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‎”Most of us have a bittersweet relationship with Karachi and if our status had to be defined on Facebook it could only be “It’s complicated”. Karachi is an on-again, off-again boyfriend, Karachi is the girl who uses you, abuses you, breaks your heart and yet when she calls you, you go running back. Karachi is an enigma and if you live in Karachi you can’t imagine feeling the feelings you feel while living here (whether good or bad) anywhere else.” – (City FM 89 on Web)

Celebrating the life of the mind

The 8th Karachi Literary Festival saw an increased footfall and as ever became the most happening event in the city by the sea

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  • Over three days, everyone who is anyone flocked to the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) 2017. Crisp starched saris, Kolhapuri chappals, white hair and white chooridars, pure leather-bound notebooks, endless rounds of tea serving as the fuel for animated conversations about existentialism, philosophy, politics, the arts, and the role literature plays for all of these. The 8th KLF saw an increased footfall and as ever became the most happening event in the city by the sea.

“The KLF has busted many myths that existed about Karachi and its people. This festival has now successfully added ‘literary tradition’ to the list of things Karachi is known for. The literary tradition that is the legacy of our elders has been rekindled in our youth and we at the Oxford University Press (OUP) Pakistan are extremely proud to be the flag bearers of literary festivals in Pakistan,” says Saadia Mirza, Rights Manager at OUP.

The KLF was launched in March 2010, and is directed by Ameena Saiyid, founded by Ameena Saiyid and Asif Farrukhi, and produced by OUP. It is open to all and the entry is free. It features debates, discussions, talks, English poetry readings and Urdu mushaira, a book fair, book launches, readings, signings, satire, theatre, film screenings, music, and dance.

KLF has grown — from an attendance of roughly 5,000 in 2010 to 175,000 in 2016. In 2010 it had 34 sessions with 58 speakers/performers. This year, the 8th KLF featured close to 200 speakers and performers in around 76 sessions.

This year, a recurrent theme that surfaced in many talks was Pakistan’s economic challenges, and how they are affecting society and culture as a whole.

The important issue of gender was brought up in many a panel. Feminist activists and writers like Fahmida Riaz, Sheema Kirmani, Zehra Nigah and Sania Saeed were seen prominently participating. One unique book that was launched was Interpreting Islam, Modernity and Women’s Rights in Pakistan by Dr Anita Weiss, Professor at the University of Oregon. It was her second time at the KLF.

KLF has grown — from an attendance of roughly 5,000 in 2010 to 175,000 in 2016. In 2010 it had 34 sessions with 58 speakers/performers. This year, the 8th KLF featured close to 200 speakers and performers in around 76 sessions.

“The first time was in 2012. I’ve seen a few important changes. First, there is a lot more emphasis on books now. Previously there were a lot of talks, but not necessarily connected to explicit things people had written. Second, the audience now seems even more diverse than in 2012, with people coming from all walks of life,” says Dr Weiss.

However, the diversity she sees as positive is seen by some as a recession in the exclusivity of the KLF. The elite ownership and intellectual regality seems to be diluting. Some see this as a positive; others don’t. Many visitors were overheard commenting that the standard of the KLF is going down, referring to the fact that it is becoming more awaami which is resulting in a deconstruction of some of the carefully constructed social silos.

However, people like journalist and documentary filmmaker Faisal Sayani feel the opposite to be true. “The selection process seems flawed and nepotism-based, and KLF has become commercialised. But the festival is not, in essence, designed in a way that would deprive or bar masses from it. I find it to be pretty inclusive,” says Sayani.

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He praised how many sessions dealt with important aspects of history, and praised in particular the session of screening of the documentary of slain activist Parween Rehman. But not everyone, according to him, visits the KLF for the love of the written word. “I believe hoards of people are just there socialise and take selfies with intellectual celebs.”

In a city like Karachi, a diverse crowd is but natural. “Karachi is a melting pot of so many ethnic and linguistic traditions that it is not easy to define the culture and tradition of this city — the Karachi experience is an intense experience. And that intensity is reflected in the sessions of the KLF. Any visitors will vouch for the palpable energy in the atmosphere of the KLF as writers, readers, politicians, actors, musicians, students, poets, academics and journalists all come together to celebrate the literary achievements and discuss the issues faced by Pakistan today,” says Mirza.

One of the most important sessions was about the city, titled “‘Karachi: Is Pakistan’s Boom Town still Booming?”, with a panel of people who know Karachi, especially the unparalleled Arif Hasan who knows the city better than anyone else.

KLF 1

“In 2015, 902 cars were registered daily in Karachi; during the last six months 800 motorbikes were registered daily. This city cannot accommodate it,” says Hasan. He raised brave questions about where the money being invested into Karachi’s real estate is coming from. Answering a question, he said that the main issue with Karachi is the tension that exists because it is the capital of a Sindhi-speaking province being dominated by a non-Sindhi speaking minority of the province.

