a personal account
Kolachi takes you in to where you wouldn't want to go. Welcome to the unfortunate reality of Machar Colony...
By Bilal Tanweer
When I reached the infamous Machar Colony and allowed myself to get accustomed to the smelling dust, the humid afternoon and the curious scurrying of half-naked children, I caught myself reciting N M Rashed's verse:
Ilahi, teri duniya jiss mein humm insaan rehtay hain
Ghareebo'n, jaahilo'n, murdo'n ki, beemaaro'n ki duniya hai
Yeh duniya bay-kaso'n aur lachaaro'n ki duniya hai
Humm apni bay-bussi per dinn raat hairan rehtay hain!
(Lord, Your world in which we, the humans, live
this world is a world of desitutes, the dispossessed, the dead and the diseased
this is a world of the powerless and defenceless
Ah, days, nights...we remain in awe of our helplessness!)
Maybe it was out of compassion, or just habit. But whatever it was, something between those first sights, sounds or whiffs signalled that I would not be able to write about all this as a detached report, that I would not be just citing figures, policy measures, lack of basic amenities, and the lot. And at that point, I thought about my agenda: why was I doing this?
I came to know about Machar Colony, around two years ago, while reading a research paper on the "Neo-Colonial State and Katchi Abadis in Pakistan", written by two faculty members at LUMS; also, while listening to a few rich men boasting about their donations to the Colony's schools. The name of the Colony creates a dreary imprint, something like a gutter or a swamp. So, when I attended the press conference for an art exhibition cum awareness campaign arranged by the NGO, Concern for Children (CFC), I carried all these notions. But when I entered the Colony I stood corrected: this was not too different from other lowerclass dwelling areas in Korangi, Nazimabad and the like. But of course, the big picture was far bigger, as it always is.
In reality, for me, it was a trek down the lanes of pain, and through the dustbin of Karachi. And such treks are not written about. They are undertaken. Walk the walk, they say. And so we shall, says my pen.
Machar Colony's total population is estimated to be over 700,000 people, majority of them being children between ages 515. This is an important figure, and has to be seen in conjunction with the fact that over 41 per cent of Karachi's population lives in katchi abadis. Machar Colony is also amongst the biggest (maybe the biggest) of Karachi's over 550 katchi abadis.
Despite housing lacs, Machar Colony spans an area of four Sq. km. Sheila Ali, the Program Director CFC, said it in very illustrative words: "It's almost like cans of sardines. So many are packed into one that they keep coming, and you keep counting..." And as you walk through the colony, you find these cans crammed into each other, growing from each other's backs and noses.
Most people in the Colony are employed as shrimp peelers, fishermen, fish cleaners, or labourers in the ship breaking industry. The few flourishing businessmen that the colony has produced are in the fishing business, which is almost exclusively dominated by the Bengalis, who are also guessed to be the majority in the colony. The other ethnicity that has a significant presence in the Colony are Sindhis.
One of the first things which caught my attention while walking the paths was the amount of construction. It was a very happening place, indeed. Upon seeing the Falcon Cement depot, and a concrete brick factory when I expressed my surprise, Shams Rehman, my accomplice and a local of the Colony, explained, "Well, those who have the money, construct pakka houses." The point was there is a tiny group that was thriving in the colony, despite its shoddy appearance. "Mostly Bengalis, who own the fishing business. Some are people from outside who buy land and do business here." Shams told me. But no one really had a definitive idea about those buildings.
In the government school we visited, the floor was submerged under four to five inches of dark, dirty yellow water, touted to be the doing of the rains. But rain water is much cleaner, isn't it? "Yes, but with time, when there is no outlet and water from other places also pours here, it becomes like this," the chowkidar, Faisal Karim told me. And then I noticed that the school's ground level was lowest amongst its surrounding, hence facilitating the water logging.
"The school is closed till the construction budget is allocated," Faisal Karim added. And when will the construction budget happen? He smiled, "Khuda ko maloom hai jee. God knows, my friend." One year? "No, no, five to six months," he said. Ah, so no school for six months? "No, these children have been shifted to other schools in the colony." There are 16 government-0run schools, 32 private schools, and 64 madrassahs in the Colony. Private schools charge a fee of about 100-200 rupees per month, and they provide a cleaner atmosphere and better teachers. Around 10 of these schools have started to work with CFC which provides them with teacher training, teaching materials and furniture.
