makes Karachi, Karachi?
makes Karachi, Karachi?
One unique feature of Karachi’s cultural diversity is reflected in the donkey cart and bicycle races regularly held in Lyari - one of the oldest residential areas of the city. Many young Lyariites, mainly Baloch and from the Sheedi community, are keen cyclists while those in their in late 20s and mid 30s, love to participate in the donkey cart races, usually held on Sunday.
The donkey cart race is a traditional activity of the people of this unique area. The donkeys which participate in the races are also treated with much more special care than those used to carry loads across the city. Such donkeys are lucky as they get especial diets and do not work for their owners like other donkeys, which can be seen on the streets typically with the dhobis, or carrying huge loads of all kinds of goods.
Although the donkey race has long been a feature of Lyari life, in recent times, official bodies like (the now defunct) City District Government Karachi (CDGK) held donkey cart races in the city and also distributed awards among the winners to encourage this sport. The CDGK had also expressed its desire to hold donkey cart races on a regular basis in future, as they feel that it brought happiness to the people of Lyari and elsewhere.
These donkey carts are especially prepared for the races with a tiny cart attached to the donkey. The longest race is held between Gulbai Chowk to Jahangir Kothari Parade in Clifton, and participants covers some 13 kilometres in less than 20 minutes on average.
Besides, boxing and football, bicycling is another trademark sports associated with the people of Lyari. The youngsters dressed in cycling gear peddle their bicycles for hours in small groups around the city and often head for the beach.
These groups can be witnessed around Clifton, Hawks Bay, Keamari, Lyari, I.I. Chundrigar Road and Dalmiya Road, especially during weekends. The bicycle riders show lot of character and skill during their trips, whizzing through the heavy city traffic in groups. Often the youngsters can be seen listening to music on their cell phones or cheap walkman and Mp3 players while moving around the city on their bicycles.
the strong waves
One of the matchless attractions of Karachi that other major metropolises in the country envy is the city’s southern rim that makes up one of the coastlines of the Arabian Sea. The beaches of Karachi are arguably the most frequented of spots among tourists and the locals.
In summer, when the sun becomes unbearable, people thronging the beaches with families to spend time on the sands among the waves is one of the most recurring images of the city’s native cultures, an instinctive pastimes of city dwellers.
The beaches of Karachi seem to have acquired certain characteristics in the eyes of Karachiites, owing to their respective organic traits. For instance, the Clifton beach popularly known as Sea View is the hub of mass excursions over the years. The availability of urban amenities and its closeness to the city could be one possible reason behind the sheer number of people the place attracts. Comparatively, Hawkes Bay is considered ‘a bit far’ and is famous for exclusive huts and farmhouses. It is preferred more as a day-spend as opposed to Clifton beach where families come in droves to spend a few hours in the evening and leave.
Then there are the rocky beaches like the French beach and calm Sandspit that also fall in the day-spend category because of their comparative remoteness from the city. But along the coast, there are certain small spots that are also immensely popular among people with a soft spot for long-drive. Devil’s point is one such place. A natural extension of rocky moulds that juts out to the sea. Devil’s point in known for the sound of high crushing waves and attracts people usually hours after sunset when the white splashes of water hit the slimy rocks in the moonlight amid cool moans of breeze.
The people of Karachi do not have the luxury of lifeguards on alert like other beaches around the world, neither are these beaches cleaned from time to time as they should be. But despite the unavailability of such basic amenities, which are necessary for a healthy excursion to the seaside and their lack often leads to tragic deaths by drowning, the sea beaches of Karachi are a big blessing for the people of the city which they simply cannot do without.
Food in Karachi has evolved over the years into more deep flavours and variety but the Biryani has maintained its position as a favourite across the age and gender barriers. Though Karachi is a modern city, and boasts a number of high-end restaurants, its Biryani is what truly sets it apart from other cities.
The Karachiites love for the city’s tasty Biryani is reflected in the fact that any festivity stands incomplete without adding the much loved dish on the menu. “If you live in Karachi, besides water and oxygen, it is the Biryani (be it chicken or beef) that a Karachiite cannot live without. One finds it on birthdays, weddings, funerals, picnics or on any other occasion. No gathering is complete without the dish being served as per the law of Karachi,” says a young Biryani lover, A. Raza.
It is the taste of the city’s Biryani that is irresistible to locals who believe that no other city can match the taste available here. A businessman by profession, Faraz Ahmed while comparing the Biryanis of different cities comments, “Biryani, here, is mouth-watering because of its finger-licking taste. Others don’t even know what Biryani actually is!”
When asked about one thing that a student, Malik (originally from Karachi and studying in Lahore) misses from his hometown, he says: “I love Karachi;s Biryani due to the distinctive spices used in it and its spicy flavour. It has what Lahore food doesn’t have- a lot spices.”
Also for many, the art of making the dish cannot be matched by others since the dish has been mastered by the Delhiwalas, widely settled in Karachi.
