Many cities are founded by gods, heroes, conquerors but Karachi emerges from nothing, from stories. There are stories about Ram and Sita sojourning in a verdant cove that would become a canton of the city. There are stories about a wandering Sufi who settled by a creek and in time the lice he shook from his head metamorphosed into crocodiles. There are stories about some natural calamity, an earthquake perhaps, that compelled the inhabitants of nearby bastis to populate the scrim of coast on the Arabian Sea that is now populated by some 18.2 million souls officially (21 million unofficially).
Karachi is vast and varied. It might rain in Orangi but it remains sunny in Pipri. There might be street battles in Lyari while families picnic on the seaside at Sandspit. There are Balochi neighbourhoods such as Razaqabad where women are holed up in dull, concrete, single-storied structures, and cantons that include McNeil Road where Christian matrons wander on the streets in skirts. Any attempt then to distill the city into discourse is fraught, if not always futile. One might begin with one’s own story, one’s own Karachi. ****
My grandfather arrived in the city not long after the sudden, sundering inception of India and Pakistan. He would wind up in a onebedroom, ground-floor portion of a semi-detached house in Paposh Nagar that featured low ceilings, flimsy doors, paved concrete floors, and despite the sehen in the back, could feel somewhat claustrophobic. The household comprised some 15 members then, many of whom sprawled on charpoys under the sky at night because it would be warm inside.