by Maniza Naqvi
Mud. Dirt. Sand. Land. Water. All up for lease–To let. All a reason for making a killing in Karachi.
Mud, dirt, sand, land- look no further in Karachi or anywhere else for reasons for trouble. Trump cards, these, everywhere, up for grabs, for rent or lease or as it is said in Karachi: to let. Or, as the billboards scream all over Karachi: TOLET. Everything tolet. Perhaps, a Freudian nod to complicity by the scribe, as well as the reader, omitting the 'I', but managing still to point to the pervasive smell wafting all over the city the eau de toilet—or rather 'Ewwww dah toilet!!!' Something indeed is rotten.
Tee for Tolet. Karachi a city the size of a mid- sized country seems to be disappearing in to a golf hole— a vortex, a vortex of greed—into a TV screen, a swimming pool drain or down the tolet—toilet. The teeing off are teed-off if you do protest this too much. Protest the erasing of public spaces, the grabbing of public assets–and you're likely to be whacked or clubbed like a little white ball–and end up barred or down a hole. Players are quick to remind you that golf courses create green spaces and they don't use up water–only sewage water. Stinks?
The city, as a place to protest seems only to exist as pretty on the face of it—on Facebook. It appears pretty, as a dream—or as an idea of luxury—on gigantic billboards above its streets, but where on the streets themselves it more likely that idealism is shot to death and recycled as a cynical sickness: take for instance the poet's command—Bol! Speak! It was turned into a joke in this city. Here: ‘Speak!, means ‘Shut up!' Just as war means peace.
Sabeen Mahmud and Perween Rehman were uncommon. But for many, yet still too few, in a country of two hundred million, they were part of our Commons. Precious, necessary, terribly threatened, unprotected, stolen and destroyed. For the majority who didn't know them, and who's Commons are fast under threat, they have no time to spare to think about Perween or Sabeen. They have little time for anything except hard labor under a harsh sky, making ends meet, surviving humiliation and violence. If those who labor from dawn to twilight had known either of them, they would have liked both of them very much. Of course they would. Who wouldn't? Both of them, Perween, for mapping the grabbing of land was killed first and Sabeen, for talking about it was killed two years later, were both good. Both of them were sincere. Both of them had integrity. Both of them glowed with excitement and enthusiasm, doing what they could do, creating space, in an ever narrowing one, to make things better in a place where things seem to be going to hell in a hand basket fast and furious for most. So for whom could Sabeen and Perween working in separate parts of the city be such a threat?
But, it isn't hell for everyone—-no not at all. On the contrary in fact, for a few it is a paradise—because for a few, a very few, in a city of 20 million, Karachi is one big party—an eighteen hole golf course—an endless green— and an embarrassment of riches for which they the tee partiers-players and the patrons of good and bad remain unembarrassed. Golf courses are cropping up for a few, in a city that has a scarcity of housing and water. Not everyone can go for a walk or play on these courses. Members only, secured in by barbed wire walls and heavily guarded gates. Naturally, then, as insurance of sorts perhaps, a bit of philanthropy and the support of the arts is addeed in to their daily diet of teeing off, feasts and famines.
Such is the way of robber barons and tee- and tea partiers. Pakistan from the beginning of this century has experienced, such an intense struggle for creativity, art and debate and such violence (here,here,here). Perhaps the patrons of great art are also patrons of great brutality?
Sophisticated savagery and brutal serenity. In the playgrounds of the wealthy, the drawing rooms of the well to do, never before such sanguine artistry and progressive conversation. Wine and wealth are attendant. But if you are worshipping at a church, or temple or an imam bargah or coming back from a day of discussions on land mapping and rights or hosting a discussion on land grabbing or about its resisters who are missing, or even perhaps supporting a day dedicated to buying cards, chocolates and flowers, never before such possibility of annihilation.