From Lahore, with Love
By Eff Cee

A Lahori visits Karachi after long years to find much has changed in the metropolis

This time I had gone to Karachi after a lapse of eleven years. And that too, for four days only. A busy whirlwind of a trip it was to a dear city which, paired with Lahore, was always associated with my childhood memories.
In the month of June, it was almost an annual family ritual to leave the long, hot summer of Lahore for the cool breezes of Karachi. The two months off from school meant at least a month-long stay at our grandparents’. And what a delight to be endlessly pampered by an old doting couple and their three sons, all gone now! Life has become such a serious affair that it is hard to believe if there actually was such a time.
The fun started from the beginning. The preparations, the ride through Mcleod Road and then the fight among us, the sisters, for the window-seat on the train. Of course, the trains were as unpredictable and schedule violating as now, but contrary to the present impatience, we used to pray that the journey might never come to an end. But end it would, and on a pleasant note: the Karachi railway station, neater and for bigger it seemed to us than the one in Lahore. The fleeting ride through the wide, wide roads lined with tall, tall buildings. It seemed another world, full of lights and delights, glory and glamour. That after some time I used to yearn for those old, unpaved streets of Lahore is another story. Though a ‘pind’ in comparison, it was a home to return to. Still Karachi remained an important part of my childhood consciousness and I could never imagine living totally without it.
Eleven long years, and I could not get time off my busy schedule to pay a visit to a dear city. I had a return air ticket this time and found the take-off as full of surprise as my landing at the destination. I don’t know when Lahore stopped being a small, cozy, self-contained habitation of closely knit mohallas. Beneath me was a city sprawling from horizon to horizon, seeming to have no end at all.
The next surprise was the greenery planted outside Jinnah Terminal in Karachi. But the delight soon turned to dismay. The city was dirtier and more dilapidated. No cool breezes welcomed me in the evenings. It was hot, close and humid as much in physique as in mind.
Now, we all happen to be a nation of myopic individuals who proudly hold their individuality aloft. But I was sorry to see so much of sneers and scowls in a city known for its cool breaths and breezes. To find the most literate of all our cities least educated is hard to bear. And for all the distances and absences, the type of relationship I have with Karachi prompts me to speak my mind freely and directly. These are the outpourings of a loving heart. But born of a purely immigrant stock and a Lahori by birth and education, I think I also have the requisite detachment to view the mental scenario I glimpsed during my brief stay in Karachi.
What pained me most about you, Karachiites is a sense of your own superiority coupled with an absence of tolerance for others. The first leads to the second. Your complex makes you look down upon everyone outside your narrow range of acceptance. Only you are most honest, most sincere. All others are rude, crude, dishonest, insincere, corrupt. Now, every community has its fair share of roguery or piety. We human beings are born flawed creatures, neither totally good nor irredeemably bad. So, there is hardly a question of anyone being superior or inferior to others. We all are human beings and must be accepted as such. To stigmatize someone as corrupt or crooked is not only unjust but also beneath dignity.
I think this complex is born of a deep-seated sense of insecurity peculiar to all immigrants. That this fear should be transmitted down to the second or even third generation is alarming. To think of others as outsiders or treat them as squatters or bread-snatchers is economically motivated. Instead of fear, you should develop a healthy sense of competition. If the poor and the landless from interior Sind or rural Punjab, victimized for centuries at the hands of landed tyrants and extortionists, enter the competition, you should not mind them. Nor any such policy that gives them protection and incentive to acquire education and improve their lot through government jobs. The policy, mind you, is operative in all our provinces and is not meant to harm the interests of any one ethnic group.
Make room for others, the way others had accommodated you when, about 60 years back, ‘Gods’ land, for all its width and breadth, did constrain you (Surah Tauba:25). Since then you have enjoyed the fruits of power and prestige. Being the only educated people then, you deserved it. It is creditable the way you participated in the development process of the city as well as the whole country. Now people from other areas have also entered the field. And why not? Karachi and Pakistan are for all of us, rather than for a fortunate few. Come forward, brush up your abilities and compete in this wonderful land of opportunities God has bestowed on us. Don’t you owe that much of gratitude to Him?
Remember, the reward lies in the hands of those who work hard, and not idlers and tongue-wielders. If government jobs are not easily available, try other routes, explore other avenues. I know it is hard to shed off a complex that has run through generations — the sense of yourself being a decent gentleman who can’t stoop to such and such trade. This is a lame excuse for laziness and lethargy. Learn the lesson of hard work from your brothers, the Pathans. Why do they survive under all circumstances? Because they don’t shy away from the humblest of labor, the dignity of which your education ought to have imparted on you.
My dear Karachiites, I wish you could uphold the culture or inclusion rather than estrangement and exclusion. You go too far in your drive for derision. You don’t spare even those from your own clan and community whom you derisively label as Bihari, Hyderabadi, Madrasi and so on and so forth. Why? Just because they happen to speak Urdu in a slightly different way? Why this cultural intimidation or linguistic colonialism? For a language spoken over large areas of the world, it is impossible to have one uniform tone or accent. A language that cuts itself off from the outside, nonnative influence, dies a natural death. A living language changes from people to people, places to places. It picks up and absorbs local colors and cadences as it travels. Look at the post-colonial English, for example. The more hybrid, the more enriched. Any attempt to purge and purify it would be ridiculous. You cannot stop Urdu from becoming Punjab-ised or Pukhtoon-ed. It is just because of its tremendous absorbability that it has survived in the polyglot cultural scene of Pakistan.
We must thank God for this multi-lingual scenario where all languages inspire and enrich each other. You complain that a Punjabi has got a ‘paindu’ accent of Urdu. You mistrust him when he pronounces Lahore as ‘L’hor’. This is not deliberate or mischievous. The city is pronounced like that in his language. How can you expect a non-native to speak another language with the same sophistication as a native? The important thing is that he is trying to speak it with effort and eagerness.
What if he does not have the same tameez or adab-adaab as you have? He comes of a different culture. His has been a rural, land-related society. Community consciousness and mutual give-and-take influence his language to be informal. He does not know any formal distances or emotional barriers reflected in ‘aap-janaab’. And yet this ‘paindu’ is generous enough to accept Urdu and tries to promote it with diligence. How far the Punjabi poets and authors have contributed to the development of post-independence Urdu literature of Pakistan bears witness to this.
Pain and pleasure combined to make my visit to Karachi a memorable one. One afternoon, I went to the hospital to see a cousin dying of cancer. I cried myself hoarse at her deathbed. The same evening I went to attend the wedding of another cousin. A grand gala affair full of giggles and laughter. This, undoubtedly, is life, an assortment of various colors that differ in tones and shades, yet coexist. It is an all-inclusive, all-accommodating affair. Whether you like it or not, you have to accept it in its entirety. Try to sift things apart and what do you get? Nothing. (Courtesy The News)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.