by Karachi, for Karachi
way we are
Graffiti in Karachi might just be taking a turn for the (artistically) better. The news wave of graffiti is aware and intelligent, as the subtle yet obvious eject signs across the city have proved…
By Amina Baig
When driving through the jungle of buildings, complicated maze of cars and billboards mushrooming around the Karachi skyline; randomly spurted words and images often catch one's eye. Karachi's version of graffiti is usually just writing on the wall announcing which teeny-bopper gang is at odds with whom, who sucks, who rocks and so on. Every now and then though, something that can actually be considered art because of its visual or conceptual value crops up.
Over the last few months, a symbol that has now become part of the Karachiite visual vocabulary has been creeping across almost any and everything in the city. A red triangle upon a rectangle – an eject sign, which according to Asim Butt, artist and stenciller of many of these signs is "multivalent."
Asim's graffiti was spurred on by the imposition of emergency in Pakistan in November 2007. However the message was not singular, nor was it a reaction to a single event.
While the eject sign literally referred back to the eject button or eject seat, it as Asim says, it was a nudge to "eject the military from the presidency. The sign could also be a red house (parliament dominated by the left) or simply a curious shape that reappeared in different parts of the city around the time of the emergency."
The underlying feeling of the eject sign was as multi-layered as the underlying meaning of it. Asim used his stencils as a tool to express the anger he felt at the dismissal of basic rights. Everything from the way the judiciary and media were being handled to arrests of activists, some of whom are friends of Asim, snowballed into this dialogue with the public at large and the authorities in particular.
The project wasn't a solitary one either. Asim chose a simple icon for its "easy reproducibility," A complicated symbol would be hard for everyone to stencils of and Asim wanted to "involve non-artist activists in this art project." The icon was kept simple also because "the times demand it to be," says Asim, "the streets are more heavily policed than they were when I did other murals in 2003 and 2004."
The eject signs raised questions in the minds of anyone who laid eyes on them, for their simplicity and persistent repetition. It also drew attention to Asim and the curious process he undertook every time he went out stenciling. "Aside from piquing the curiosity of passers by, graffiti, as it is by its very nature, illegal, incites the ire of the authorities as well."
Asim was approached by the police on two occasions while carrying out this visual protest. Once at Sea View, as him and some People's Resistance members painted posters and pavements with stencils Asim had brought, which attracted quite a crowd, they were approached by the police, which, , "threatened arrest, and confiscated the stencils. We negotiated our way out of that fix."
The placement of the signs was at times meaningful and sometimes not so much. Eject signs found their way onto police containers across from Jinnah Courts as well as random walls of the KPT Underpass and Sea View. He did create large arrows out of repeated number 420s outside the Supreme Court, Karachi Bench as his way of saying that judges sworn under the PCO were "frauds."
The arrows attracted the police to Asim's endeavour once more. "I told them I was doing a school project," says Asim, "which I was because I was taught to fight injustice at school. They wanted the photographs we had taken, but we got away with just deleting one, though we had to leave our materials behind." Consequently, Asim doesn't spend much time at the sites anymore.
The eject sign graffiti gave birth to more. The day after Benazir Bhutto's assassination, Asim painted 'stop' signs on objects destroyed during the violence that followed the news. To Asim, these were more meaningful in their placement. "The "Stop" signs on torched cars and gutted banks were, I suppose, the most poignant coming together of surface, message and form," says Asim, "where I went and layered the "installation" of destruction that the mob had left in its wake."
In 2003, Asim had painted 'Five ways to kill a man', a mural, as a response to the war in Iraq across from the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazar. Aware and proactive he definitely is, defying the common perception of artists living in their own little bubble, as he actually brings his thoughts out on the streets. A school project in 2005 brought him to the walls of the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazar again, when he did a piece on sexuality. He has since followed up with "scribblings" around the mazar and some more at an akhara in Lahore. If memory serves correctly, the 'Five ways…' mural had generated all kinds of responses from people, ranging from curious to hostile, with parts of the mural being scraped away and eventually painted over, presumably as human figures being painted or drawn are simply offensive to the Pakistani eye.