The panel included stalwarts of Karachi, namely Aquila Ismail who is writer, activist and sister of Parween Rehman, Najmuddin Shaikh who is a distinguished diplomat, and Haris Gazdar who is a renowned researcher. Ismail compared Karachi to the mythical city of El Dorado, and said the gold of this city is in the hearts of its residents.

The crowd-pullers in the open air garden were more than just literary. One such popular celebrity session was the former celluloid queen Shabnam in conversation with Bushra Ansari. Shabnam brought back memories of a Pakistan before the fall of Dacca, and spoke about the best of times and the worst of times. Stand-up comedian Shafaat Ali provided the comic relief at the same venue, while the legendary Zia Mohyeddin’s reading session titled “Memories and Reflections” gave the KLF what completed it.

While many visitors observed that the number of sessions in Urdu and especially vernacular languages has decreased, Dr Weiss says that the writers were very diverse. But she adds that “There should be an effort to have greater regional distribution of authors, such as some coming from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or from Balochistan. There are important works coming out of those provinces, and effort should be made to include them.”

When asked why KLF and such festivals are important, Dr Weiss summed it up. “This is a celebration of the life of the mind.”

True to the KLF tradition, five literary prizes were awarded this year too at the festival.

These were awarded to the following winners:

· 2017 Winner of the Karachi Literature Festival Infaq Foundation Urdu Prize
Nasir Abbas Nayyar for Urdu Adab Ki Tashkeel-e-Jadeed· 2017 Winner of the Karachi Literature Festival Pepsi Prize
Yasmin Khan for The Raj at War· Winner of the 2017 The Italy Reads Pakistan Award
Omar S. Hamid for The Spinner’s Tale

· 2017 Getz Pharma Fiction Prize Winner
Omar Shahid Hamid for The Spinner’s Tale

· 2017 Karachi Literature Festival German Peace Prize Winners
Anam Zakaria for The Footprints of Partition (1st prize)
Farahnaz Ispahani for Purifying the Land of the Pure (2nd prize)
Ali Nobil Ahmad for Masculinity, Sexuality, and Illegal Migration (3rd prize)

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/celebrating-life-mind/#.WKl8tq1vrIU

Qawwal Gali after Amjad Sabri

Farahnaz Zahidi July 24, 2016

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/qawwal-gali-sabri/#.V5RfIfkrLIU

The palpable fear after Sabri’s murder in the historic neighbourhood in Karachi and much more

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Qawwal Gali is the collective name given to a group of five streets, named after five renowned Qawwals. — Photos by Faisal Sayani

The atmosphere in Qawwal Gali is uncharacteristically subdued since Amjad Farid Sabri’s life was snuffed out prematurely. “I knew him from the time when I called him Ummi and he called me Saifee, and we were just young boys, not Amjad Sabri qawwal and Saifuddin qawwal. I still cannot believe he is no more,” says Sabri’s friend, Saifuddin Qawwal, still shaken weeks after his death.
Waves of fear after Amjad Sabri’s murder in broad daylight have reverberated 9 kilometer south from the late qawwal’s residence in Liaquatabad to Qawwal Gali, the historic neighbourhood in Karachi where the clans of the famous Qawwal Bachay reside. Yet, these custodians of the Qaul refuse to shift to more affluent or safer residential localities of the city. “This is not just our area. It is our tradition. Our lifestyle.”
Karachi’s Qawwal Gali is the collective name given to a group of five streets, named after five renowned Qawwals: Munshi Raziuddin Qawwal, Moeen Niyazi Qawwal, Kallan Khan Qawwal, Jaafar Hussain Nizami Qawwal and Bahauddin Qawwal. Between 80 to a 100 families of qawwals reside in these streets near the Shoe Market area. They safeguard a tradition that travels back to almost 800 years, when their ancestor Miyan Saamat learnt this spiritual musical art form from Hazrat Ameer Khusro, the 13th century Sufi musician, poet and scholar. Popularised versions of the unforgettable and powerful poetry of Ameer Khusro, like “Chaap tilak sub cheen” and “Mun kunto maula”, have trickled down to Pakistani masses, who get a feel of spirituality through these renditions. But the hub of the original, undiluted art is the Qawwal Gali. These families have been guarding these compositions over the centuries, and their entire lifestyles are moulded to fulfill the responsibility of keeping alive a tradition they see as almost sacred.
While Sabri was not a Qawwal Bacha, a shared tradition and profession has led to lasting bonds between all networks of Karachi’s qawwals. In the wake of his death, all of them, too, are overcast by fear. The qawwal Gali in downtown Karachi, then, is ironically the one place that they feel safe in. “It is our sanctuary. Fear is nothing new to us. Staying here is our only survival,” says Saifuddin, who is an important member of the Najmuddin Saifuddin Qawwal Brothers ensemble.
When asked if he is ever tempted to leave this profession or Qawwal Gali, Toqeer’s answer is a vehement no. “This profession is our recognition; we must protect the tradition our ancestors left us with. I started learning this art at the age of seven.”

