Karachi’s Diwalis Are Getting Quieter By The Year, And Here’s Why

Buzzfeed: November 17, 2015

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It’s easy to forget that it’s Diwali here in Karachi. On Wednesday evening at the Shri Laxmi Narayan Mandir, the temple’s caretaker Kailash Wishram has just returned from work.

“It was not a holiday for us today and nor will I get the day off tomorrow,” he explains. “I work with a lawyer and I asked him if I could leave early as I had to finish shopping for my kids.”

His two daughters, aged two and four, are dressed identically in lettered baseball jackets. They’re waiting for their father to take them out for ice-cream.

On the floor near the puja ghar, plates of coloured rice have been placed next to a deg of homemade halva. Kailash’s wife fixes the goddess Laxmi’s crown and adjusts golden tinsel draped on the idol.

“Out!” she says, snapping her fingers towards the door. “We aren’t ready yet.”

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Nobody Home: The Indian government’s Karachi properties

The Caravan: June 2015

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On 13 April, I finally managed to get through to Tasnim Aslam, the spokesperson for Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs. I had called to inquire about three properties I had seen in Karachi, all surrounded by barbed wire-topped walls bearing the same warning painted in bright red: “This property is owned by Government of India. Trespassers will be prosecuted.” The moment I was done asking my question, the line was disconnected.

I called Aslam back. “There must have been some problem with the connection,” I said. No, she replied. “If you needed to ask me this, you should have SMS-ed me.” I explained that I had several questions, and asked if I could email her instead. “If you wanted to email me, you should have talked to my staff in the first place,” she said. She hung up again.

My next call was to Arif Belgaumi, an architect who works extensively on urban development in Karachi. “I’m really not old enough to remember how long these Indian properties have been around,” he told me. He pointed me to Arif Hasan, another architect and a known history buff. “Call him,” he said. “He’s older than the hills.”

I called Hasan, and asked about the properties for the third time that day. “There’s no such thing as the Indian government’s properties in Karachi,” he said. But there are—I’d seen three such places already, and the signs on their walls, I insisted. I asked Hasan if I could email him a photograph of one of the properties. “You can,” he said, “but I don’t plan to check my email today.” I sent the photograph over, but never heard back.

Subsequent searching revealed a total of six Indian government properties in Karachi: India House, at 3 Fatima Jinnah Road; India Lodge, at 63 Clifton; Hindustan Court, at 42-43 Kurrie Road; Panchsheel Court in Frere Town; Shivaji Court on McNeil Road, and Hut 61, Hawkes Bay.

These spots are, and for the foreseeable future should remain, small dominions of the Indian republic within Pakistan.

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Photo by Sitwat Rizvi

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