It is a pleasant thought though, that the walls of Karachi can sport more than unintelligent scrawlings and political slogans. If the eject signs are anything to go by, political and social comment might find a spot on the millions of concrete surfaces in the city. Just as the eject signs rose some questions, Asim himself has "tailored the font and colours of some new work to speak directly to very effective I (heart) KHI campaign." Asim believes that "like art, begins with a dialogue and burgeons into a discourse."
Though Asim says he can't claim to have made Karachi more beautiful, he does believe that a bit of colour here and there does add to the visual experience. Graffiti to him though is "also about wresting from the clutches of commercial billboards a morsel of space for non-commercial visuals."
Can public art be used to beautify a city or add to the public aesthetic? "Public art can both cater to and question the public's aesthetic or politics depending on what it aims to do," says Asim, "and the public is, of course, not a monolithic mass. It is as heterogeneous and varied as the number of people it includes, and it's aesthetic as volatile as the moment it inhabits."
Hyderabad plays once more
Niaz Stadium came back with a bang as Pakistan won the second match there in a series of five against Zimbabwe.
By Adeel Pathan
Holidays have become common in Pakistan owing to the recent law and order situation, but the holiday in Hyderabad on January 24, 2008 was for happier reasons. An eagerly anticipated international cricket match was finally held in the newly restored Niaz Stadium.
The first One Day International (ODI) at Niaz Stadium in a decade was played on January 24. The stadium is significant for many things including the Pakistani cricket team always emerging victorious from it's grounds. Niaz Stadium also hosted a World Cup match in 1986.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) took control of the stadium the previous year and completely reequipped it to host international level cricket once more.
The district government of Hyderabad made elaborate arrangements for the occasion. The main road leading to Niaz Stadium was beautifully lit up. Bright hoardings and banners welcomed cricket lovers and the host and visiting teams.
"Fans' enthusiasm can be gauged by the fact that we sold all 5,000 plus tickets by 11am a day before the match and still more than 500 cricket fans waited outside the bank," says a manager at a bank selling match tickets.
Not only youths but families and women too were seen queued outside Niaz Stadium to grab seats well before the match began.
One cricket lover told Kolachi that he had to wait two hours before he could get in as the process of security checks and entrance was time consuming. The security process was so complex that many spectators were left with no option but to enter the stadium late; spectators were searched thrice before walking through a final security check.
"I was so excited to see my favorite stars in action, it was spectacular!" says Beenish, who watched the cricket match with her family. Beenish says that she never thought that she would see cricket stars live in her own city, Hyderabad.
The Niaz Stadium remained neglected for 10 years because of the very unconcerned attitude of authorities concerned. The stadium was used as a marriage garden and helipad as well as parking ground for impounded vehicles during elections. Through efforts of the Hyderabadi media and District Nazim Kanwar Naveed Jameel, PCB took over the stadium and brought it at par with other centers of the country.
The crowd was charged yet disciplined and no untoward incident was reported in the stadium except some scuffles with police outside the stadium. One couldn't even hear negative remarks being passed; the crowd cheered and supported the visiting as well as host team during the match.
Razzak, a youngster, tells Kolachi, "I enjoyed the game not only in the field but also out of the field as the entire city was looking festive. Colourful events such as international matches should continue to be organized in Hyderabad."
"But the capacity of the stadium should be increased to meet the rising demand of tickets," opines Razzak, "as presently the stadium can seat a little over eight thousand spectators out of the 1.7million who live in Hyderabad."
Aqeel Qureshi, sports organizer and cricket enthusiast sharing his joy over the match told Kolachi that he faced a lot of difficulties while entering the stadium but enjoyed his first live match after years with his family.
"I am happy that such an event was organized in Hyderabad but there were more police than spectators!" says Aqeel. "People were not allowed to even carry toffees for their children." Aqeel remarks that security is necessary but spectators too are essential to boost the morale of cricketers.
Police authorities made strict security arrangements to avoid undesired incidents during the match and deployed heavy contingents of policemen in and outside the stadium. Close circuit cameras were installed at the venue and an announcement of registering cases against miscreants under the Anti-Terrorism Act was made too.
Shahzaib, another young Hyderabadi tells Kolachi that he enjoyed the match along with his friends and family though he says he was searched thrice before entering the enclosure. "I would still want such matches of international caliber to take place for cricket lovers in Hyderabad," says Shahzaib.
Shahzaib tells Kolachi that PCB Chairman Dr Naseem Ashraf told the media during his visit to see the match in Hyderabad that more matches will be played in the stadium.
