Light Up, Karachi

Karachi Scribbles III

Strings of tiny lights canopied over the garden, pink and yellow paper lanterns swayed in a light breeze, and polka-dot balloons nodded in the air.

Bright colors exploded on canvasses and captured in frames, stuck up on wooden boards with clotheslines pins, or set stark against white borders, kaleidoscopes of imagination articulated on paper, drawn with charcoal and saturated with blues, yellows, pinks and violets.

Postcards of Karachi, snapshots of imaginary women, the neon colors of truck art and the faded photographs of forgotten city buildings – it was lovely to be in the midst of it all.

Cities across the world burst into action as soon as winter packs up her bags and starts her trek back up to the mountains – here in Karachi, winter is like a diva that creates too much fuss before coming and only stops by for a perfunctory peck on the cheek. Here in Karachi, we call it winter when we don’t need to turn on the ACs, where we take out shawls because we own them but then have to wear slippery thin shirts so that it’s comfortable to drape them around ourselves.

The weather these days is beautiful at night, pleasantly cool, and every now and then there’s the balmy breeze that Karachiites take so much pride in you’d think they had something to do with its creation. It’s the perfect time really to have a Creative Karachi festival, a two-day event at the French cultural center bringing art, music, drama, and gol guppas to the public.

The center is fairly small but lovely, with winding paths and dusty trees, a rooftop and a courtyard. When you first walk in, it smacks of elitism – you hear all accents except your local ones, toddlers are wearing jeans that fit them better than any pair of jeans ever fit me, the blow-dried hair, the tank tops, the utter lack of spoken Urdu, the stereotypical ‘Western’ feel that makes me feel anxious because we don’t really live in the West and the disparity between the world outside the four walls and this one is too jarring.

Once you get over the ‘I’m surrounded by rich people’ feeling (I don’t really have anything against rich people, I mean I love wearing jeans and I even dream in English so I can scarcely crib about that. It must be a hidden jealousy caused by the fact that I don’t look good in red lipstick and my shirt wasn’t sleeveless), once you get over that, the entire ambience of the evening surrounds you in the sweetest of hugs. It’s one of those rare happy feelings that lasts beyond one moment and fills you up from the lightness in the heart to a silly smile on the face and you can just walk around, listening to good music.

I love fairy lights and as the evening darkened into night, they lit up the trees and stalls like fireflies winding around trunks and twines, beautiful, magical, a garden of wonders where you could listen to The Shins, and The Verve, Pink Floyd, and Paul McCartney, and even some techno beats snuck in by the cute, bespectacled DJ who was enjoying his selection so much that you would’ve been content to listen even if he were playing Justin Bieber.

Then there were the kids, ranging from all sizes between XS to L, toddling around the place, the polka-dotted ladybird balloons tied around their wrists and finger puppets in their hands. A smattering of them were losing it out on the floor near the DJ. There was just enough marble floor for them to run from one end to the other, head bashing, sliding, skidding, rock stars in the making till they would inevitably hit their head on the floor and then burst into tears.

There were a little boy with silky hair curling at the nape of his neck, smiling appreciatively at the musicians as he climbed up the steps to the stage and walked around amidst the instruments. A similar-sized girl joined him and they just hung out up there, swinging lightly to the music.

Kids climbing up to mark their stake on stage is a uniquely Pakistani phenomena, it doesn’t matter if it’s a wedding or a concert, if children can access it, they are going to make it to the top. I secretly love the whole drama: the stealth of the kids as they make their way up, the few minutes of unadulterated joy as they rush around madly, pulling off flowers or tangling wires, muddy footprints all over, then the battle and the eventual sad demise of their fun as they are dragged off by accursed adults.

Which is what happened to these two young-uns. It was an opening band so the toddlers got at least a few minutes of fame but as the musicians wound up their song, a red-shirted organizer strode across and with gentle but firm hands, started to herd the boy off stage. He obviously underestimated the kid though, who dug his heels in like a stubborn horse and the organizer toed the line between management and child abuse on stage. Finally the parents/caretakers arrived and after a little haggling and bartering, the children were finally carried off. 

The fair had a lovely family feel to it, kids helping their parents sell fish and chips, or stacking sauce bottles to the side, running after a forgetful customer with their change, slightly bemused adults standing in the midst of four or five children running around them, and the flowery picnic mats being sold at the venue and then spread out on the ground so cupcakes could be eaten in peace.

There was a concert stage at one end of the area and the first evening, we listened to a band called Chand Taara Orchestra, and the next a couple of songs by Sounds of Kolachi. The former was very good but the latter just blew me away.

Sounds of Kolachi featured guitars, a sitar, a violin, drums and what looked like a cross between a sitar and a violin and very good vocals. The music was beautiful, the harmony of so many different instruments blending in, augmenting one another, carrying on an unending rhythm that reverberated in my heart, bringing the heartbeat in synch with it. The first song by Sounds of Koloachi carried into the night, a rising crescendo that ran like goose bumps up my arms and down my back, all the instruments playing together like they had one musician, beautiful, fierce, and so powerful we wanted it to never stop. They did stop though and the audience burst into applause.

I wish there could be more festivals like these, open to an even greater audience, a chance for all of us living in Karachi to remember what an amazing city it is, with its multitude of talents and our proverbial wind.

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