While walking down further, a few wheel-barrows carrying many five-litre cans ran past us. Following them to their hub, I discovered that this was the source of the Colony's water supply: hand pumps connected to water tanks. These tanks have to be filled with water using the paid-services of water tankers that abound Karachi. The water is then sold in cans of five litres, for 6 rupees per can. "In many parts of the colony, there is no tap water," Shahzad, who works as a fish cleaner since he was a child ("I don't remember working in any other place.") informs. However, it was shocking to find many pumps and running water in the place where the fish is cleaned. "This fish is for export, we don't get it here." Who owns this place, I asked when I saw no signs or logos. "Seth owns it. We don't know who he is or what he does or where he lives. He just comes here once a year, sometimes not even that. It's his munshis who do the job here."
"There are electricity meters installed throughout the colony," Shehzad told us. "But when load-shedding happens, we're loaded the most. There is no electricity for the past two days."
As we walked through the colony, there was a marked difference in the kind of houses: from the pakka constructions on the upfront of the colony, which resembles Karachi's other low-income areas to shoddy huts of tethered rugs, plastic nets and straw mats held together by long pieces of wood. (I felt I was moving through those chapters on the Bombay slums in that marvellous novel, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.)
It took us close to an hour to walk through the colony, where it meets its end by the sea. "But where is the sea?" I asked Shams, as we walked on the embankment, which was created, I was told, to act as a barrier for the sea water and also, as a stoppage point for the increasing population settlements. Shams smiled, "The water is climbing. Wait for another four hours, it will be here." He pointed my attention to those slides that children had created to play in water. Our last interaction of significance in the Colony was with those children who were gathering sludge in large bowls. They were the coyest of the children we encountered, and despite our callings paid little heed. We decided to walk though the sludge, about which we remained unsure: was it gutter water or sea water? Sea water, said Omer Ali, who was 12 and went to a madrassa. "We are gathering this mud to make our oven. Last oven was washed out by the rain." There is no gas supply in the colony; richer of the lot use cylinders, while poorer still use wood. (And yes, we also witnessed several large wood depots. That business was said to be dominated by Pathans largely.)
We walked back, jumping and trying to save our boots from the many great puddles of gutters and rain.
The questions are many, but the most significant one of those, indeed the most fundamental is: why do these katchi abadis exist in the first place? Lack of housing? Sure. But why such an abject absence of the state or its functionaries or any concern by the state? The most common thing one hears about the katchi abadis, if one hears anything about them at all that is, is when they are being evicted. And soon it will happen that KPT will realise the value of this land, and the eviction process will begin. There are not plots in Machar Colony; however, some property is up for sale. Prices range from 15,000 rupees to 4 lacs, says Shams.
In the paper mentioned above, the authors, Shandana K. Mohmand and Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, put forth a very apt thesis, "The phenomenon of katchi abadis, or squatter settlements, at least in the Pakistani context, is at the same time a colonial legacy, and a function of the neo-liberal capitalist expansion. The Pakistani state, functioning to maintain the colonial relationship between state and subject, has mandated the creation, and maintenance of katchi abadis. It has ensured that the issue of low-income housing in cities remains marginal at the policy level, primarily because understanding the phenomenon and addressing the shortcomings that exist is tantamount to repealing the privileges of the state elite."
What is required is movement at a political level. NGOs can create two hospitals or entertain a few schools, that affect a handful of hundreds, but they will not change the lives and the destinies of millions who live, love and lose in katchi abadis.
As I leave Machar Colony, I catch myself reciting Rashed again:
Banna li aay khuda apnay liyay taqdeer bhi tu nay
Aur insaano'n se le li jurrat-e tadbeer bhi tu nay
Yeh daad achi milli hai humm ko apni bay-zubaani ki!
(You have, Oh God, created a Fate for yourself
And taken from us that courage to cure as well
And thus is the way
You reward us for our speechlessness!)
But I hold myself, for it is in the lanes of pain where hope finds its home.
