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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Not doing justice to Karachi - Ananya Vajpeyi

Winterbottom is too politically discerning a filmmaker to portray Karachi or Pakistan with the outright Islamophobia that makes Bernard-Henri Levy's book Who Killed Daniel Pearl? (2003) almost unreadable. Winterbottom shows us Mariane Pearl saying publicly only days after her husband's abduction that ordinary Pakistanis suffered as much from acts of terror as did westerners like her. But while Mariane desists from blaming others indiscriminately, Winterbottom shows Karachi to be nightmarish in a way that is subtly connected to its cultural essence. It is identified as an overpopulated, poor, lawless and radicalised megalopolis, located in an underdeveloped Muslim country, an evil place that civilised, trusting and competent Americans and Europeans enter at their own peril and where they probably end up dead.

This couldn't be further from my own experience of the city. In spring 2006 I went to Karachi, partly to attend the World Social Forum and partly in an attempt to come to terms with the scene of Danny's demise: to see for myself how I would react to the city where he died. I was there seven days, during which I slept for about seven hours in total. I could not stop taking it in. During that intense period, I tried to make sense of a city that was so similar to those of India, my home country. I understood at least three of Karachi's languages -- Urdu, Punjabi and English -- all of its food, its clothing, its politeness and rudeness, its transparency and its impenetrability. If I wore the right clothes, no one on the street would guess that I was Indian and not Pakistani.

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