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The fear factor is not just about safety; they also fear their younger generation will get lost in the contemporary world and lose out on this art they see as a divine gift. Their offspring, with increasing exposure to the outside world, do express the desire to move out towards better areas. “But we explain to them how important it is for us to stay here,” says Saifuddin.
“Our community has a lot of unity. Our joys and sorrows are shared. There are certain cultural traditions we live by. We would not survive elsewhere and neither would our art,” says Rauf Saami, the eldest son of Ustad Naseeruddin Saami, and part of the Saami Brothers ensemble of Qawwals.
Rauf does not believe in coercing his children into this profession, but wishes that this ilm (knowledge) does not die out. “But times have changed. I’m realistic.”
Qawwal-Gali-004
The work of qawwals is very nocturnal in nature. “Our work is at night. We leave home early evening and return around twilight. The more posh parts of Karachi are not alive during night time. Can you imagine what neighbours of Karachi’s affluent parts would think if 12 men are entering a house every day at 4am?” says Saifuddin.
The Qawwal Gali does not go to sleep. Its residents sleep during the mornings and are up and about in the evenings. The chai dhabas never close. The riyaz (musical practice) never stops. The hustle and bustle never dies out.
“While we are away, whether for performances at night or during our frequent travels outside Karachi, we are at peace that our families are safe. Here, everyone watches out for each other’s families, despite professional rivalry.”
Rauf echoes that sentiment. “We don’t only look out for other qawwals but also for our supporting members of the ensembles. We are there for each other whenever we need each other.”
The qawwali business is seasonal in nature, and the flow of money can be ad hoc. The community also supports each other in lean times when the earning is limited. In such times, they pay each other’s hospital bills and children’s school fee.
The women of Qawwal Gali are the biggest support for their men. “The women of our households do not have any complaints. They understand the demands of our profession,” says the 26 years old Toqeer Ahmed, who belongs to the Khurja Gharana’s Nohar Bani branch. Their ancestral lineage are one of the first things they learn, but their women’s names are not registered in those lists, neither are they allowed to sing. Till today, a majority of the qawwals marry within their families.
“My nikah is to be held soon,” shares Toqeer with a smile. The match was fixed within his family, “but my choice was also considered. This is a big decision. How can it be done without my choice?”
When asked if he is ever tempted to leave this profession or Qawwal Gali, Toqeer’s answer is a vehement no. “This profession is our recognition; we must protect the tradition our ancestors left us with. I started learning this art at the age of seven.”
In Toqeer’s opinion, if the Qawwals try their hand at any other profession, it would take them hundreds of years to make a mark.
“Why should we lose out on the honour and respect this profession has given me? And as for the Qawwal Gali, it is the only place in the world I feel I am me. It is my identity.”
In true Qawwal Gali-esque style, Saifuddin sums it up by reciting this couplet in Urdu:
Apnay markaz se agar door nikal jaao ge
Khaak ho jaao ge, afsaanon mein dhall jaao ge…
(If you wander away from your pivot,
You will become nothing but ashes, nothing will remain of you but tales and fables)

A common man’s obituary: The saviour of Chawkandi tombs

Published: January 21, 2016
http://tribune.com.pk/story/1031397/a-common-mans-obituary-the-saviour-of-chawkandi-tombs/
Ali Dino Mallah wanted to take this photograph against the backdrop of the oil tankers, hoping the authorities would remove them from the vicinity. PHOTOS: EXPRESS

Ali Dino Mallah wanted to take this photograph against the backdrop of the oil tankers, hoping the authorities would remove them from the vicinity. PHOTOS: EXPRESS

KARACHI: “Big money, big tomb. Small money, small tomb. No money no tomb.”

Ali Dino Mallah, the caretaker of the Chawkandi tombs on the outskirts of Karachi, uttered these words in a thick Sindhi accent in an attempt to share the few sentences of English that he had mastered over the decades. I met him in December last year, a week before he died.

Sporting an ajrak wrapped as a turban and an oversized waistcoat worn over a sweater and shalwar kameez, Ali Dino appeared much older than what I remembered of him from our last meeting more than two years ago.

He walked around the ornately carved graves inside the Chawkandi cemetery, shooing away potential vandals with his walking stick. He would stop frequently to catch his breath and take out the tiniest possible water bottle from a gigantic but otherwise empty pocket to take measured sips, a habit he said he had learnt by observing foreigners who visited the cemetery.

“I have a pacemaker in my heart you see,” he explained. “Do you want me to request people to help with your treatment or write about it?” I had asked after he told me that his family had spent thousands on his treatment even at the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD), a government-run facility that supposedly treats the poor free of charge. “Don’t waste words writing about my illness. I don’t have much time left,” he told me, before urging me to write about what really mattered to him. “Write about these tombs. Please. Maybe someone will read it and expedite the restoration.”

