Karachi: An aspect of Social Change


Rafiq and Fozia got married two years ago. Rafiq works in a junior position in a packaging firm. He has done his B. Com. Fozia does not work. She has also done her graduation and taken a course in teacher’s training. Rafiq’s father is a stationary supply contractor and Fozia’a father is a partner in an electrical appliances business. The marriage was arranged by the parents and after marriage Fozia moved in with Rafiq’s family.

Fozia has a friend, Sara. They grew up together in the same neighbourhood. Sara’s father is a “decoration” contractor. Sara is friendly with Mushtaq. Mushtaq and Sara both work in the same firm as sales representatives. Although they worked together they really got to know and like each other only when the staff of the firm went for a pick-nick to Halajee Lake. Since then they have met after office hours. Sometimes Sara and Mushtaq come to Sea View with Rafiq and Fozia. Sara is able to come because she tells her parents that she is going out with Fozia. If they knew that she was going out with Mushtaq, they would never permit it. The mothers of both the couples have never worked outside the home although Fozia’s mother did do a lot of stitching work at one time.

Me      :           (to Rafiq) How often do you come here?

Rafiq   :           Almost every week. 

Me      :           Why do you come here?

Rafiq   :           To relax. Get away from the environment where I live.

Fozia   :           We come here to quarrel (she looks defiant).

Me      :           What do you mean?

Fozia:              We live in a very cramped apartment. We are eight people in three rooms. We have been married for almost two years and have hardly any space for ourselves. We cannot even quarrel which all couples do.

Me      :           Why do you not move out of your parent’s home?

Fozia:              We have no money. I could work but his parents do not wish me to. We will have to move out at some stage. It is difficult to continue like this.

Rafiq:              In Pakistan you need connections to get anywhere or you need money or both. We do not have these connections. Everything is rotten over here Everything is breaking down, roads, electricity, sewage, buildings. I had to go to the law courts for some work a few days ago. It was like going to an archeological site (aasar-e-qadima). It was full of filth. But we are trying to go abroad and then hopefully all our problems will be solved.

Me      :           What will you get by going abroad that you cannot get here?

Rafiq:              A good job, enough money to have a house and a car, education for our children and above all respect for the work we do. Also, the possibility of leading a decent life without pressure from our family members.

Me      :           But you will be second class citizens in another country.

Rafiq   :           That is better than here. Here we are third class citizens.

Fozia:              It is not easy to go abroad. It takes a lot of money. I do not know where we will get it from. Also, it is not a matter of first class or second class citizen. In this country you cannot do what you wish to. You are always been judged. You are always under surveillance. You are always afraid. I have hardly any life outside the home and the home is not mine.

Me      :           (to Mushtaq) Do you share Rafiq’s views?

Mushtaq:       To a great extent. Sara and I wish to get married. There are so many problems that our families have created for us. They cannot accept that people can decide things by themselves. This is wrong. In the city we cannot even meet openly. We do not meet to do anything bad but just to talk and discuss. You know, share things.

Me      :           So how and where do you meet?

Mushtaq:       Before after work we used to go to a tea shop where they have cabins but then we stopped doing it.

Me      :           Why?

Sara:               It did not seem right. The waiters were insolent. We were vulnerable although a lot of couples do go to such places.

Me      :           So you meet here?

Mushtaq:       Yes. Sara has an excuse to come out to see Fozia. We come together. I borrow my brother’s car.

Me      :           What else do you do as recreation or entertainment?

Mushtaq:       There is nothing much you can do here. There is no place to go to. We do not even have cinemas with good films. The Pakistani films are terrible. We hear and read about concerts usually at the Bahria Auditorium. But they are far too expensive. There is nothing one can do. Sometime we go to Manora. The boat ride is enjoyable. We watch people and pass comments. So the time passes. People from the office arrange to get together but that is very rare.

Me      :           What happens at these get togethers?

Sara:               They are boring. Every body sits around and is asked to sing a song or recite a poem or something. Then we eat. Sometimes they get a singer to sing ghazals or Indian songs. But it’s better than nothing. It provides the possibility of an outing.

Me      :           Will you manage to get married?

Sara:               Yes. It will happen. My parents are anxious to get me married off. They have not succeeded. I will see to it that Mushtaq remains the only option.

Me      :           How will you do that?

Mushtaq:     She is very clever. She will manage it. (Sara smiles proudly)

Me:                 There must be hundreds of couples who face the same problems as you do in meeting each other and getting married.

Sara:            Not hundreds. More likely lakhs. Karachi is full of people who have the same problem as us.

An analysis of the 17 interviews points to four important inter-related issues that need to be addressed if the increasing marginalisation of Karachi’s educated young population is to be arrested. One, the social values of the younger generation are different from that of their parents. They wish to live as nuclear families and want to have the freedom of choice in the way they live and in whom they marry. There is a questioning of tradition and concern for the future of their children. Fifteen of the 17 women interviewed referred to their husbands and or their friends by their first name. A big change from their mother’s tradition! Two, there is a big gap between the economic reality of the young couples and their aspirations. They feel that this gap can only be overcome by going abroad or through heyra pherey. Owning a house and a means of transport are the first priorities. Three, young couples want entertainment for themselves and their children. They want this entertainment to be cheap and in a clean and friendly environment. They feel that the environment is not only unfriendly in physical terms but also unfriendly in social terms and behaviour patterns. And four, that they deal with a non-caring and medieval establishment whereas they are a generation that belongs to the contemporary world and to a global culture. Any plan for the development of Karachi cannot succeed unless it takes into consideration these four important and inter-related issues.

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