Sunday, September 30, 2007

Time Out Karachi - Sunbathing in the Metropolis

Sea View

Imagine Karachi without its beaches?

[Text and picture by Ameer Hamza, a freelance photojournalist whose works have appeared in newspapers like Dawn and The Friday Times; the picture was taken on Paradise Point]

The coastline of Pakistan stretches from Baluchistan to the Runn of Kutch. Apart from being popular for rare green turtles, the coastline is also known for the wonderful diversity of its landscape. The coast has contrasting characters at different places - sandy and smooth, rocky and dangerous.

Karachi, being a big and horizontal city, has all sorts of beaches within its ever expanding borders. There are those popular spots where every one likes to visit, like Paradise Point, Hawksbay and Sea View. Then there are others frequented by few. Like the Pir Shams island. Russian Beach behind the Steel Mill of Pakistan has its own story.

Hawksbay and Sandspit are full with people on Sundays while the adjoining French beach gives a deserted look as only the select elite can visit it. All three are sandy beaches without the presence of much rocks beneath the surface.

Sandspit is now a non-descript beach except for the green turtles who come to lay their beautiful eggs there.

Sea view, like Sandspit, is extremely polluted and not fit for any sort of swimming or diving. And yet, through the week, it is full with people wanting to jog or to simply seek solace. Many a times I have seen solitary joggers sprinting across the sea-line. Some come almost daily, the pollution notwithstanding.

But you prefer a solitary place? Head to the Russian beach then. It is less crowded and less polluted than other beaches of Karachi. It also has boats which you can hire on hourly basis. Don't miss the stunning views to be seen from a mazaar on a nearby hill.

There is an interesting story why Russian Beach is called by this name. A steel mill was built next to it by the Russians. Many of them who worked here would later do sunbathing at this beach. This was during the 70s when the city was still not talibanized. Times have changed now and there are no sunbathers.

Another unknown beach is the jazeera of Pir Shams. It is an inhabited (population - approx. 5000) but extremely poor island. No drinking water. No electricity. And no jobs. But there is enough of seafood. The popular delicacy available is crab. But aviod eating it during summers as crab tends to be 'hot'.

Gadani and Manora were once popular haunts but their brackish water can be quite filthy. While Manora still retain some regulars, they both have clearly lost out to other beaches. Gadani, of course, was famed for its ship breaking yards. The industry there was the biggest of its kind in the world. Due to the lack of government support the ship-breaking industry is now choking to death. Gadani has become a pale shadow of itself. I have not been there since years.

However, the most photogenic beach of Karachi, in my humble opinion, is the one that borders Baluchistan. It has various names. You may call it Paradise Point. Unfortunately, Pakistan Navy has closed down that stretch of beach for no apparent reason. But you can still view it from the Sind part of the beach. That stretch of land is called Golden Beach. And photographs will tell you why.

[Written by Ameer Hamza. All rights reserved. Only for Pakistan Paindabad. No commercial use.]

Monday, September 24, 2007

"Karachi's Anarchy Leads Me to Question Things” - Interview with Amin Gulgee

Amin Gulgee

Pakistan’s most celebrated sculptor talks to Pakistan Paindabad.

[Interview and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Amin Gulgee is a Karachi-based sculptor. He has exhibited extensively in the USA, Europe and the Middle East. He talked to Pakistan Paindabad during his exhibition in Delhi. Click here to reach his website.

Is this your first time in Delhi?

No. I was here twenty years ago. It was a touristy trip and I traveled in trains with my American friends to all the tourist traps like Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. It was fun. The monuments especially blew us away. Delhi has imperial grandeur. This city has been important since ages and it knows it.

How is the Indian capital treating you?

I haven’t got much time to explore. It’s from hotel to the gallery and back. But it is so Punjabi. So much like Lahore. Last night we did Bhangra. You know I have done all these things. It is so much like Pakistan.

How is the art world in Pakistan?

Much better than what it was in my father's time. Now good artists do not starve. The scene is really bullish now.

Those who have never been to Pakistan feel that the country with all its problems can be suffocating for its artists. Is that true?

Not really. But there are challenges. For instance, Islamic calligraphic, one of my interests, is not fashionable here.

What role has Pakistan played in your artistic life?

We are essentially river people. Remember our civilization took place by the Indus. We are old and young - 5000 years old as well as 60 years young. We are culturally so rich. The pots in the villages are still made as they were in Moenjodaro thousands of years ago.

Lets get personal. Lets start with your work schedule?

I’m an old dog. I'm working since 16 years. In Karachi, I wake up and settle down to work by 10 am. I don't take shower.

What (!)

Please understand I'm a sculptor and metal work is not clean. So there is no point in taking a shower.

You don’t have it at all?