Exploring Sindh: King of the road

Even if his faith in the restoration work was far-fetched, Ali Dino was right when he said he did not have much time left. He died on December 29 on his way to the hospital sitting behind a relative on a motorcycle. “He was the heart of Chawkandi. I have nothing left now,” wept his widow, Rehmat Bibi. The family, comprising his widow and six children, continues to live in the small quarters adjacent to the graveyard and are in need of financial help. “He was like an angel and died an easy death. Like an angel was taken away.”

The old caretaker of the tombs hailed from Khairpur district in Sindh and was a common man. This is a common man’s obituary. And the obituary of a historic, priceless heritage site of the province of Sindh that is crumbling away.

Intricately carved sandstone tombs that are masterpieces of funerary art and rich in symbolism are now mostly half broken. Blocks and bits of these tombs have been stolen by vandals over the years, and now grace the drawing rooms of affluent art collectors in Pakistan and abroad, Ali Dino had shared.

“The commissioner [Shoaib Siddiqui] had promised me that tankers would be removed from this area, security walls would be erected around the graveyard and pickets would be established,” Ali Dino recalled his conversation with the commissioner before he got distracted by the camera. “Listen, take my photo with these oil tankers in the background. And choose an angle smartly. If there is harsh sunlight in the background, the photograph will not come out well,” he said.

After more than 30 years of service as a guide and caretaker of these tombs, Ali Dino had posed with thousands of visitors to know that the play of shadow and light was key to good photography, without ever holding a decent camera in his hands. Many of these visitors were high-ranking government officials and bureaucrats who had given hope to the old man that one day, this spectacular heritage site would get the attention it deserves.  Soon after we met, the commissioner of Karachi was transferred from the post. Perhaps, his replacement will be able to remove the gravel, sand, trucks and tankers, unwanted encroachments, and put a stop to illegal burial in the centuries-old graveyard.

Ali Dino, the man who spent his life trying to safeguard our heritage and tell us tales hidden in the carvings on those tombs, was buried in the same graveyard, among the very tombs he spent his life looking after. The restoration and protection of Chawkandi tombs should be considered a dying man’s last wish. If fulfilled, he will rest in peace.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2016.

After the heatwave: Invisible helpers continue to take care of victims’ families

Published: July 14, 2015
Volunteers hand out water bottles and juice to people outside Indus Hospital during the recent heatwave that gripped the metropolis. Over 1,200 people died of heatstroke in the city. PHOTO: FILE

Volunteers hand out water bottles and juice to people outside Indus Hospital during the recent heatwave that gripped the metropolis. Over 1,200 people died of heatstroke in the city. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: A few weeks ago, Imran’s mother and others like her were making headlines. Today, they have been forgotten by all except their loved ones. Officially, over 1,200 people lost their lives to the brutal heatwave that gripped Karachi. Mumtaz Bibi, Imran’s mother, was one of these victims, reduced to a mere statistic.

“We live in tiny houses with tin roofs that become cauldrons in the summer,” explains Imran, who sells fabric and lives with three siblings in their house in Korangi. “My mother could not take the heat. We rushed her to Jinnah hospital, where she succumbed to the heatstroke five days later.”

Read: The need to acknowledge climate change

The sole help Imran and his family have received has been from a group of Karachiites who mobilised volunteers and raised funds to help the heatwave victims, both in terms of relief during those sweltering days and sustained efforts to help the families of the deceased later.

Team Karachi, as it is called, was formed at the time of the earthquake in 2005. We rush to help whenever there is a disaster,” says Muhammad Zahid, head of the Shariah compliance department of Pak-Qatar Family Takaful Limited, and one of the most active members of the group.

Read: Karachi heatwave: NEPRA faults K-Electric for deaths

In the absence of any support from the government, 35 families of heatwave victims have so far been given grants of Rs30,000 to Rs50,000 with the help of donations from concerned Karachiites, Zahid discloses.

“The government and some philanthropists announced compensation but the questions of how much, when and how remain unanswered,” Team Karachi’s Saqib Zeeshan, the head of marketing at the Indus Hospital, says wryly. “It is always the people who step forward to help. I don’t have the words to describe how many people volunteered, donated and raised funds.”

However, while the support from Team Karachi has given temporary relief to the families of the heatwave victims, the future looks less promising for them.

“My father-in-law had just gone out to sell balloons as usual. He came back home, complaining about feeling hot, and later developed fever. We rushed him to the hospital, but he passed away,” weeps Farida, who lives in Yusuf Goth. Although she is grateful for the grant from Team Karachi, she says that a large chunk of that money was spent on his funeral rites. The rest was spent in paying off loans the family took at the time. “My children have no new clothes for Eid. We don’t even have enough money for a Fateha for the departed soul.”

