KARACHI: On the surface, there seems to be little relationship between an artist and a writer’s work and someone who devoted her life for city development or dealing with land and water mafias. But all this made sense during an afternoon at a seminar titled ‘In Memory of Perween Rahman: Readings from the Urbanscape’, as the literati gathered to commemorate Rahman’s work and her readiness to own everything about urban living, including music and poetry.
The seminar was held at Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (Szabist). Dramatic readings from the works of poet Assad Muhammad Khan and Zeeshan Sahil were done by theatre group Qissa Farosh. Sahil’s short writings about Karachi’s violence, car crashes and footpath dwellers spoke the truth of Karachi’s simultaneously existing richness and strangeness.
For instance, in Sahil’s writing titled ‘Dehshatgard Shaair’ [terrorist poet], he says ‘Khwaabon kay bandooq le ker hawayi firing shuru kerdete hain” [They begin aerial firing through guns of dreams], followed by ‘Khwaabon kay khali kartoos kisi ko nazar nahi atay’ [No one can see the empty cartridges of dreams]. Another impactful reading of Sahil’s work was Mujrim [Criminal], which cast a certain character as the culprit. “We may turn into stones if we look towards it,” Qissah Farosh group member read out the original Urdu text. “Gradually, we are turning our cities into hell and, ourselves, into devils.”
A video regarding the works of Rahman, especially about her concern for Karachi’s sea, was played. “There is no importance of the sea or its living inhabitants,” said her video-recorded message. “Everything that belongs to Karachi is ready for a sell-out.” Rahman further pointed out in the video that to call something development, one has to know if the common people, under whose name the development is being carried out, call it a development.
With particular reference to Boat Basin and its reclamation by city authorities, she was heard rebuking the move and urging the authorities to ‘let Karachi be Karachi’ and not follow the model of Dubai or Singapore. “A development is such that every person is free to create his own environment,” she said.
Talking about the link between Rahman, Sahil and Khan’s work, editor Ajmal Kamal said that they all complement one another. “You may get your drinking water from outside but the air that you breathe is what you share with other people of the city,” he said. Akmal was of the opinion that defining one’s relationship with the city is as important as breathing. “Unless people don’t get together and define their role with the city, we will be in a perpetual state of disaster.”
When moderator, author and Rahman’s sister Aquila Ismail raised a question on using the city as a literary tool, poet Afzal Ahmed cited an example from his stay in Beirut. “There were no gardens and parks in Beirut,” he said. “The conditions were the same as we see in Karachi. Immense desolation could be found among the people.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2015.