There is nothing you cannot find if you are willing to look for it and, in my experience, there is no place where this rings more true than Karachi where your intentions, your desires, will lead you into the most illuminated or into the most depraved expressions of humanity. And I have traveled both, sometimes on the same day.
In Karachi, the fastest growing mega metropolis in the world (Demographia World Urban Areas Report, 2014), you may in one day meet yoginis, Sufi masters, loving and kind sweepers, political and literary critics with wit, innovative entrepreneurs, all with a deep passion for life. On that same day you can also witness soul crushing poverty and wealth, a harsh, hot landscape littered with plastic, traffic that astounds physics, a proliferation
of numbing drug and alcohol abuse, and miles and miles of unfinished homes.
Karachi, often forgotten and little known, is a kaleidoscope of all the diversity in the subcontinent and beyond. It is rattled with inequality and violence and yet is also held up by the generosity of unnamed and unknown benefactors, from the young woman starting out her career at a local NGO to one of the most inspiring of humanitarians to have ever existed: Abdul Sattar Edhi, who started the world’s largest volunteer ambulance network as well as many homeless, women and animal shelters and orphanages.
A small fishing village for most of its life, Kolachi evolved into Karachi in the early 1900’s as part of the British colonial empire. But as turmoil built in British India, along with the political impasse of the Muslim League party, the idea of Pakistan, a country for Muslims, catapulted forward into reality.
In August 1947 when the British left India, the country split into two and the fate of this little fishing village, turned quaint city under the British, without any warning experienced
a tsunami of Muslim migrants from India (including my family) and Karachi became the new capital of a brandnew country. This intense population growth stretched the city beyond its colonial and native neighborhoods. It continues to make space for the
thousands of new migrants who arrive every day from all over Pakistan.
This city is my first home and, in some ways, can be my only home. It is so large, full of character and all-encompassing that it blurs out any other memory of belonging anywhere else. After a couple of weeks here, I begin to wonder who I am when I am in Patagonia.
Often when I am back in Karachi, I reflect that this being that I call “me,” this collection of traits and qualities that define me, could have only been nurtured and grown in this place of paradoxes.
Karachi is where I have learned the most pivotal spiritual truths about life. Layer upon layer I uncover great mysteries at the heart of life. It may not have the stunning views, or clean air, or many things that humans have communed over for millennia, but in it you palpably sense the resilience of people that know the true meaning of submission and acceptance when faced with the harshest conditions one can have in life.
I feel as if all my life I have been writing a love letter to Karachi who stands in as a metaphor for so much of my life’s longings, disappointments, perceptions and character. There is so much outward distraction that it is a blessing to see the essence of Karachi, like seeing the jewel inside a rock. Like my heart, which was an unbelieving stone once, Karachi can split open and reveal its beauty in a moment of grace.
But it is not for everyone nor is everyone for Karachi. I see my children easily and happily adjust to the intense experience of life in Karachi, but I wonder what their hearts will hold for their mother’s love, for their mother’s home? Will grace open their hearts to the sea breeze, the swinging palm trees, the fuchsia colored bougainvillea, and the sound of the birds or will they be stuck in the dirt and grime of the concrete and the stories of all that
is not working and needs fixing.
Will they carry the resilience that the people of this city embody in face of challenges that would humble any of us on to our knees? I can only pray that they see things as they are, less black and white than me, more grey and nuanced like their summer home Karachi and love with abandon the precious moments of each and every day, no matter where they are.