Well, I bathe every evening. After the work is over.

You live in Karachi, the New York City of Pakistan.

I grew up in KDA (Karachi Development Authority). It is as pricey, uppity, and snobbish as the Defense. Later we shifted to Clifton. Now that is a different place. It too is expensive but not class-conscious. It is like a downtown and people from all walks of life gather at the beach there.

Your father Ismail Gulgee is a well-known artist.

My father is from Peshawar. He is a most incredible colorist I’ve ever seen. He is like a child when he works. He taught in Aligarh before the partition. My mother was born in Bombay. That's her home town. She went to Elphinstone College there. They met in Dhaka. Now we live in Karachi. My father is 82 and my mother? Uhmmm well, she hates me to say her age. Let’s say she is younger than me.

So you live with parents?

No. I can't live with anyone. Not even with my parents. They too can't live with me (laughs). But they live next door. Few years ago we shifted to Islamabad following disturbances in Karachi. But we could stay only for a month. My mother is a big city girl and Islamabad is just not the place.

You talk about “disturbances in Karachi”. Is the city livable?

I live in Karachi (!) It is a city of immigrants and is fantastic. We all have different languages and everyone there learns Urdu as a second language. Karachi is a great city. It was built on the blood of partition and is still defining itself. I love its energy.

Which city is classier - Karachi or Lahore?

There is no comparison. Lahore has old monuments. In Karachi, the only antique things are its British monuments. In fact, we encourage every friend from abroad landing in Karachi to visit Lahore. The real beauty is there. But I can't survive without Karachi. I need its energy. Lahore, all said and done, is just another Punjabi city.

How does the city help you in your artistic pursuits?

I love questioning things and Karachi with its turmoil, anarchy, and animalistic instincts leads to exactly that. You see comfortable people ends up fat and lazy. That can be dangerous for artists who need to be jolted out from their stupor time and again.

What Pakistani artists have been your inspirations?

My father, of course. Then there is Sadeqain. He is dead now. Allah Baksh, Shakir Ali, and Ahmed Pervez have also been influential.

One of your sculptures, titled Wall, with several heads stuck together reminded me of the massacres of the Indian partition. Was that the idea?

No. You should have looked carefully. Those heads resemble my face. You see I indulge myself sometimes. It was personal.

Do you think artists still need to draw their inspiration from what happened 60 years ago?

Do you mean partition? It was an important part of my country’s history. We have to recognize and deal with it. And once done, we ought to move on.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Memories - "Once So Many Hindus Lived in Taxila"

An old lady recounts the time when Pakistan came into existence.

[Interview and pictures by Syed Kamran Safdar, teacher at the University of Engineering and Technology in Taxila, Pakistan.]

I live with Zubeida Khatoon, my mother, in Taxila - a small town in northern Pakistan famous for its Buddhist ruins. Amma, now 77, was a young married woman when Pakistan was created out of India. Thousands of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were killed in an orgy of mindless violence. She recently talked to me about those times.

Amma, I can still see two Hindu temples out there in the town.

Yes Kamran. Once upon a time there were so many Hindus living in Taxila. Do you know the place next to the Jamia Masjid was a Hindu Dharmshala? That is where they recited Guru Granth Sahib every morning. Now there is a water tank built on that place.

There were so many Sardars. I remember those little Sikh boys helping their fathers in selling vegetables. The bhatiyaran (pop corn lady) was also a Sikh woman. She used to make murandas (a kind of rice cake) for us.

During this year's Muharram procession, I overheard two old men talking about how they took part in the looting of the bazaar during the partition. One of them had managed to grab a Ghee canister from a Hindu's shop when his uncle asked him to return it back.

Those were bad times...

Amma, what exactly happened in Taxila during the partition? Were people massacred here too?

Allah be praised, it was mild compared to other towns but we did hear the killing of two men in the railway station. They were either Hindus or Sikhs. The train was coming from Peshawar. You know, beta, things were quite till then. But trouble started brewing as the stories of the massacre of Muslims reached here. Our young men were outraged and they raided the bazaar, robbed the shops and burnt down everything. The bazaar burned for several days. I myself saw the flames from the rooftop.

But there was so much hardship. Since all the shopkeepers were Hindus and the bazaar was destroyed there was nothing to buy for several days. We had to live on a strict ration.

The Killer Station

But Amma what happened to the Hindus? Where did they go? Were they killed?

Our Hindus were mostly wealthy traders. You know what traders are like...they are smart enough to handle situations like those. They had an inkling what was coming so they removed all the jewels and money out of their shops in time. Later they took refuge in the homes of Muslims neighbors, mostly in the mansions of Syed families. When things calmed down they all left for India.

