Ramble

22Oct05

When I was a typical little boy in Abu Dhabi, fantasy games included running around and shadow fighting in the alley between mine and the Bin Hamooda building in the hot, baking afternoons dreaming of desert wars on horseback with swords and other weapons that the average “little boy” finds fascinating in a totally non-violent way. Later in life I’ve always attributed those “desert dreams” to the locale and the climate. And a little to the ancestral Hashmi blood in my veins. But that was rare. More often I was a detective trying to solve millions of mysteries no doubt a result of my childhood heroes all being the Famous five, Lucky seven, three investigators, Hardy Boys and of course the DC Comics Justice League.

Games in school were, obviously, more group oriented. Tag, “Kings”, football and our very own class game, Phantom. Though I don’t think even half of us could spell it at the time. For the five years I spent in Al-Nahda (my school), I don’t recall one single incident where anyone was ribbed about personal characteristics. There was no fatty, no blacky, no skinny, no nerd, no darkie, no heathen, no kafir no wimp. At least not in those elementary years. Maybe it was the cosmopolitan environment, maybe we were just brought up better. I don’t know. Then life took a turn. Abba’s bank was closed down and we moved back to the city of my birth, Karachi.

Karachi. Kalachi-jo-Kun, Kolachi, Kurranchee. Alexander’s Krokola. Raja Dahir’s Debul. For a city steeped in culture and tradition, history, sadly has never been a strong point. Little is known. Even less is documented. And the people couldn’t care less.

Neither has history been kind on the city. Rulers have changed so many times in the last three hundred years, as have its inhabitants that no sense of identity could have developed even if the climate had been less politically charged. Today’s Karachi, a megalopolis of over 12 million people, the third most populous city in the world, is a teeming mix of multitudinous races, religions and cultures. There are Muhajirs, Pathans, Sindhis, Punjabis, Balochs and Kashmiris. And while the majority is “Muslim”, it is actually just a mess of Shias, Sunnis, Wahabbis, Haree pugrees, deobandis, brelvis, Ismailis and Bohris. Whenever a person declares that he or she is a Karachiite, this is almost invariably followed by a question on ethnicity – and ethnicity gets very specific in the city by the sea. A Muhajir, for instance, is not just a Muhajir, he/she is a UP-ite, Bihari, Khoja, Memon, Delhi wala or Bengali. Or something else. Pakistanis in general do not attribute the term “Karachiite” as a specific characteristic. Nor do Karachiites themselves. Politics are a violent bloody mess which exploit the deep ethnic biases everyone seems to have.

And children are as affected as adults.

The average Karachiite child is well aware of where his father’s political sympathies lie by the time he enters the second grade. Without understanding the mandates, policies, ambitions and visions; he adopts the image of the party leadership as a role model, infallible and even sacrosanct. The child often uses racist mocking epithets without even understanding the words that make them up. Most of all he adopts the concept of racial stereotypes which stay with him throughout his life. All Biharis are cunning. All Memons are stingy. All Pathans are stupid. Punjabis are the enemy. A fat child is to be laughed at. A darker child is to be mocked at. And if a person manages to trip and fall, it’s a running joke for weeks. Insensitivity is the norm rather than the exception.

To be continued….

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