Writer Rumana Husain has brought together 60 street professional in her aptly titled book, ‘Street Smart — Professionals on the Street’, in an attempt to document their unique lives.
The book, which is part of the I Am Karachi campaign, was launched on Thursday evening at the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi. The evening started with a minute of silence in memory of rights activist Sabeen Mahmud and the 45 people who lost their lives in the attack on a bus of Ismailis at Safoora Goth on Wednesday.
The host of the evening, Aliya Iqbal Naqvi, an assistant professor at the Indus Valley School, said that Husain has faithfully conveyed the narrative of street professionals without tampering it. “Street Smart is a testament to how vibrant and cosmopolitan our city is,” she said. “It is as much a photo essay as a book of text.”
When Husain was invited to give an overview of the book, she recalled the launch of her earlier publication, ‘Karachiwala: A Subcontinent Within a City’ in 2010 at the same place. “Street Smart — Professionals on the Street is a depiction of the crumbling environs of Karachi,” she said. “It is an inspiring documentation that looks into the life of street professionals belonging to different ethnic, religious and regional communities, who either belong to the metropolis or come from other areas of Pakistan to earn a livelihood.”
She told the audience how the book is a reflection of street professionals who survive on daily wages. “It is, therefore, dedicated to the men, women and children who spend their lives working on the streets.”
Husain mentioned certain professions that no longer exist in contemporary Karachi and thanked her friend, Akbar Zia, for contributing to her presentation by making the drawings of these professionals, such as a sugar candy man and a balloon shooting man who was also known as the bandooqwala.
“In my childhood, I used to get the stretchy candy that was twisted around the pole,” she reminisced. “On demand, the candy man used to style the candy in the shape of a doll, a bicycle and so many other things.” While some professions have disappeared from the scene, others have emerged, such as courier service providers replacing the traditional postman.
Journalist Ghazi Salahuddin also spoke about the book and the challenges faced by the people of Karachi. “While writing the foreword of this book, I remembered that I was really fond of walking on the streets of Karachi when I started journalism,” he said. “Even today, I walk through the streets of Karachi sometimes for it has become an addiction.”
He lamented that the youth has alienated itself from Karachi. “No one has the courage or even little interest in walking on the streets of Karachi,” he said. “One can also attribute this lack of interest to street crimes but it can also be possible due to the alienation of people from the city.”
Salahuddin said that people don’t even recognise the streets of Karachi now. “There was a time when we used to go to Mithadar, in the neighbourhood of Kharadar, during Muharram and listen to the azaan on one side and an elegy on the other,” he said. “When I remember those times, I think it was a different world.”
Street Smart is a beautiful portrait of Karachi city painted by Rumana, said Salahuddin. “Will it be possible for our society to function without these street professionals?” By posing this thoughtful question, Salahuddin ended his speech.
Dr Kaleemullah Lashari, a scholar of medieval archaeology, loved the book title. “Street is a place where civilisations emerged,” he said. “If we cast a glance on the current scenario, streets have been eaten up by encroachers.” He appreciated Husain for picking up the stories of people who earn their livelihood with difficulty and find it hard to make both ends meet. “Street Smart is the first-ever historical reference to this city.”