The Decaying Hindu Heritage of Taxila

Were there Hindus in our neighborhood? Did Shahji (my late father) help them?

Yes, a few of them lived in our locality. Your Abbu was their good friend. When the mahaul became kharab, they gave him the house keys, with all the furniture locked inside, and moved into our guest section with their families.

What did Shahji do to those houses? What happened to the furniture and other things Hindus left behind?

What could your Abbu have done? We waited for them to return. Afterwards, he opened the houses for the refugees who had come from Delhi and Kashmir. Many abandoned havelis were taken over by the locals. Some even took the possession of the shops in the bazaar. But the land that once belonged to the Hindus was allotted only to the refugees.

So, the refugees were lucky then?

How can you say that, Kami? They left behind everything they knew and owned. The Kashmiri immigrants were very poor. They were content with the vacant neighborhoods behind the Jamia Masjid. But those Delhi people were too sheheri. They found Taxila too small for their taste. As far as I recall, they later left for Karachi.

How did the Hindus and Sikhs escape - on the lorries?

There were no buses. In those days people simply walked or used bullock carts if they had to go to a nearby town. But the fleeing Hindus…they all took trains going towards India...

Amma, did you have Hindus as friends?

Yes. (She smiles) They fondly called me Baji. They would often bring Kashmiri kajoos for us but we would eat them only after reciting the Kalma. Arre Kami, have I told you about my school?

No, Amma

Beta, we had Hindu teachers as there was hardly any educated Mussalmaan around. The Hindu girls were taught Hindi while Muslim girls were taught Urdu. In history, we used to read about the vilayati kings and queens. Arre Kamran, tell me is Elizabeth the daughter of Queen Victoria?

No Amma, I think she is her granddaughter…but I'm not sure...But Amma, what about the Christians? There are so many of them in Taxila. Why were they not harmed?

But they had nothing to do with the jhagra-fasaad of Hindus and Muslims. Do you know the story of the Christian hospital, Kami?

Everyone knows about it. It was set up by the English missionaries. Hundreds of poor people go there from all over Pakistan for its inexpensive treatment.

Yes, yes, I know all that. But things used to be different then. In the beginning no Mussalmaan wanted to go there. We were not sure what was done there. We thought they wanted to convert us.

But Amma it is no longer like that. There are even Muslim families working and living inside the hospital's colony.

Yes, yes, I know all this. Anyway let's talk something else. I don't like thinking about all those times. I'm old. What's the point…

As you say Amma.

Interviewer's Note:

Zubeida Khatoon witnessed an era when Muslims, Hindu, Sikh and Christens lived peacefully in Taxila. Now it all appears like a fable.

Recently, an elderly family friend traveled to India where he met some of his old Hindu friends. They showered him with kisses and hugs claiming his body carried the unmistakable fragrance of their Taxila.

But they should know their Taxila has changed. Today there are only two surviving temples and only a few old people, like my Ammaji, who remember those times.

The Dharmshala is gone, the Baawali well is under mud, and the bazaar has undergone drastic renovations. Havelis reminiscent of Hindu architecture are fast disappearing. But these symbols of Taxila's multi-religious past should not be allowed to fade away. The town must restore and preserve the remnants of its recent history, just the way it has cared for its ancient ruins.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Dateline Wagah - Pakistan Versus India


Eyewitness report from Ground Zero.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Watching the flag-lowering ceremony in the Pakistan-India border at Wagah is entertaining. Thousands of people attend the evening spectacle.

No one is disappointed. The performance is thrilling. The military regiments on both sides co-ordinate their actions in perfect symmetry. Soldiers stamp their foot on the ground with attitude. Marching commands are barked out like wounded warriors.

Of course, the hostility and the aggressive mood is all unreal. Just for the show. Most Pakistanis know it. Most Indians don’t.

I recently attended one such ceremony from the Indian side of the international border. There were at least a thousand Indians – tourists, students, and families from nearby towns and villages. The crowd in Pakistan was a little less.

While waiting for the flag ceremony to start, a Pakistan Tourism bus, carrying (presumably) Pakistani passengers from Delhi to Lahore, drove its way through the crowd. Proud Indians displayed their patriotism by teasing the bus passengers with taunts of “Aatankwaad band karo” (stop terrorism). The passengers, in turn, looked bewildered - like lambs flung inside a lion’s cage.

Surely not the best of Indian hospitality was on display that day.

We don’t know how Pakistanis would have responded to a bus carrying Indians to Delhi. Yet, they were the politer audience. They were less noisy, laughed more, and clapped most of the time. As if it was a picnic game. Indians, in contrast, took their nationhood a little seriously. Besides, there was contempt in their gestures. They looked angry and their rage was real. Unease lingered in the air as they waved the tricolor flag. It could have been a cuntdown to war.