Photos by Kate Malone
Expressing in Colours
The children of Machar Colony exhibit their art work
To raise awareness and funds, CFC organised an art and photography exhibition at the Alliance Francaise, from 1 till 5 September. The 1000+ paintings were created by the students of Machar Colony supported by Mohammadi (Machar) Colony Community Driven Development Project. Students from three schools were trained by art students from Indus Valley, Pakistan Arts Council, Karachi University, Karachi Grammar School, University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth for six weeks. And the result was beautiful: hundreds of emotively rich paintings done mostly in water colour, and the works reflected an unusual preference for darker colours.
All proceeds from the sale of the exhibition will be used as seed money for the Education and Public Health Initiatives in the Mohammadi Colony: Community Driven Development Project.
CFC is the foremost amongst NGOs working in the area, other ones being The Citizens Foundation and The Education Foundation. CFC's upcoming project is to launch an Education Project that will empower and capacity-build for prevalent academic institutions in the community. The Education Project aims to provide teacher training, syllabus review, furniture for the classrooms, materials and supervision in designated schools of the community. The aim of the project is to uplift the education standards of the institutions in Machar Colony.
Besides doing healthcare and welfare work, CFC has made the important contribution of surveying and mapping the Colony. BT
Students of Tokyo
University's Department of Foreign Studies brought a stage play
Hiroshima Ki Kahani to Karachi. Kolachi went to see the show...
By Maheen Sabeeh
If one were to describe the play Hiroshima Ki Kahani in one word, it would have to be brilliant. Based on the cartoon, Barefoot Gen by Nakazawa Keiji, it depicted the story of the August 1945 atom bombing of Hiroshima and its catastrophic repercussions. Performed at Arts Council in Karachi, Hiroshima Ki Kahani was a tale re-lived onstage by a group of students from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies - all of whom ranged between the age of 16-22 years.
Not only was the play very well done in terms of acting and storytelling but also an eye opener in various aspects. It began through the eyes of a boy Gen (played superbly by Ishii Yumiko) who manages to survive the bombing with his mother while the father, elder brother and the younger sibling dies. One saw three skulls being shown after their death as a symbol of memories and as an oath to fight for peace from thereon. One saw how food became a scarce commodity and how one family tried its best to survive against all odds. This was history being portrayed in the most humane angle possible.
Hiroshima Ki Kahani was done in a rather abstract method. There weren't too many props used. Instead, a narrator (Masuda Saya) took the audience into a journey back in time, with dates and history being retold. In an effort to really showcase the physical as well as emotional ordeal that the Japanese people faced, black hooded characters were shown, sometimes as puppeteers, other times as stagehands, who mutely moved around the stage in an almost surreal way.
There were many things that the play portrayed: the economical setback, poverty and unemployment, the emotional trauma that people faced, families destroyed and how Japanese history changed forever. The idea was to show how Japanese people faced this event as it unfolded and how courageous they were in the face of death. It wasn't just one bomb that dropped and killed a few people. On the contrary, its result was faced by all Japanese people years after it first happened.
The most interesting thing to see was the fluent Urdu these students spoke. The entire play was in Urdu. Every student there knew the language and spoke with such authority that the audience was simply stunned. The man behind this play, Professor Asaka Yutaka, while speaking to Kolachi said, "We wanted to do this play to show that even today after 61 years, the scars are still left. The idea was to tell this story with a Japanese sensibility in mind. It is with this reason that we took an abstract approach to the play."
The play ended with a rich scene in which all characters come onto stage in Japanese kimonos and placed burning lamps on a blue cloth. This was the symbol of Japanese people floating lamps with messages and prayers down the river in memory of the 'Little Boy' of Hiroshima. Magnificently done!
And the students' effort was not made unseen. At the end of the play, the entire auditorium clapped with full force for these young actors. It must be said that all the actors were very impressive. It was not a one-lead only play but an ensemble effort. The way Maruo Shino (elder sister), Koide Yumi (Shinji), Shimooka Takuy (father), Hashimoto Megumi(mother) alongside the other characters (Machida Yuko, Taniwaki Shintaro, Sajaki Reina, Sakai Rinko) believed in the story and the way they acted out was amazing. Moreover, they were also funny on stage. This wasn't one dark, intense play from start to finish. Humour came in the form of witty one-liners. Simple lines but acted out with such intensity that one was left with no choice but to applaud and appreciate.
