Friday, April 8, 2011

Two Videos and a Series

Ahsan had a video up by someone who visited North Punjab and Central Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa. They were a collection of pictures with commentary on the context of each picture, accompanied with . Here are two videos I found sometime back that I think are worth watching. Both are Karachi related, and present a unique viewpoint on the city by the sea. The first is "Scraplife: Ewaste in Pakistan", by a Green Peace photographer.

Tracking illegally (obviously) exported ewaste to Karachi, the ewaste dumped on Pakistan comes to the very famous Lyari neighbourhood of Karachi. Well, famous to Pakistanis. Just like Dharavi has seeped into the Western consciousness maybe Lyari (or its strongest contender Orangi) will do the same.

This video was intriguingly shot in summer 2008, a period of medium level political turmoil, when frantic negotiations between the PML-N minority and the PPP government continued, all under the Presidency of General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf. It turned into the last summer of Mr Musharraf's presidency, as at the end both parties came together and forced the General (retd.) President to resign.

Anybody who's woken up to the stench of burning "something" in Karachi, and I absolutely loved the reference to Lyari as a place where everything that isn't allowed in Pakistan happens in Lyari. What like drinking, doing drugs, whoring and murdering? Oh if only, and only those things happened only in Lyari. Maybe he was talking about secularism, democracy and civilian rule. Yes those certainly aren't allowed in Pakistan, but they happen in their own perverted way in Lyari (See People's Aman Committee for further details). I enjoyed the observation that Lyari's electronics burning grounds give an "apocalyptic feel". Most of Karachi gives me an apocalyptic feel. Much of the video and the descriptions are run off the mill street poverty in Karachi, interacting with 21st century Western techno-activism. This story mentions the wholesalers who buy the used computer hardware, and that got me wondering how much of it ends up in Uni Plaza as spare parts. Likely the parts that look least damaged, or Uni Plaza's suppliers import computer parts that actually work. The story that touches my heart though is that of on of the many Gold Melters of Lyari (you read that sentence correctly), and their short, poisoned out lifes. A good video to jolt Pakistanis from the complacency they feel about all the poverty they live in; and a look for foreigners, at the real everyday fight in Pakistan; the fight for a decent living.

The second is Amar Jaleel, a Dawn columnist who I used to enjoy reading for as long as he wrote in the Dawn Sunday Magazine. Here he is speaking about Karachi.

Its also a good video, but I would take some issue with what he said about there being no fighting when Hindus and Muslims lived together in pre-partition India. There must've been some fighting. And at Mr Amar Jaleel, I would also add that I know exactly who Ms Zaib-un-nisa was, a famous journalist and editor from the 1960's who stood up to the Ayub Khan regime. This bit of information is pre-internet.

But I do agree with Mr Jaleel, the sense of loss from 1947 in Karachi is undeniable. Mr Jaleel's articles in the Dawn magazine were known for covering current affairs with a meta-physical feel to them. I do miss them a bit, but their critique of the dominant authoritarian, anti-democratic political culture in Pakistan were too allegorical. He didn't land any direct punches. Maybe because the people from his generation who landed direct punches were disappeared or pushed out of journalism or Pakistan. There are more videos of Mr Amar Jaleel in a series he called "My Vanishing Karachi". Under "My Vanishing Karachi" he had "DJ Science College", "Empress Market" (warning beheaded goat's heads maybe NSFW), "Heritage Buildings" and very appropriately "Tram Service". Mass transit is a serious necessity in Pakistan.

I went for the first video, because it was the first one I saw, but I had no idea how popular the series would prove, nor how to bring it up. Ahsan provided that opportunity.

Taken together they are a pretty serious indictment over the neglect of an expanding Karachi, coupled with the serious lack of democratic institutions for Karachi'ites to use. A failure to realise the extent of the growth of a city that houses ~10% of all of Pakistan's population.

A last few words on Amar Jaleel. I've been saddened that he stopped writing. Especially when the Musharraf regime that he despised actually began to crumble. Mr Jaleel's writings are now very difficult to find on the internet. Many of them very politically provocative; taking sharp and deep digs into the dominant institutions of Pakistan, and some of its most cherished myths. Dawn has a responsibility to fix its error ridden archive. Now with the internet, we may actually have a real and effective memory hole not necessarily for entire sweeps of history, but certainly for individual episodes and discrete events. There are some people who have complained that Dawn has been losing some of its most provocative articles to '404 errors. I would agree, especially in relation to a valuable writer like Mr Amar Jaleel. His allegorical stories were good. One that stood out in my mind was where he characterised Musharraf as a neighbourhood bully who had forced his control on the neighbourhood, and the United States arrived as a storm like monster. Musharraf had the chance to let it enter the neighbourhood (in this case Afghanistan) or not, and Mush allows the US to enter. And you can hear the cries of pain and terror from where the monster is, but the neighbourhood bully keeps trying to distract you with the sound of his own voice. A good story.


Mrs Z Khan said...

Thank you for posting this video.

It would have been interesting to know when it was made. I grew up in Karachi and remember having Parsi and Christian friends and teachers, and I know a few years before there had been a couple of Jewish girls at the school.

I do have one criticism of the video: the background music. I like western classical music and find countertenor singing fascinating, but couldn't the producer of the video have found something indigenous? We have enough examples of rising mournful tones in our own music to have done justice to the sad neglect shown! I had to turn the volume off, I couldn't stand the music. Since I don't understand Sindhi, it didn't matter.


TLW said...

Your Welcome Mrs Z Khan. Drop by anytime.