The kind of songs playing on both sides strengthened the perception of Pakistanis being cooler than Indians.

The public address system in India played patriotic hits from Bollywood war films. The songs boasted how great the country is compared to its enemy and so on. In contrast, Pakistanis were swaying to contemporary Urdu pop chartbusters. Their lyrics had feel-good phrases like “healing the divides” and “hands of friendship”. Compared to the cantonment mood of Indians, Pakistanis were behaving as if they were in a concert.

Perhaps Pakistanis have a happier spirit. They remained easy going, tolerant, and smiling throughout the evening. Indians, alas, played a spoiler with their sourness. Clearly, as far as Wagah border is concerned, it is sexy to be a Pakistani than an Indian.

The Haughty Indians


The Cool Pakistanis


Lambs in the Bus


Can You See Pakistan?


Mother India's Hateful Sons


Pakistan Paindabad; Hindustan Zindabad


Monday, September 03, 2007

Naan, Keema, K2, and Cricket in Pakistan


In love with Pakistan.

[By Merium H. Kazmi; the Lahore-born author presently lives in Bahrain; picture by Umar Mohsain]

This is the 12th article in the Proud, Powerful and Pak series.

I love the Food

Much of the subcontinent owes it culinary flair to the Mughals. If stretched further back - to the Ottomans of the sixteenth century. Local Pakistani cuisine boasts everything from the finest rotisserie meats, stews, pilafs and piping hot breads to the creamiest desserts. More emphasis has been placed on meat-based cuisine than anything else.

Serving a meat dish to family and friends is a sign of social status and if you happen to have a hankering for a salad – mostly tomatoes, cucumbers and onions marinated in a tangy dressing of lemon, salt and pepper (a mere condiment) – I recommend you leave your leafy sensibilities at home. Jalapeno peppers (green chillies) are used liberally. In other words expect everything to be spicy.

I love the Scenery

Pakistan has a multitude of landscapes that stretch across its majestic curves. From the second tallest mountain in K2; to the lush green valleys of Gilgit and Skardu; to the rolling plains of Punjab; to the rugged and dusky mountains of Balochistan; and finally to the beaches of Karachi, Pakistan has it all.

The weather subtly accompanies the landscape everyone. Each season brings with it an ambience that gives us ample excuses to stay in or out of doors at a whim. Kite-flying over Aunty Zebu’s uneven “chatth” (roof-top); eating mangoes and watermelons while the perpetually-on-the-fritz portable AC blasts tepid air; walking with your significant other through Islamabad’s leaf strewn parks during the coming autumn (only to be interrupted by the creepy dude in the green shalwar…sigh). Who can forget eating oranges and dried fruits during the winter months while cozied up in your granny’s duvet that smells faintly of onions and sheep?

Notice how much of our pastime revolves around eating. We eat for sustenance but mostly for pleasure. Of course admiration for Pakistani landscape cannot exclude the trash sculptures on roadside corners, and the sight of those plastic bags swaying like victory flags from every possible protrusion. Who can ignore the sun-dried patties of manure that you’d find tattooed by Michelin’s finest in most cities. Yes, watch out for the buggy on your right!

I love the Cricket

This from a nation where the national sport is hockey - not cricket. Then again, in the US, more people watch Monday night football than Sammy Sosa using oak to hit horsehide.

It’s the fans who give sports their real claim to fame. Each visitor carries a head and heart full of such love and expectations that if this emotion were bottled for retail, it would be the elixir of life. Of course, let’s not forget the player/coach/team/captain/PCB-wala bashing that ensues when the team loses. Like all rabid, fickle fans it’s all good when victory is in sight and sad losers when a loss is imminent. Everyone is an expert on cricket these days. Ask my great aunt, she’s hitting 90.

I love J

Can we really forget the man who made it possible? The Quaid. Mohammed Ali Jinnah. This man embodies all that I love about Pakistan: determination, passion, grit and patience. Too bad he couldn’t stick around to knock some sense into the overcompensating baby boomers in whose hands the nation went from being a victory for Muslims to…to what it is today.

And what is that? Still a homeland for Muslims, to be sure but anyone whose got a couple of bucks to rub together is jetting out faster than their tiny legs can carry them. Islamis not to blame but when it becomes a political tool for the ignorant, you know the federal budget is not allocating enough on education.

Dear reader, you noticed that I have written only four things. I couldn’t come up with a fifth although I was tempted to give Ras Malai (a creamy, cheese based, cardamom infused dessert, served chilled of course) its own category. This alone should tell you I’m a Pakistani. We love to eat.

[Pakistanis from all walks of life are invited to share what they believe are the five best things about their country. You too must be a part of this. Send your favourites to]