In retrospect, what was perhaps more impressive than the play itself was the enthusiasm of the students. The Urdu Natak Sabha of Tokyo University under Professor A. Yutaka's leadership has performed in Pakistan before in 2002 but for some students, this was their first trip. Speaking to Kolachi, Ishii Yumiko (protagonist Gen) said, "This trip was very good. I like Karachi and the audience was very supportive. Sometimes it gets too hot."
This was an important play for various reasons but the most important one being the message of peace that these students brought with them. And they seemed happy doing it. Once the play was over, they sweetly greeted everyone and politely answered the press. Not just that, some of the cast members were cracking jokes with camera crew.
Ultimately, it is events like this that are needed in Karachi. With not enough entertainment venues, plays are one easy for Karachiites to entertain themselves. All in all, Hiroshima Ki Kahani was an absolute delight to watch. One can only hope that such plays take place more often!
Photos by Ather Khan
Remembering a man who lived to make a difference
By S.M. Shahid
On the evening of August 19 when JJ came to see me, we couldn't help remembering some of our common friends who have in the recent past left us for their heavenly abode. I showed JJ a list of these friends that I had put together, and we silently grieved over our loss and allowed a pall of sadness to hang over the evening. What else one can do, considering our helplessness before divine intervention in our life and our heart's refusal to forget those who were dear to us but were snatched away from us?
"We are now suffering from emotional fatigue," said JJ.
"Where will this exhaustion take us?" I asked.
"Where else?" he replied, and though we all avoid thinking about it, I understood what he meant.
I first became aware of Sarwar Ali Abidi when I read his articles in a weekly magazine. These articles on developmental issues were so well articulated and interesting that I preserved them in my record. Years later, our late mutual friend Dr. Shahid Hak, managing director of Pak-Arab Refinery Limited, told me that Mr Abidi was writing a book for his company, 'Venturing Beyond Profit'. I was keen to meet him and when Dr Hak introduced us, I remembered that we had already crossed paths once or twice before.
From this point onward, Dr. Hak made sure that we met regularly and helped each other on the various projects he assigned us - like writing and publishing books and developing the website www.tadbir.com.pk as a forum for citizens and decision-makers to exchange ideas about creative ways to tackle Pakistan's socio-economic problems.
Our weekly get-together at the residence of Dr. Hak became a most stimulating and enjoyable routine during which we not only discussed serious matters but also narrated jokes and laughed at the comicalities of man and nature. Now, with both these great souls flown away, my world has suddenly become barren and I feel lost in the wilderness.
Sarwar Ali Abedi was born at Roorki, UP, in 1930 and went to school and Christchurch College there. Migrating to Pakistan in 1950, he did his graduation from Karachi University in 1952 and took a diploma from London College of Printing in 1955. Back in Pakistan he took up employment with the Pakistan Security Printing Corporation and later joined Brooke Bond (Pakistan) Ltd., where he rose to become a director. After retirement, he worked as a freelance management consultant.
To quote from the flap of his well known book, Venturing Beyond Profit, "he has traversed the whole spectrum of enterprises, experienced different attitudes of management and workers in the workplace milieu and passed all weathers of industrial climate ..... In the process he was touched with the innocence of the first generation industrial worker in Pakistan whose family still worked in the fields with increasing hardship, on the other hand he rubbed shoulders with the rapacious marketing giants in the European board rooms who demanded an unending increase in profits from their companies in the Third World.... One cannot miss the thread of concern for humanity, environment and a better world running throughout the tapestry that he weaves."
According to a review of his famous book, "Mr. S.A. Abidi has shown a new style and a direction which makes reading of the corporate biography as enjoyable and suspenseful as a real life novel with romance, horror, suspense, compromise, resolution - finally evoking irresistible happiness ... makes it easier to appreciate why the title of the book (Venturing Beyond Profit) is the one that it is: why some societies succeed in imparting richness of life to their people while others having similar or even more resources are mired in the misery of poverty and suffering."
Sarwar Ali Abidi was a unique man. We rarely come across such gentle and dignified, yet thoroughly capable people in today's cutthroat world. He was totally at peace with himself - devoid of ego, anger or fear. And his greatest attribute was appreciating other people's talents, enterprise and aspirations. He was someone who brought interesting turning points in the life of people who were fortunate to be close to him. One has seldom seen such willing and spontaneous expression of appreciation of other people's work that Mr. Abidi always demonstrated.
