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Big Sky of Karachi

Have you seen the big, blue sky in Karachi? It is everywhere you go, large, over-powering, over-arching and all enveloping. It’s what Karachi is, open, wide, and expansive and empty. The city of my birth, the city where my family has lived for most of their lives. It is a city of migrants, of displaced people who left all their worldly belongings and lugged their empty hands to make a new life in a brand-new country. It is a city with an sketchy past, not much is known, not much is to be lauded about, a back-water fishing village for most of its history. Karachi has no historical sights, monuments to boast of, it has no great moments in the past which are eulogized in memories and memorials, its people haven’t graced heights of stardom to be remembered by its citizens. The city’s story is somewhat like the sky that covers it, clean, empty, vacuous.

Karachi isn’t just a place, its a way of living. It has its own set of rules. You must learn these if you want to live here, and it somehow remoulds you in it, in its reality, takes you inwards into itself. It is the city of my birth, and hence I have a proprietary right over it or so I believe. It is devoid of trees and plants, it is hardly green, yet the sky absorbs you in because it is like a sheet over everything you do here, you are always in the open, in large space, it carries a feeling of unending eternal space. I love the sky here, lemony yellow in the scorching sun, then a turquoise blue around early evening eventually giving way to cobalt blue in the night.

The city is reflective of lives lived in it, my life unfolding in it. It is unpredictable and mysterious. The streets of Karachi range from the wide modern flyovers of Defence to garbage dumped alleys of Lyari. There are older parts of the city, with 100 year old decrepit buildings, their soot laden exteriors, their ready to crumble balconies, what lives have been lived there? Where ever you go you find multitudes of people, almost as ants crawling out of a trodden ant hill, the bustle of traffic, the horns, the sweaty populace, the ugly beggars, the paunched policemen, the irritatingly noisome rickshaws all induce a cacophony of hellish sounds that reverberates throughout the city, and yet it has a sort of silence, a quietness that is so foreign to a large metropolis like it, I think its the sky, it just absorbs the sounds and nulls it.

The sea is there, reflecting the sky, making it larger than ever, picking up the sounds, the tremors, the reverberations, the movements of the city and soothing it, singing a lullaby to its convulsions, to calm and cool it down.

Karachi is a city where you lose yourself, its a labyrinth, where you are alien, separate, and on your own. It has no nostalgic milestones where you can pause and think back and reminisce. Things are in a constant flux, I wander the streets but can hardly find the places where I spent my child hood, they are all gone, vanished! I look for the street my school was on, the perpetual unfinished monstrosity its still there, but it is changed, its so narrow, so insipid, so lifeless! not the street and the school building of when I was younger?? Karachi, doesn’t let you nurture memories, its too impatient with them, it is not sentimental. But, I am sentimental. I want to linger and muse and remember things that were and that weren’t. I want to smell the smell of my younger days, of the impending dry weather, of the raat ki rani fused in the night breeze, of the squalid whiff of seaweed emanating from the black sea at night and over taking everything in its wake. These smells, these sounds make my city, make my life.

I want to trace back my life, go back in time to where it all started, to somehow gather who I was and what have I become. And, I know that the way backwards is through this city of sky and sea, of sand, and parched trees, it is through the ever changing confluence of life here that I must pick out the details of my life. Because, that place, that city, those houses, those lanes, those people have all gone in the dust, they simply do not exist anymore. It is transformed, this place, and at times is unrecognizable, just like the turn my life has taken recently. What was is no more, without a trace like a castle in the sand washed by the sea waves.

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