But the Biryani is not Karachi’s only specialty. After an appetising meal, the tarka of paan adds flavour to one’s mouth. For many Karachiites, their meal remains unfinished without the consumption of paan, which works as an official closing of any further in-take of food.
“Males are more interested in consuming mix patti, whereas women and children normally prefer the meetha paan. However, at weddings, the demand is for saada khushboo for all,” Noor Muhammad, a 35-year-old paanwala who has been handling this business for almost 15 years, told Kolachi.
The popular betel leaves used in paan making are called Ceylon and Bangkok betel leaves, which are widely demanded by the upper class, whereas the local one has more customers among the middle and lower class and is cheaper in price.
One of the oldest known spots for paan lovers is the PIDC paan spot, known for its wide variety of paans. Some of these includethe sadda khushboo, saunf khushboo, mix patti, Zahoor Raja Jani (named after the tabacoo used in it), double patti, sada saunf elaichi, chota paan, meetha paan, doube khuhsboo, Anmol Laal Anmol and many more, available at a cost ranging from rupees five to 45.
To add some more to the list, some exclusive varieties are also now quite popular among citizens of the city of lights. Chocolate, pineapple and date paan are more unique compared to the regular ones.
“Doublay, Doublay ,” a conductor screams as he powerfully slaps the door of his vehicle, urging the driver to move after a handful of passengers have climbed onboard the rickety but heavily adorned bus. With some passengers taken to the roof, others squashed in the cramped compartment; the bus shoots off as if participating in a marathon - smoke coming out from its silencer, horns blaring, Indian songs playing and hand-painted embellishments glittering in the sun.
Nearby, a small but a nosier vehicle, a rickshaw aiming to grow up someday, as its bears the verse ‘mai bara ho ke truck banoon ga!’ on its back, speeds up too with its black hood and colourful body, providing a thrilling ride to its passengers.
Welcome to Karachi’s buses and rickshaws- the unique transport of the metropolis which stands out from other cities because of its speed, rash driving, decorations and the ability to carry more people than required! It is these thousands of buses and rickshaws which are on the run every day, providing transport to those who are dependent on them for going to work, schools, home and everywhere.
During the last several years, different types of buses and rickshaws have been introduced, but the traditional have always remained the favourites. Neat metro buses came and went, and the dull green-colored CNG buses were also introduced. Nevertheless, the old ‘W-11’ still is a popular ride. Also, CNG rickshaws, with a partition and black leather covering, have also been introduced but the old smaller ones are mostly seen and preferred on the roads.
What makes Karachi’s vehicles different is also their art. From Shireen Jinnah Colony, Ehsanullah, a truck art painter, said that he has been painting and decorating buses, trucks and dumpers since the last 10 years - and enjoys his work a great deal. It takes him up to seven days to complete a bus.
And just like some painters, passengers like Owais Javed, find life aboard a bus extremely exhilarating. He travels by bus to his work place, from F.B. Area to a loacl bank in Clifton, and said, “I like observing people. Every day is a new drama here. There are women who complain that men sit on their seats. Then there are those who would go on and on about their lives.”
Meanwhile, a housewife Sakina finds rickshaws to be the easiest way out of trouble. “I don’t have to bug my husband to take me everywhere. When I want to go shopping, I ask my friends, and we go in the rickshaw to Tariq Road.”
cultures and sub-cultures
Karachi may not be able to boast like New York’s Time Square of having the largest number of nationalities at one place at a time, but it certainly does have its own area of specialty: its diverse ethnicites and cultures.
It is Karachi, and not any other city of Pakistan, which is home to the largest number of ethnic groups, be it Sindhis, Punjabis, Baloch, Pakhtuns or the Delhiwalas, Bombaywalas or Memons. The city has a century-old educational institute run by the Parsis and Christians, which produce the cream of society year after year. It has the gora qabristan, where graves of British soldiers, dating back to World War II, are still intact. Then again Karachi has the proud owners of two Bohra community centres, and two Ismaili community centres as well. Additionally, the city of lights has old Hindu temples and churches, and much more to offer from the history.
The streets are a cacophony of languages and dialects, from Urdu to Pushto, Sindhi, Balochi, Hindko and Gujarati and dozens more from Shina to Brauhvi to Thari and the distinctive music of different areas is a constant soundtrack of the city life.
Every wedding one attends outside his family brings out traditions which were never seen before. A Bihari bridegroom, for instance, just before the rukhsati (departure of the bride to her new home) covers his bride’s hair parting with sandalwood powder. At a wedding at a Delhiwalas’, a dish of turnip and mutton is served as a specialty.
And these ethnicities and religious groups have somehow become part of the geography of the city. Kokan society, Delhi Colony, Hyderabad Colony, Dhoraji- each place will strike a chord in the mind of a person born and bred in Karachi, because if a person one met at a friend’s lunch lives in Dhoraji, probabilities of his being a Memon are 99 per cent.
Yet there still are questions that no one in Karachi can answer; questions such as why is ‘Dhoraji ka gola ganda mashoor’ or why do the best pickles come from Hyderabad colony! One learns to accept these word-of-mouth rumors as facts of life in this city.