Signage and typography in Urdu, Sindhi and Arabic as seen across Sindh.
Sadequain was a Pakistani artist, best known for his skills as a calligrapher and a painter. He is considered to be one of the finest painters and calligraphers Pakistan ever produced. You cannot come to Karachi without going on a Sadequain art run, spend a few minutes gawking in awe at the Frere Hall ceiling only to later contemplate in silence over the meaning of life and the evolution of man while viewing some of his best works at the State Bank Museum. Both Frere Hall and the State Bank Museum are open to the public and free of charge.
The Karachi urban forest is the brainchild of Shehzad Qureshi a Karachi based climate change activist. He started the project back in December 2015 by adopting a local neglected park. The aim behind the project was to combat the devastating first hand effects of climate change and global warming. The project recently made national headlines after the local government locked him out of the forest and temporarily stopped him from continuing to work on the project any further. After a much publicised social media campaign the government gave in and agreed to cooperate with him and let Shehzad and his team continue on with the project. In the past 2-3 years the urban forest has planted over 15,000 trees, they employ a very scientific and organised approach to forestry whereby they plant trees and plants that are native to and can survive in Karachi’s climate. The eventual goal of the project is to replicate this model all over the country, however in order to do that in Shehzad’s words we need to help him get the word out and to donate to this brilliant initiative. For more info check out my highlights under the title Urban Forest.
Karachi is a hardcore foodie city, everyone in town is a little bit of a food snob. Like we know the one thing going for us is our happening food scene, we don’t shy away from boasting about it either once we meet someone from out of town. Even as a local it’s pretty hard to keep up with the sheer volume and variety of food on offer. Competition is pretty stiff, new restaurants open up and close overnight. One bad review and your restaurant could easily go bust. Most Karachiwallas are pretty active on the many social media food groups online, at times people can get pretty nauseatingly petty and pretentious with their food reviews, but I guess that’s what makes the market so cut throat and competitive. On the other hand it isn’t one bit odd to see a few nutters go all out keyboard berserk over mind numbing stuff like a bag of crisps or cat food. Go figure. Nonetheless there’s never a dull moment in Karachi’s bustling foodie arena.
West Wharf is an industrial area close to the Karachi port. It’s home to a putrid fishing harbour, massive shipping container terminals and a bunch of factories. The neighbourhood is surrounded by water on all three sides, most of which is heavily polluted with toxic waste coming from the nearby industries. It’s a fascinating area to explore if you can get past the strong fishy smell mixed with the industrial fumes.
Clifton is one of Karachi’s wealthiest and most affluent neighbourhood. It’s home to a number of foreign consulates, political scions, shopping malls and much of the city’s well to do population. It’s also that part of town where the city’s massive wealth gap is on full display. Bejewelled kitty party aunties frequently cross paths with raucous street children, shooing them away while heading to their next kitty. The city’s rich and beautiful frequently wine and dine on E street, while barely a stones throw away the most destitute of Karachi’s citizens walk barefoot up the steps of Shah Ghazi’s shrine to seek some sort of solace. Shoppers daily clog the road in front of Dolmen while druggies lie dazed in the bushes right across from it. Clifton is a study in extremes, with wildly rich and desolately poor living door to door, blocks away or at times right across the street from one another. It clearly showcases Karachi’s gross inequality and never stops contradicting itself.
Karachi has a massive trash problem and with each passing day it seems to be getting worse. Today I went to photograph the fishing community at Karachi fisheries at West Wharf. I completely forgot about my little project after seeing the level of trash and industrial waste seeping into the fishing waters. It was astounding to see the boats moored in a sea of plastic. Also in order to get to the boats from the street you had to walk through a mix of toxic sludge, there was practically no other way to do it. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of bacteria and diseases our fishermen are exposed to daily from the waters and their surroundings. Without a doubt in my mind the marine life in this area is either completely obliterated or contaminated, nothing in between. Literally this is where most of Karachi’s seafood comes from. Just thinking about consuming fish right now makes me sick. Honestly speaking it’s becoming frustrating now because as a Karachiite you don’t even know who to complain to, since there seems to be one million and one different bodies running this city like a mafia. From SBCA to DHA to CDA to SSWMB to KMC to WTF?! You try complaining to the current ruling party, they’ll conveniently pin the blame on to the previous who’ll then do the same when you go to them and hence the shitty cycle continues. In the end the jokes on the 21 million people of Karachi who continue to live in this giant landfill that they call home. Thanks for fishing, please don’t come again.
