Khuda ki basti

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In my travels around this world, I have come across some cities with really funny names for areas, and even themselves and their towns. For example I have had the unfortunate pleasure of witnessing a town called, Shamrock in Texas because of the single structure in it, the diamond shamrock gas station. However Karachi or Kolachi as it was known when Mai kolachi and her fishermen clan settled to lay roots to this metropolis some 200 years ago, takes the cake on out of the world names. Yes a woman laid the foundation of this place, still wondering why it is so temperamental?

There are two khadda markets in this city, one is in the posh area of defense near Ghizri while the other is in Lyari. The Defence Housing Authority (D.H.A) one is probably named after the low lying area while the Lyari one for all accounts and purposes must be for the standard of living it provides. Just like markets this city has bazaars with names that sometimes make sense and sometimes nonsense. Take “Kapra market”, or “botul gali” seem innocuous enough as they reflect the goods traded there, although boozers should not head to “botul gali” as it sells them empty. Do tell me though what is the point of a place called “chaanti lane” when it stocks and sells the bulk of this city’s cosmetics and perfumery instead of items that can be sorted like the bargain basement vibe its name gives out. You think it would be stocked with old or used items and you arrive to find Max Mara and Elle boxes littering the dingy alley.

On to areas and perhaps the funniest I have come across is “Lallu khait” because there isn’t a “lalu” or “khait/field” in sight for miles. It is a cut throat semi slum drawl of a development where hundreds of thousands live instead of the simple minded farm its name suggests. Misleading a tourist is so easy in this city because of such names that sometimes I think its cabby’s which invented it all rather than municipal bodies. Then Karachi wallas are often prone to name things for their utility then sentiments anyways, prime examples of which would be “teen hatti” which started out as three shops and a road or “Nagan Chowrangi” who’s traffic problem has been sorted with the new flyover constructed over it, but was named thus for the amount of accidents that take place there. More of the same searching would lead to “Bewah colony” set up by a philanthropist to sadder town where areas such as Bohri Bazaar, Joota Gali (shoe street), Bartan Gali (utensil street) and many more can be found standing witness to practicality rather than philosophy.

The new areas being developed however have taken the trend of narcissm in their stride and thus usually reflect the name of a famous person of the area or a social worker or even a political personality, although with the political personality the names of their centers of power keep changing with each successive government which makes it a point to emblazon its name everywhere including signs. Perhaps the citizens of this city can also make a “lota chowk” somewhere to lay claim to the changing fortunes of the halls of power?

Not to be outdone by nouns and pronouns and names, Karachi’s different localities and the civic structures in them have also been witnessed by this scribe in various forms of verbal distress. Take “Touch me” chowrangi (which is not the gay meeting spot of this city) or Kaala pul (which is anything but black) or U.P moare (which is a roundabout not a turn) or Dau minute chorangi (which takes 40 minutes to go across) and you have an experience that is as unique as this city and the denizens that live and thrive in it.

Quite frankly if you ask me the whole trend was started by our old Masters the British who were famous for naming their conquered areas with oddities like “soldier bazaar” a market for British soldiers or “Khara dar” or “Meetha dar” names given to salt and sweet water entrances to the city. We just carried on this trend and took it to extremes even Michelangelo would not have dreamt of.

Some people and civic planners included think that the city government should rectify these anomalies. However even if the city government or its municipal bodies try changing names on signboards they could never change it from people’s minds and hearts, so I think they gave up on that idea a long time ago. I sometimes wonder what kind of a headache we have provided for the manufacturers of Google maps who have on line maps of this city and these areas. Do you dear reader think there is someone somewhere in the world who thinks that these are not even real names and some elaborate joke we Karachi wallas have played on this high tech squeaky clean, aptly branded and named world?

In any case one thing is for bloody certain, with the blandness of a “sea view” this city also has its “Khuda ki basti” and this just goes to show once again that there really is no place in the world like the City by the Sea. No area without uniqueness in it, no quarter spared of the culture, art and vibe this urban monolith throbs with. This place creation/mutation wise cannot and probably never will be outdone. The people of Lahore can have their history and wax lyrical about it; we will take our oddball humor any day.

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As published in The Friday Times, 16/10/2009

Pics credit : Raja Islam

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