Even at the age of 76 he worked like a young man and took up new challenges, new projects, that benefited others far more than they benefited him. He was a great motivator.
To cite my own example, when he saw that, following the demise of Dr. Shahid Hak in June this year, I had lost interest in whatever I was doing, he deliberately created a situation where I had no choice but to accept his proposal to get involved with work I had no experience of. He saw to it that everyone around him remained busy and on track and to this end he was always available to counsel us.
Indeed, in his sudden passing away this August 20, one has lost not only a true sufi among us but a precious friend and well wisher.
At your service
By Sana Jamil
Faiyaz Hussain of Hyderabad is a chowkidar of an apartment complex in Karachi. A graduate, he is actually associated with a security company, hired by the apartment complex for security. This uniformed security guard is always around when you need him. He spends his whole day monitoring things in the building compound. Whether it is raining heavily or it is a sweltering summer day, Faiyaz is always on duty. He has a gentle demeanor, which does not at all go with his profession. He actually came to the city looking for another profession, but due to circumstances that he couldn't help, he ended up being a security guard.
Kolachi: Are you originally from Karachi?
Faiyaz: No, I am from Hyderabad but it has been three years now since I left Hyderabad for Karachi. I have been a security guard ever since I moved here.
Kolachi: Why did you move?
Faiyaz: No one wants to leave his or her family and home for nothing. I came to Karachi in search of a better and brighter future for my family and myself. I wanted to earn more so that I could boost my living standards but then I realized doing so was not as simple and trouble-free as I thought it would be. Karachi is a big city but good opportunities for people like me are sometimes rare.
Kolachi: You are a graduate and still you face problems finding work in Karachi?
Faiyaz: Yes, I am educated and still I faced and am still facing hurdles because having a degree these days, particularly here in Karachi, is not worth much unless you have contacts and money. This is the reason why instead of working at a respectable post in an office I am working at a local apartment, sitting on a chair, with a gun on my back.
Kolachi: Tell us something about your personal life. Are you married?
Faiyaz: Yes, I am married and have a daughter. My family is back home in Hyderabad. Moreover, I have eight brothers and we all live together. In terms of family and relations I am a happy man. I am working hard for my daughter's future so that she could be far more educated than I am. Education is the right key if you intend to open the door of a prosperous future.
Kolachi: Don't you miss your daughter and your family?
Faiyaz: It is quite normal to miss your family and loved ones especially when you are working far away from your home. I also miss them a lot and so I try my best to take some time out of my work and go to Hyderabad. Though, it depends on my financial condition too. Traveling to Hyderabad is not that cheap.
Kolachi: How is your life as a security guard? Do you enjoy it?
Faiyaz: To tell you the truth life as a security guard is not good at all in fact it is plain bad, at least for me. I am a graduate and still I am doing this job. This depresses me and makes me feel very hopeless at times. I feel there is no scope for development and growth.
Kolachi: So you are not satisfied with your job?
Faiyaz: No, not at all. I'm searching for a job in the medical sector. I have 12 years of experience of working at a medical store. Recently, I was on ten days trial at the Liaquat National Hospital. In fact I have more knowledge and capability for jobs in the medical line. And as soon as I find a job in this field I will switch.
Kolachi: Is your family dependant on you financially?
Faiyaz: No, not really. My father runs his own leather business. One of my brothers is a doctor. My family is quite stable but still I strive to contribute my share to help out my family.
Kolachi: So do you feel that what ever you earn is sufficient to feed you and your family?
Faiyaz: No, it is not like that. I do not even earn an amount that could put a smile on my family's face but I am trying to adjust.
Kolachi: What about Karachi and its people?
Faiyaz: People are good and so is the city. Life seems very fast and fascinating from the outside but at a closer look every single individual has a story to tell. But the stories aren't always that glamorous. It is a tough city and not everyone gets that golden chance to succeed.
Gone are the days when chowkidars patrolled the streets with a danda, whistling shrilly to scare off possible burglars. Things are changing is this industry too and as a result we have smartly dressed private guards with guns. However, all that glitters is not gold. The guards might look modern but their suffering remains the same. Faiyaz, an educated young man came to Karachi to excel. Though things didn't turn out as he planned they would, he still has high hopes. Giving hope to people like Faiyaz to carry on and better their lives despite all odds - such is Karachi's character.