Karachi: An aspect of Social Change

During the last decade the nature and type of people who visit the various recreational areas of Karachi like the Manora Beach, Sea View, Hill Park and various locations outside of Karachi such as Kalri and Halajee Lakes, has changed. Before, the vast majority of the visitors consisted of large families with women trailing behind the men and lots of young children being shouted at and bullied by the elders. Music playing was rare and dancing was non-existent. Slowly all this has changed. Families still come but a very large number of the visitors are now young couples. Vast majority of them are married and an increasing number are not. Many of the couples have young children (seldom more than two) whom they pamper and cater to. Both the men and the women (even the ones that wear the hijab and many do) are well groomed and have a confidence that the previous visitors did not. In addition to the couples, there are segregated groups of young boys and girls (sometimes mixed groups as well) that are seen talking to each other and listening to loud Indian music, often issuing out of the Suzuki vans and pick-ups which they have hired or borrowed to come to these recreational spots. This is especially true of locations outside Karachi such as the Kalri Lake, where large groups visit every Sunday. The young people often dress in jeans, the men with T-shirts over them and the women with long kurtas. Both sexes wear caps over their heads and often groups of men are seen dancing while women watch and clap to the rhythm of the music.

Who are these young peoples? Why are they so different from their parents? What are their aspirations and problems? In an attempt to answer these questions 30 young couples visiting the Sea Wall were approached for interviews between February 25 and April 28, 2001. However, only 17 were willing to talk about their personal lives and the environment in which they lived. Almost all of those who were willing to be interviewed belonged to the lower middle or working class. The upper middle income English speaking couples were the most reluctant to have a dialogue. Sociologists can draw their own conclusions from this fact. Parts of four of these 17 interviews are given below. These four interviews are the ones that are most representatives of the 17 interviews.


Two women were sitting together, one with a dupatta wrapped round her neck like a rope, and the other with a hijab. A man was standing next to them sharing a pair of binoculars. By the time I got to them, the man had moved away and taken the binoculars with him. The two women had no problem discussing their lives. On speaking with them I discovered that the man with the binoculars was not with them. They had simply requested him to let them see the distant ships through his binoculars.

The name of the woman without the hijab is Safia and the one with the hijab is called Izzet. Both are dolled up. Safia’s father was a clerk in a government department. Her mother had done her matriculation. Izzet’s father still worked in a junior position in the District Courts in Hyderabad. The two women live together with Safia’s mother in a small apartment in Gulistan-e-Jauhar. Safia works in a travel agency and Izzet is a telephone operator at the Gateway Exchange. Parts of the conversation I had with them are given below.

Me      :           Do you come here often?

Safia   :           Almost every week.

Me      :           Why do you come here?

Safia:              To get away. We work all week and we live in a suffocating environment. No air. No light. Almost no privacy. Living in the flat in which we live is like living in a bird cage. So we come here. We look at people. We relax.

Me      :           How do you come here?

Safia   :           We come with Asad Bhai. He has a car.

Me      :           Is he your elder brother?

Safia:              No. He is more than a brother. He lives just below us. His wife died and his children more or less grew up in our house. Sometimes they come with us.

Me      :           And you? Are you married?

Safia   :           I was but my husband left me and took our child away.

(Safia opens her bag takes out a cigarettes and lights it)

Me      :           Why did he leave you?

Izzet   :           He wanted to have a modern wife. Safia was not modern enough.

Me      :           But Safia is modern. She smokes.

Safia:              (Blows smoke out of her nose) Doing bad things does not make one modern. Non-modern women also do bad things all the times. Being modern is style. Style like Madhuri. 

Izzet   :           Madhuri is now old fashioned.

Me      :           What other recreation do you have? 

Safia   :           Sometimes I cook a meal. We get a film and eat and watch it together.

Me      :           Who is “we”?

Safia   :           Some neighbours, Asad Bhai, his children and ourselves.

Me      :           What do you cook?

Safia   :           Anything. Sometimes dessi and sometimes Chinese.  

Me      :           Where did you learn to cook Chinese?

Safia   :           From TV programmes.

Me      :           Do you have cable?

Safia:              One cannot live without cable these days. What else is there to do in this city. Watch TV and come to Sea View. Every thing else is far too expensive. If only there were nice places to sit and nice things to see like they have in other countries. Asad Bhai has been abroad. He has told us many things and shown us photographs as well. 

Me      :           And Izzet? How about you? Are you married? 

Izzet:              No, I am not. My parents live in Hyderabad and they want me back. They keep trying to get me married off. Of course I want to get married but to someone I know or at least have seen and spoken to. I must judge for myself. 

Me      :           Do you have any one in mind?

Izzet   :           That is a big “raaz”.

Safia   :           It is raaz that the whole world knows about (Safia laughs).

(Izzet looks away into the distance with a smug expression on her face)

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