District Nazim Hyderabad also requested the PCB Chairman to hold more international matches in this stadium including those in the upcoming Australian cricket team's tour to Pakistan. The nazim added that the capacity of stadium would also be increased.
The officials of District Cricket Association (DCA) were not taken on board during the arrangements of this world class match. This is the only drawback in PCB's efforts, as the DCA are the hosts and responsible for promoting cricket on local level.
Nobody is against taking security measures under the prevailing circumstances and according to advice by the International Cricket Council (ICC). But any move restricting the movement of spectators and carrying of food items or random harassment just before matches should be avoided.
Security constraints and low seating capacity as well as complimentary passes given to friends and family makes it impossible for a large number of spectators to see their favorite stars play in the flesh.
Hyderabad is climatically suitable not only for ODIs but also for test matches. Therefore as District Nazim Hyderabad demanded, test matches should also be played at this fast recovering cricketing center in Sindh.
The way we are
Looking back to look ahead
Mehroz Siraj Sadruddin
One month has lapsed since the day Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, the event that led to grave anger and hostility amongst Pakistanis. Though the violent events that followed did not prove to be the straw that would break Karachi's back, they still caused much pain. Throughout 2007, Karachi suffered the worst bout of violence in Pakistan's recent history. The first wave of violence was seen on May 12, when the deposed Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudry tried to visit Karachi. The second spate of violence was on October 18, when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan after a nine year self exile. Bomb blasts at her welcoming rally left over a hundred people dead and hundreds more injured.
However, the violence that erupted in Karachi after Benazir Bhutto's assassination on December 27 presents diversified meanings and dimensions that need to be understood. The impact the assassination and other political developments and sectarian violence in 2007 will have on Pakistan's political and socio-economic future should be examined.
There has been considerable amount of evidence which suggests that some of the elements involved in the criminal violence after December 27, were not all members of the Pakistan People's Party. Even President Musharraf has gone son record saying that those who went on a looting spree were only damaging the country. Around 240 billion rupees had been siphoned off from the Karachi Stock Exchange when it first opened after the end of the mourning period. However, during the initial days of the violence and law and order collapse in Sindh, those vandalism loving people who were engaged in creating chaos were conveniently being labelled as PPP workers by the powers that be.
After Benazir Bhutto's assassination, there was a severe crackdown on PPP workers. In a recent case, 50 PPP workers were arrested in and around Thatta. The government was late in it's initial reactions. There are questions that remain unanswered completely. While opportunistic criminals were having a field day, police and rangers conveniently occupied a back seat. Why was the government not quick enough to ensure speedy deployment of police to sensitive areas like M.A. Jinnah Road, Baloch Colony, etc.? Why did government not deal with the evolving situation hands down? Has the government's apparatus collapsed so, that it was not able to undertake the right action at the right time?
The common citizens of Karachi, the city that has been most affected socio-economically in the post December 27 violence, condemn the acts crime and violence that have since taken place and led to a subsequent loss of billions of dollars. This further affirms the fact that those who were indulging in the violence were indeed elements existing in our society in patches; "anti-social opportunists involved in criminal activities," according to lawyer Shabnam Bolani. Her words echo what government spokespeople use colloquially while referring to such elements, however, who exactly these elements are, we do not know.
Journalist Beena Sarwar also expresses similar opinions by arguing that "it is isolated elements that are engaged in violence."
The federal government has so far desisted from ordering an independent and impartial judicial enquiry to determine who these terror-generating elements of society really are and as to what exactly are their religious and political inclinations. This silence on part of the government reflects negatively on its level of concern about its primary duty, providing security to the life and property of civilians. The administration talks about running the nation on the ideas and thoughts of Quaid-e-Azam. Did the honourable Quaid not say that ensuring safety of life and property of civilians is prime responsibility of the state?
As public safety in Pakistan is threatened, Karachi as a city would be worst affected. Violence, loot and plunder of the economy could reach new heights. Ethnic relations in the city are very delicate and the caretaker government must understand this. Should Karachi see chaotic events again, as in 2007, it would be pushed back many years. Repair work and the healing procedure would require injection of billions of rupees in funds and a lot of time would be lost as well. Already most of the railways tracks, public transport telephone lines and exchanges that had been destroyed in the culminating days of 2007 have yet to be fully restored.
