Desi Girl: The essence of Karachi captured in everyday stories

Karachi Stories aims to capture the soul of yet another city via a series of short documentary films by local film-makers and storytellers.

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I'm in Karachi attending a filmmaking workshop organised by the Scottish Documentary Institute (SDI), the British Council in Karachi and the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology in Karachi. The seven-day workshop is the latest in a series organised by the SDI all over the world. After Tripoli Stories, Rabat Stories and Dhaka Stories, Karachi Stories aims to capture the soul of yet another city through a series of short documentaries by local filmmakers and storytellers.

“What person or place do you think best describes the essence of Karachi?” one of our instructors asked us at the start of the workshop. As I prepared to jot down my answer, I was suddenly at a loss for words. How do I distil the essence of this city into a single person, place or event? How do I do it in a three-minute film?

To most outsiders – the eventual audience of these films – Karachi is a hotbed of terror and violence, the centre of a state in constant turmoil. It’s where people get robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight while a corrupt police force stands by, where a shortage of utilities is the norm and where you breathe in more smog than oxygen. Are three minutes enough to paint a different picture?

As our group bounced around ideas, a picture emerged of a city that we were proud of and besotted by.

Due to various constraints, Karachi Stories is limited to four documentaries, so only four ideas were selected to be made into films. Here are the rest:

 A man’s relentless journey to bring a small change via the country’s only Hindu newspaper. His one-man show at times runs out of money, but never out of spirit.

 The “dream-sellers” at Karachi’s weekend spots (beach, zoo, markets) who, for a small sum, will take your picture and, while you wait, transport you (on paper) to your dream destination – anywhere in the world.

 The Muslim family that has, for generations, been taking care of the last Jewish cemetery in Karachi – where there have been no burials since the late 1980s.

 The woman who sells subsidised meals to people who can’t afford to buy food, but are too proud to beg.

 The workers of the ship-breaking yards who risk their lives to earn a livelihood – manually dismantling ships and using the discarded parts to build their homes.

 The elderly caretaker of the ancient burial site of Chawkandi, who has been the site’s sole and last line of defence against vandals for at least 35 years.

 The man who runs a fleet of rickety wooden boats that take holidaymakers out to sea for a leisurely few hours and who the coastal security wants to shut down because his operation is deemed a safety hazard.

 The young creative who works as a graphic designer by day, moonlights as a tattoo artist and whose clientele is mainly young women.

 The group of 30-somethings who are quite possibly the worst cricket team in Karachi but continue to play, not for victory, but for the love of the sport and with unwavering spirit – a metaphor for this crazy city.

If it catches your fancy, visit to follow the project.

The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai