City of lights
By Dr Mubarak Ali
Dr Mubarak Ali goes soul-searching as he tells the story of Karachi's sociological and physical development from a small fishing village to the mega-city it is today.
[img]http://dawn.com/events/lifestyle2003/images/sup27-01.jpg[/img] Every city has two characteristics: ancientness and history. Ancientness of a city is determined by archeological evidence. When such evidence is inconclusive, ancient history becomes a fertile ground for legends and myths. Historians, in the absence of facts, construct a mythical history based on speculation and imagination.
The history of a city is determined by documentary evidence. Analysis and examination of documents help historians draw a comprehensive picture of a city's past. A city becomes historical only when it contributes to politics, literature, economics, and culture and creates its own soul, which distinguishes it from others. It also assumes significance because of its geographical and strategic location.
Throughout the history cities became prominent either because of their political and commercial importance or their cultural and social contribution to society. Cities that remained capitals of an empire or served as administrative centres assumed authoritative and hierarchical character in their development. On the other hand, cities that were centres of trade and commerce developed a homogeneous culture without much political domination and supervision.
Residential areas of the cities in the subcontinent were divided on the basis of ethnicity, religion, caste, and linguistic affiliations. There were separate places of worship and centres for social gatherings to keep their religious and ethnic identities, but once they came out from their residential space to the public space such as markets, gardens, playgrounds, working places, and government offices, they came into contact with one another.
Interaction, meeting, exchange of ideas in public space created a sense of belonging to a city, which united and combined its inhabitants' interests. That gave people a sense of belonging and thus, they defended their city with a zeal and faced crises and vicissitude of politics with patience. In such a milieu, a city created its traditions, customs, rituals, and festivals, which culminated in the creation of its unique character.
Karachi is not an ancient city. And so it has no historical monuments - other than those from the Raj period - and no archaeological remains. It was a small and insignificant fishing town that was developed as a port in 1729 by Bhojomal, a Hindu merchant. The city passed through three historical stages. In the early period it remained part of Balochistan and Sindh; in the second stage it was occupied by the British in 1839; and finally in 1947 it became the first capital of a newly independent Pakistan.
In all these stages, the city assumed different and distinct characters. In the first, it remained an insignificant port. During the colonial period it became one of the cleanest cities and developed a culture of tolerance, humanism, and enlightenment. After partition, its entire landscape changed. New immigrants from India brought along with them a new culture. But later when the Pathans, Punjabis, and the Balochis arrived in search of jobs and economic opportunities, the city became a mini-Pakistan.
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Sep 28 2003, 10:27 PM
Group: VE Moderators
Joined: 21-July 02
The history of Karachi during all these stages on the one hand is fascinating, but on the other hand, very sad. I shall attempt to capture the spirit of the city and highlight its main features and characteristics.
In 1839, T.G. Carless visited Karachi and submitted his observations to the Government that it was...