At this point Pakistan is waiting for yet another decisive event that will affect it's future in a massive way. The long-awaited elections, which had been delayed to a later date.
Professor Inam Bari of the Karachi University insists, "elections do not suit the interests of some forces. They want to delay elections." Miss Beena Sarwar also emphasises on a similar point when she says, "the escalating violence maybe further used by the establishment to delay the elections." Undoubtedly, most sections of the Pakistani society are politically more mature today than ever before and would like a government that will look out for their interests as well.
The anger of Karachiites was clearly visible after December 27. Economist Abid Soleri aptly comments, "symbols of the government have been attacked." By these 'symbols', he means institutions of the state, like Pakistan Railways and banks. He uses this fact to explain that popular reactions in the aftermath of the fateful assassination clearly state that the masses are not willing to buy the idea of Ms Bhutto's assassination having been carried out by religious elements. Soleri points out that the "religious establishment has not been attacked since December 27."
Needless to say, whatever course political activities take in Islamabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi in the coming days and weeks, its implications for Karachi would be great and diverse. Because of Karachi's lingual, ethnic, racial and religious diversity, the city and its citizens cannot remain aloof from the political happenings in Punjab and the federal capital. What we however currently lack is a rational sense of direction, which according to lawyer Shabnam Bolani, we do not have at the moment.
Sometimes they come back…
By Amina Baig
Faqir Mohammad is someone one wouldn't always see in Karachi. He moves to the city every winter, when his hometown, in Chaman becomes cold, snowed in and inhospitable to those seeking to make a living. Faqir has been setting his thela of dry fruits and toasted nuts at the same place in Clifton for the last seven years and plans on doing so till he can manage the commute. Faqir is one of the most uncomplicated people one can ever come across. He has great attachment and loyalty towards his hometown and the only one he has to Karachi is the livelihood he earns, which he is grateful for.
Kolachi: How long have you lived in Karachi?
Faqir: Three months now. I don't live here, but come here every year during this season; I have been for the last seven years.
Kolachi: When do you return home?
Faqir: I will leave Karachi in another 10 days or so.
Kolachi: Do you go to any other cities to sell dry fruit?
Faqir: No, I have been coming to Karachi since I started this business and will keep coming here.
Kolachi: Do you like being in Karachi?
Faqir: It is not bad, but in Chaman I have family and land, I like it better there.
Kolachi: Why do you choose to get out of Chaman during the winter?
Faqir: It gets very cold there, it snows heavily and I can't work on my lands during this time, I have to come here to earn a little.
Kolachi: What do you grow on your lands back home?
Faqir: Apples, grapes and zardalu.
Kolachi: Do you sell these in your own town or travel elsewhere to sell these too?
Faqir: I sell them in my town. I want to make enough to get by and that purpose is served.
Kolachi: Do your wife and children stay in Chaman while you are here?
Faqir: Yes they do.
Kolachi: How many children do you have and what do they do?
Faqir: I have four children; two boys and two girls. They are acquiring religious education.
Kolachi: Are you educated?
Faqir: Not at all. That is why I do what I do, I can't read or write.
Kolachi: But then wouldn't you want your children to learn how to so they can have a better future?
Faqir: There are no schools where I come from. My land is in a state of conflict and war. It has been ravaged and there is nothing good left there.
Kolachi: How does the conflict make you feel?
Faqir: I lost a son and one brother to this war. It does make me feel bad, as if we have been robbed of everything we cherish.
Kolachi: Would you like to move to Karachi permanently if things are so bad at home?
Faqir: That is home. It is my land. I would never leave it.
Kolachi: Do you like Karachi any way?
Faqir: Yes I do. I like the fact that there is so much money here for people to spend. There are so many cars on the roads. There are many rich men. I can make money here and that is why I like Karachi.
In another week or so, Faqir Mohammad will pack his stall away and return home. Karachi is indeed the city of migrants though Karachiites might not realize how transitory some migrants are. Faqir however has picked Karachi as the city he will return to again and again, as it is a trustworthy aide to those who have to ensure they and their families get by. The winters in Karachi are as short as Faqir's stay here, with the next season probably bringing different migrants. The people who flush in and out of the city might be temporary, but being steadily supportive, such is Karachi's character.