Read: Lessons from the heat wave

Similarly, 54-years-old Suleman, a peon at a government office, left behind a widow and three children when he succumbed to the heat. “His eldest son is just 15. His widow should get compensation and his pension as a government employee,” reasons Sajid, his nephew. “But everyone says this will not be possible without a bribe of at least Rs100,000. Where will a 15-year-old boy get that sort of money?”

Zeeshan narrates that the OPDs at Indus Hospital were converted into emergency camps for the heatwave victims, with all of the hospital’s doctors deployed there on an ad hoc basis. “In four days, we treated around 2,200 patients. Handling them and keeping them hydrated was a tough task, and volunteer organisations helped us immensely,” he says, adding that people were so eager to help that the hospital decided to let them distribute supplies themselves.

Efforts have been made so that lives can be saved if a similar catastrophe hits the city in the future, with attention directed to smaller health facilities and hospitals that are usually neglected. At Landhi General Hospital, for example, Team Karachi has helped install industrial exhaust fans to cool down the emergency wards. The water and sewage lines that were mixed near the hospital have also been separated and water filters installed to provide cold water.

Read: Heat is on: Similar heatwave may scorch Pakistan in 2016

Such efforts need to continue. After all, as Zeeshan points out, “It is always only the people who step up and offer help.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2015.

One month later: Remembering the drowned

Published: September 5, 2014

Sixteen-year-old Omar Zaib was one of the 40 who drowned at Seaview on July 30. For his family, the pain is still fresh, even though the tragedy is no longer in the news. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

Sixteen-year-old Omar Zaib was one of the 40 who drowned at Seaview on July 30. For his family, the pain is still fresh, even though the tragedy is no longer in the news. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESSSixteen-year-old Omar Zaib was one of the 40 who drowned at Seaview on July 30. For his family, the pain is still fresh, even though the tragedy is no longer in the news. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS
KARACHI: He left home to celebrate Eidul Fitr with five of his friends. Three of them never came back.

Sixteen-year-old Omar Zaib was one of the 40 who drowned at Seaview on July 30. For his family, the pain is still fresh, even though the tragedy is no longer in the news.

“He was very talented and used to work as a skilled helper for jewellers to help support our family,” says Omar’s grieving brother Fazal Kareem, asking despairingly, “How do you console a mother who has lost a young son?”

The police are initially unwilling to share the list of the names and ages of those who drowned. But a look at this list makes the tragedy hit the reader harder. Ayaz, 13, son of Sawali Khan. Amir, son of Umar Illahi, aged 15. Fourteen-year-old Ejaz Ahmed, son of Ali Zaman. A mere glance shows you who would flock to the turbulent seas even in the high tide of the monsoon season. They were all between 13 to 27 years old. They were all young men. They were residents of Sohrab Goth, Baldia Town, Orangi Town and Bhains Colony.

https://i0.wp.com/i1.tribune.com.pk/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/seaview-memorial-drown-drowning-marker-graves-photo-athar-khan.jpg

With few options for entertainment for the recreation-starved public, the trend of taking to the sea will continue. “We see high risk-taking behaviour in this age group, because they have excess energy and not many responsibilities,” says clinical psychologist Sarah Jafry, who works with adolescents at War Against Rape. “If we cannot provide them with healthy outlets, seeking thrills even at the risk of life will continue, and even after seeing bad examples, young men will not be able to resist the urge.”

While Karachi commissioner Shoaib Siddiqui says that most of the beach has now been reopened, the public trying to visit it says otherwise. Anwar Bhutto, the duty officer at Darakhshan Police Station, confirms that Section 144 had been imposed for 90 days and the beach remains off-limits. Siddiqui, however, maintains that only the area behind Dolmen Mall is closed. “This is because it is reclaimed land and we have suspicions about dredging and depression in that area,” he says, adding that there should be evaluations about how construction near the beach might enhance risks.

Most of the bodies of the drowned were found on the same day, but it took three days to recover Omar’s body. “We kept trying to console and pacify the relatives until the bodies were found,” says Anwar Kazmi of the Edhi Foundation. “Some of them were recovered from distant areas such as Manora and Keamari.”

Omar’s family, and the families of the others who drowned, still await monetary compensation. Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah promised them Rs0.2 million, while Malik Riaz pledged Rs1 million.

“I cannot comment on why Riaz has not given the money he promised,” says Siddiqui. “As for the sum promised by the CM, the cases have been sent to the Relief Commissioner and hopefully the families will get the money soon.” He added that they should call 1299 to follow up on it.

“We have always honoured our social welfare commitments,” says Bahria Town’s marketing manager Nida Zahoor, when asked about Riaz’s pledge. “We are only waiting for the list of the deceased from the Sindh Governor.”

Meanwhile, Kareem, whose family is from Buner in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and now resides in the Boulton Market area, has only this to say: “We are poor people. We could use that money to marry off our sisters. But we have no hope.”

Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2014.

Worries pile up as waste grows in Pakistan

Pakistan generates about 20 million tonnes of solid waste annually, and its dumps have become a hub for child labour.

 http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/08/solid-waste-pakistan-karachi-2014867512833362.html
Last updated: 11 Aug 2014 

Some four million children, die each year from waste-related diseases in Pakistan [EPA]
Karachi, Pakistan – In the economic hub of Karachi, Ali, an 11-year-old child, awakens at dawn while the rest of his family sleeps next to burners and barrels that will be used to disintegrate metal waste.

The barrels contain acid, and wires and circuits will be burned in the open air, releasing harmful emissions. But Ali’s impoverished family needs whatever money they can get from this dirty business.

Muhammad Ishaq, 12, is another child hostage to the rubbish he collects for a scrap dealer. In return, the scrap-dealer gives his parents fixed Rs 2500 ($25) a month.

“My shed broke in the recent rains. Where will I live now?” is his recurrent concern, as he refers to the shed made also of, ironically, pieces of wood and cardboard he finds in the trash.

These children get food and clothes from NGOs or common people… They eat at charities and bathe in mosques. They are very susceptible to scabies and infected wounds. They suffer from diarrhoea all year round.

– Rana Asif, Founder of Initiator Human Development Foundation

A waste of a nation

Both Ishaq and Ali are among thousands of Pakistani children who work as scavengers, combing through piles of rubbish for a daily pay that maxes out at about $2.

Besides being out of school, these children face severe health hazards from the unsafe handling of waste.

“These children get food and clothes from NGOs or common people… They eat at charities and bathe in mosques. They are very susceptible to scabies and infected wounds. They suffer from diarrhoea all year round,” said Rana Asif, Founder of Initiator Human Development Foundation, that works for the welfare of street children.

Copper remains the most lucrative find for these boys. It is sold at Rs 500 ($5) a kilo, and aluminium at Rs 100 ($1) a kilo, and all of this is found in electronic waste.

These children – 95 percent of whom are male – are often found at Karachi’s biggest markets for e-waste in the Shershah, Lines Area and Regal neighbourhoods.

“We find computer monitors, and buyers buy them from us for a pittance, but sell it for much more. We get nothing,” said Yaargul Khan, 14, older brother of Ishaq.

Even as child labour remains rampant in Pakistan, almost 5.2 million people; including four million children, die each year from waste-related diseases in Pakistan.

A report by Triple Bottom-Line found that globally, many people did not know their old computers and televisions were shipped to countries such as China, India and Pakistan for “recycling”.

Manually dismantling electronic devices comes with a slew of health hazards, including exposure to toxic substances called furans and dioxins.

Burning these materials is even worse: A burning computer releases dioxins, lead, chromium and other toxic substances. Ali has no choice in the matter, and no gear to protect him from the fumes.

Pakistan generates about 20 million tonnes of solid waste annually, according to the country’s Environment Ministry, and that number is growing by about 2.4 percent each year. The waste management methods in Pakistan, however, remain poor.

The country’s most populous city, Karachi, generates an estimated 9,000 tonnes of waste daily, and garbage collectors cannot keep up.


Recycling is not widely practiced, and in many urban areas, dumping and trash burning are daily occurrences.

Asif Farooqi, the CEO of Waste Busters, a Pakistani waste management and recycling firm, says a big part of the problem is improper waste collection.

His team goes door-to-door collecting garbage bags – in Lahore alone, the company services 70,000 homes – and repurposes the contents. From inorganic trash, Waste Busters derives a form of fuel; from organic waste, they create compost.

Sadly, no organised or satisfactory system of solid waste management has been developed till now. The facilities are much too few compared to the waste generated.    

– Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui ,Commissioner of Karachi

“What we need from people is to stop open dumping and use garbage bags,” Farooqi told Al Jazeera. “And from the government all we need is administrative support. They should at least not create hurdles for us.”

Shifting the blame

While the administrator for the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), Rauf Akhtar Farooqui said the solid waste management is the responsibility of the District Municipal Corporations and not of KMC, the Commissioner of Karachi, Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui told Al Jazeera that it was, in fact, very much the responsibility of KMC.

“Sadly, no organised or satisfactory system of solid waste management has been developed till now,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The facilities are much too few compared to the waste generated.”

Siddiqui expressed hope that things will get better as a result of the recent formation of the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board.

“This applies to e-waste management as well,” he said.

In neighbouring Punjab province, where over half of Pakistan’s population lives, the Environment Protection Department openly acknowledges the shortfalls, stating on its website: “Environmental legislation is still not well developed in Pakistan, especially in comparison to the developed world. For example, there are no National Quality Standards for [solid waste management].”

Still some hope

The situation has created openings for environmental organisations such as Gul Bahao, which literally builds homes out of rubbish, using materials such as bubble wrap and thermocol.

