Khuda ki basti


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.


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

Pics credit : Raja Islam

  1. We are truly given to having odd names. Here’s my addition to the list:

    Bhens (Cattle) Colony – home to many dairy farms
    Dumba Goth (Sheep Village) – known for raising goats & sheep
    Kutta (Dog) Colony – I kid you not this really does exist! And believe me they don’t breed dogs here (though I hear they’re a delicacy in Korea)
    Geedar Colony – I can’t remember what a Geedar is but I think it is a weasel or something.
    Muach Goth – Muach also means cattle but this area is more famous as the center for Minerals (mainly Chrome Ore) exports than for the cattle (ironically majority of land here has a Poultry lease)
    Achi Kabar (Good Grave) – an area in Kharadar named after some old mausoleum
    Gutter Bageecha (Garden) – why this is named Gutter I fail to understand

    There are probably several more but these were the ones that came off the top of my head.


  2. Good one. Names of places have always been an interest area for me. And Karachi’s places have them in most unique of the fashion, agreed.

    Just to share my bewilderment I got few years back during my USA visit. If you have a chance to travel on the turnpike from DC towards south probably 70 to 75 miles from DC, you’ll find an unexpectedly named little village, Lahore! My finest enemy, my curiosity, pushed me to know more about it and I found out that this small town was named Lahore in mid 1800s. And reportedly, it’s major part has been bought by a Lahori soul from Pakistan! :)))

  3. it was a fun to read this u have done a great job by writing it and let us know such unique names given to the placec.
    its been more or less 14 year since i visited Karachi last time and after reading this all the memories i had abt Khi are seems to get fresh again.

  4. Haha I love Karachi and your bit is really well written. I came up with a few reading your spiel:

    Perfume chawk which has no hint of perfume whatsoever

    boat basin having no boats or basin just food

    machchar colony which is completely justified since humans co-inhabit secondary to mosquitoes

    oh so there’s a place in sindh called ‘gutter’ (pronounce it the desi way) where there are numerous water purification plants…dubiously.

    devil’s point…rightfully, practially and judgementally named.

    submarine chawk where there was once a submarine at the center of the roundabout but that was a long time ago…

    and schon circle will forever immortalize the schon group before their exposure as crooks extraordinaire.

    thanks for the article. thoroughly enjoyed it!

  5. That reminds me, I should write about shopping in Lalukhait and post some of my pictures. Or maybe I have before, I’ll have to check. I’ve got some really great pictures of TeenHatti and it’s slums, I wonder how I could write about that without being insensitive. I was once invited by a mehndi artist to come to her home for dinner in Teenhatti. I should’ve gone – what a great experience that would have been. Que sera…

  6. FK you have great potential to talk about the most intricate of all subjects with such great ease! It makes very fluent and smooth reading and not a single moment of boredom! And that my friend is the true identity of a great writer. Well done! Keep ’em coming! 🙂

  7. Following a trend is always our passion. We did not, We do not and GOD forbids, we will not create a new trend! 🙂

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