Urdu typography and signage around the city (3)
The Freemasons Lodge in Karachi was built by the Freemason’s Trust in 1914. It was used as a meeting spot for the local Freemason community. Locals unfamiliar with their practices and purposes started referring to the building as “Jadoo Ghar," roughly translated to “the House of Magic". The building was taken over by the government in 1972 when Freemasonry was banned all over Pakistan by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. It was a result of strong sentiments against Freemasonry which was considered to be linked to Zionism and its activities were believed to have influences from black magic and Satanism. In the early 1990s it was allocated to the Sindh Wildlife Department, and is now a protected heritage site. The building is full of masonic symbols like the square and compass encompassing the letter G, pillars and black & white chequered floors.
Same building different perspectives. The Mazar-e-Qaid also known as Jinnah Mausoleum or the National Mausoleum, is the final resting place of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. The mausoleum also contains the tomb of his sister, Fatima Jinnah, and that of Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime minister of Pakistan. The mausoleum was completed in 1970, and is an iconic symbol of Karachi. The mausoleum is one of the most popular tourist sites in all of Karachi.
Karachi, along with Bombay and Calcutta, was one of the major port cities in British India. Hence, there are many colonial structures scattered across town- the largest concentration of which are in the Old City. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find more colonial remnants in many of the city’s graveyards and private clubs also. Portraits of British aristocrats hang alongside those of present day Pakistani socialites at many of the city’s gymkhanas. If you look a little harder you might even find a statue or two of Queen Victoria hiding somewhere.
Karachi isn’t a homogenous city, far from it. At times it feels more like an amalgamation of many small cities to make one giant sprawling metropolis. While traveling from one area to another you can clearly see how everything changes, from the city’s general landscape to the traffic to the demographics of the area even the dialect and street slang through which people communicate changes. Every neighbourhood in the city has its own distinctive culture and traditions. Hence it isn’t surprising to note why the city is often called ‘Mini Pakistan’.
Karachi has two different personas, each for a different time of the day. Karachi in the day is a chaotic mess and aggressive. People don’t smile that much during the day, everyone is in a hurry trying to get from point a to b. The air is heavy with the smell of petrol and diesel from all the traffic jams around town. Come nightfall and the city reveals its alternate avatar, dhabbas fill up with chaivinists ready to catch up on the latest gossip and political drama sweeping the nation. Sleazy roadside masseuses and all sorts of interesting characters come out to set up shop. The smell of barbecue permeates through the air. People tend to be more social during this time of the day, they smile more often. Hence exploring the city after dark is an interesting and exhilarating experience in itself.
Hunting for frames in the city.
The many faces of Pakistani cinema. Pakistan’s cinema industry is still very much in its infancy. The highs and lows of the industry are very much tied down to the social and political woes of the country. The industry was thriving in the 60s and 70s only to be completely decimated to low budget sleazy flicks in the following decades. After a long hiatus of many years, since 2013 Pakistan has been consistently sending in a submission to the Oscars for the best foreign language picture category. Pakistani movies are now shown all over the world which is a huge feat in itself. Right now in it’s current state I feel like the industry is still figuring itself out, the current crop of films seem to be cheap imitations of Bollywood movies. However with that being said the industry has also churned out a few notable individual exceptions like Khuda ke liye, Manto, Moor, Cake, Laal Kabootar, Shah and Motorcycle girl.
Urdu typography and signage around the city (2)
Urdu signage and typography around the city
The many faces of Karachi’s public buses.