“Attitudes are changing,” Gul Bahao’s Nargis Latif told Al Jazeera.

“Youth have joined hands with us. Students help us collect funds for this. I am very hopeful.”

Even as the south Asian giant struggles to manage its solid waste, its children continue to scavenge trash for petty income at the cost of their childhood, health and education.

Names of some children have been changed to protect their identity.

Follow Farahnaz Zahidi on Twitter: @FarahnazZahidi

Karachi’s heritage: Qawwal gali

5 lanes in Karachi, 800 years of history.

In a cup-sized chai dhaba, off a constantly flowing street near Shoe Market in inner Karachi, a deal is taking place. Agents of event organisers are talking to young men who have barely grown facial hair. These are the sons of the Qawwal bachchay, men who shoulder the task of taking forth a centuries’ old tradition.

This year the suffocating Karachi summer has coincided with the Islamic calendar months of Rajab and Sha’ban, which are peak season for the Qawwals. Rates and dates are being decided. Diaries are being feverishly filled and numbers are being exchanged on inexpensive worn-out cell phones. Paans pass from hand to hand in the spirit of sharing. So too are lines of spiritual poetry, effortlessly woven into the negotiations, for after all, this is part of creating amaahol or ambiance.

The paan-and-poetry infused sweet-talking is a particular form of marketing. The young Qawwals are vying for the prominent programmes and anxiously keeping an eye on who will be signed up the most. Name-dropping ropes in ancestors long dead who were in some way connected to the man who started it all: Hazrat Ameer Khusro. Also making an appearance in the conversation are celebrities and politicians who are the shaagird or students of the great Ustaads. It is also a source of pride that the artists here can say they have performed at Ajmer Shareef in India.

This is Karachi’s Qawwal Gali or lane, which actually refers to a neighbourhood of five streets. They are named after five of the most celebrated Qawwals: Munshi Raziuddin Qawwal, Moeen Niyazi Qawwal, Kallan Khan Qawwal, Jaafar Hussain Nizami Qawwal and Bahauddin Qawwal.

Its residents are the Qawwals who refuse to let this art form die. “That is what we want to do,” says Toqeer Ahmed, who is in his 20s and belongs to the Khurja Gharana’s Nohar Bani branch of classical singers. “I know of no one in my community who wants to leave this art. This is what I was created for.”

Thus, the Qawwal bachchay, as they proudly refer to themselves, fiercely guard their heritage. Indeed, conversation in Qawwal Gali always goes back 800 years. These families have been celebrities for centuries. They may physically live in the present, but live in the grip of a glorious past. Names of their ancestors are medals that they wear every day of their lives. Each family claims to be the gharana and most of them know their family shajra or tree by heart.

Housing in Qawwal Gali. PHOTOS: FAISAL SAYANI

Most of them moved here in the 1950s and 1960s from India. Every second person in this galiclaims to belong to an authentic gharana or household. Research shows that not all of them belong to the original 12 families, but have learnt the art from them. The mishmash of interconnected lineages and where they inherited the musical art form of the Qaul, all seem to lead back to Hazrat Ameer Khusro. The father of Qawwali, as he is often called, was a 13thCentury Sufi musician, poet and scholar and a spiritual disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Qawwali, originating from the word Qaul or the uttered word was a form of expressing religious reverence. “Some 805 years ago, our ancestor Miyan Saamat learnt this musical art from Hazrat Ameer Khusro,” explains Saifuddin Qawwal, who is part of the Najmuddin Saifuddin Qawwal Brothers ensemble. “Twelve young Qawwals were trained by Hazrat Ameer Khusro. The original Qawwal bachchay are descendants of those 12.”

Qawwal Gali. PHOTOS: FAISAL SAYANI

Qawwal Gali is home to many families but according to Saifuddin, those who are the Qawwal bachcha gharanas are about five to six. Fareed Ayaz, the Saami brothers, Najmuddin Saifuddin brothers, Abdullah Niyazi, Subhan Nizami are the main names, he says. When asked how one can differentiate between the gharanas and Qawwals in general, he explains that it all boils down to lineage. “This heritage of all the genuine gharanas connects to our ancestor Tanras Khan; his time was about 134 years ago.”

As can be expected with the passage of such time the number of original families has changed as has the type of music performed. The Qawwali you will hear today is a much diluted version of the original shudh Qawwali. The new synthetic versions merely entertain or provide a quick spiritual fix and lack the original reverence and deliberation that was once a pre-requisite. According to Saifuddin, the modern audiences are mainly responsible for this sea change. “We give what they demand,” he says. “I am not satisfied with where Qawwali is going today; this is not what our ancestors introduced,” he adds. “Innovations are taking it to a point where we are losing the original Sama that was sung. Magar such baat hai, pait kee khaatir karna parta hai. The truth is that we have to do this to earn a living. Even those of us who are trained to sing the authentic Qawwali have begun innovating for commercial reasons.” He gives the example of his family’s Hamza Akram to argue that changes are still being seen as acceptable as long as they keep the art within the framework of original teachings.

