Melting-pot constituencies: ‘Karachiwala: A subcontinent within a city’

Karachiwala: A subcontinent within a city
By Rumana Husain
With essays by Arif Hasan, Dr Hamida Khuhro, Luthfullah Khan, S. Akbar Zaidi and Zubeida Mustafa
Designed by Asma Husain
Pages 330; hardcover fully illustrated with maps, photos, foldout pages
Price: PKR 2900 (USD 35)
Published by Jaal, Karachi , 2010

Excerpt from my review in Himal Southasian:

This is not just a book about how the city grew uncontrollably after 1947, with the influx of a million or so refugees seeking economic opportunity as much as refuge. Rather, this is very much the human story of a city that is a microcosm of Pakistan, where locals were long ago outnumbered by migrants or their descendents – not just from across the border, but from all over the country. As the author delves into the homes and lives of some 80 of these families, it is apparent that they have retained much of their distinct cultures – although, with the younger generations growing up in this ‘melting pot’, borders and boundaries have started to blur. Interestingly, some among the youths have embraced features of their religious identity that their parents had shrugged off. There is, for instance, the young Sikh who proudly sports a turban and beard that his father had cast aside; or the young Bohra woman who, after getting married, prevailed upon her husband and his parents to adopt a more religiously conservative lifestyle, even getting her mother-in-law to shed the sari in favour of the rida, the Bohri burqa…

This is Rumana Husain’s Karachi, and the Karachi of countless others. Through its diverse population, Karachiwala humanises and makes accessible this vibrant, cosmopolitan megalopolis – an on-the-ground retort to what most Western news reports reduce merely to a ‘port city in the southern province of Sindh’ in ‘nuclear-armed, Muslim-majority Pakistan’. In this, Karachiwala is more than just another well-designed coffee-table book: although ostensibly apolitical, it is a strong political assertion of multiple identities. Above all, it is a labour of love for all that the city and its denizens represent.  ………..READ MORE

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