetics of the stories through their lens. You could gaze at a picture for minutes and not get bored by the striking composition, colours and expressions of the subject.
Such was the case with one visitor, who couldn’t stop himself from being poetic, and shared a verse that came to him after looking at a photograph of a railway station porter.
Ghar to aisa kahan tha magar
Dar badar hain to yaad ata hai
(Had a home like no other,
Yet only when I am vagrant do I remember it)
Photographer Danial Shah, who also mentored the students from Malir and West district, lauded the creativity of young learners from Mowach Goth when he told us how it was difficult to credit the images as most of the students shared point-and-shoot cameras. The photographs were so good that it was hard to decipher the difference between photographs taken from a DSLR and smaller cameras.
Public reading as a trend
The two-day event also featured public readings by writers Bina Shah, Shandana Minhas and Haseena Moin.
After reading two chapters of Tunnel Vision to a crowd of participants and their families, Shandana Minhas said to Dawn that solely highlighting the lighter side of life wasn’t the job of an author: “It’s not just rainbows, flowers and positivity that form a healthy society, but a group of writers who are mature enough to see the uglier parts of the city and co-exist with them.”
Up next was Bina Shah, who read an excerpt from her short story-turned-novel, Peter Pochmann Goes to Pakistan, in which she has used dark humour to narrate a tale of an insecure American who visits Pakistan on a work tour. The audience burst out in peals of laughter as she read out the translated names of Karachi neighbourhoods like ‘Machchar Colony (Mosquito Colony), Resham Gali (Silk Lane), Lakhpati Hotel (Millionaire’s Hotel), Geedar Colony (Jackal’s Colony) and Khamosh Colony (Silent Colony).
It was interesting to observe how she translated Machchar Colony to ‘Mosquito Colony’ when the name is actually a shortened form of the word ‘machera’ and refers to the ‘fishermen’s colony’.
Getting fresh writers on board
Another reason why many thronged to attend the event was that it was not only published authors who shared their works, but chartered accountants, lawyers and students, who read out their pieces as well as their experiences.
Attendees could perhaps relate to their writings because the amateurs were not bound by language. English and Urdu both made beautiful mediums of expression as a student described the picturesque Poona Bhai Tower at Ranchor Lane.
She went on explaining how it was not acknowledged by citizens on a daily basis, but holds great importance for the small communities that surround that area. It also accommodates a bell, which is rung at special occasions like Christmas, Eid or 14th August, which is their celebration of religious harmony, an aspect much needed in the city.
A tale from a participant
A participant from Mowachh Goth at the four-week programme, Sameena Ali, fell into reminiscence, as she told Dawn about the best moment of her travelogues — a visit to Qasim Ali Shah’s mazar near Gidani:
“We had to climb to get up till the gates of the shrine, but once we had visited and taken pictures inside it, getting down was the most challenging part. As we held hands with our fellow participants, we all conquered the fear of falling, with the courage of being united.”
Literary notes followed by musical ones
Later, in the evening, Asif Sinan along with Qaiser, Strings’ former drummer, performed ‘Nadiya’ and some Balochi melodies.
There was also a traditionally set dhaba with straw walls beautifully decorated with lights and photographs of Karachi.
Those who stopped to have the piping hot aaloo and anda parathas also enjoyed the melodies; some even got up to shake a leg to the beats of the drums and tabla.
Karachi, which is so often reviled as a city of death or terror, once again saw the resilience of its dwellers as the two-day event ended on a buoyant note. Despite the barriers put forward by protesters and VIP visits, people got together to enjoy the camaraderie of strangers united for the cause of celebrating the city they call home.
If only more attention would be paid towards the nurturing of the artistic side of our young citizens instead of the forceful culture of bandwagon studies, we could surely embark on another golden era of the city.