Some of the activities in Qawwal Gali. PHOTOS: FAISAL SAYANI

Saifuddin’s assertion that audiences are to blame is generally shared. But qawwals such as Rauf Saami, the eldest son of the living legend Ustad Naseeruddin Saami, react differently to this reality. “We have to bring up the taste of listeners once again, and sensitise them to better listening,” he says as he believes that true Qawwali is an acquired taste. The responsibility of carrying forward and stemming the tide of degeneration of the art form is acutely felt. It is a collective responsibility, as Rauf Saami’s use of the pronoun ‘we’ indicates.

The sense of community runs parallel to the pride in heritage. Qawwal bachchay cannot and do not lead solitary lives or perform individually. They need each other, not just to provide the rhythmic background clapping and chorus, but also for moral support. And even if one member of a troupe is the star during a performance, the limelight will be shared. Qawwal bachchay survive in numbers, and they know it.

“Our survival is in community existence. We perform in packs,” says Rauf Saami.

Azeem, son of Ustad Naseeruddin Saami, with a taanpura. PHOTOS: FAISAL SAYANI

The Saami Brothers belong to one of the most renowned and authentic Qawwal bachchagharanas that is recognised for its repertoires, tans and alaaps. Rauf is the grandson of the world renowned Munshi Raziuddin Qawwal after whom a street is named here. Their ancestral house in Qawwal Gali has witnessed many changes. The architecture of the house is reminiscent of styles found in old Peshawar or inner Lahore. Other homes in the neighbourhood are located in apartment buildings typical of the over-crowded Saddar area in Karachi. The ground floors of each building are generally taken up by shops for paan, chai and groceries. As the Qawwals stand around and talk in the street, the women peek from balconies with shy smiles. Washed clothes hang out to dry on every balcony.

“Our women don’t sing. Just like women cannot enter a mosque, they are not allowed to sing Qawwali,” explains Saifuddin. “Our older women sometimes sing within the four walls of our house; but they should only sing tunes that are created by our family or ancestors.” The Qawwal bachchay do not marry outside the community either: “No one else will understand our sensibilities and lifestyle.” The young Toqeer sheepishly nods in agreement. “I will marry only within my community,” he adds. “Otherwise the girl will not be able to adjust to my family.”

A chai dhaba near Shoe Market in inner Karachi. PHOTOS: FAISAL SAYANI

This sense of protectiveness of a culture is understandable. As the epicenter of a complex art form, Qawwal Gali has become a hub of eager laymen who have a burning desire to learn the art, and enter the coveted space by apprenticing as shaagirds of the Ustaads. The sons who have learnt the techniques passed down for centuries become the teachers of these students across Karachi. They set off each day on their motorcycles to give “tuitions” after a late afternoon meal, which is breakfast for them, owing to a nocturnal lifestyle. But once in a while, a chosen student with potential will get a chance to visit the main Ustaad, usually the father or an uncle of the juniors, at their home in Qawwal Gali. The hierarchies here are well-defined.

The Qawwals are territorial; their turf consists of their students and fan base. They are fiercely competitive and will try and outdo the others on stage as well as in claims of authenticity. “Professional jealousy does exist among us,” concurs Saifuddin. “Like in a market if there are shops of many cloth-sellers, each will try and attract the customer.” The neighbourhood’s curiosity over a new visitor to one family is ample proof of this.

Ustad Ghulam Khusro Khan of the Nohar Bani family claims that to classify as a truegharana, one must have a grip of the 12 genres of classical singing. This is the criterion:DhurpatSaadhraHoriTirwatChatranTaranaTappaKhayalChannParbandSargam,Ba Maani Sargam — and one must know them all. “Those who don’t are just those who pretend to be genuine,” he says. Breadth of knowledge of the art form and its trajectory are also important markers of authenticity. He reels off the names of his ancestors, of festivals they have been invited to and of celebrities who are his students. Tough rivalry with other Qawwals and a feeling of being under-appreciated on television has left Ghulam Khusro bitter. The competition here is cut-throat.

Yet, as a community, they stand by each other in times of trial. The men travel extensively to perform worldwide, especially with the upsurge in global interest for Qawwali in the last decade or so. In their absence, the other men of the community are there to see that families are well protected.

Patrons of this devotional form of music world over reward Qawwal bachchay generously. Hence, most of them can afford to live in better, less crowded and cleaner localities but choose not to. Saifuddin explains it simply: “This is Karachi’s safest area. This part of the city never closes. We sit out here in the street all night. Our people are here. Why would we go anywhere from here?”

Farahnaz Zahidi heads the Features desk at The Express Tribune. She tweets @FarahnazZahidi 

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 29th,  2014.