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A Slice of Urban World


Naved Farooqui

INSTANT CITY: LIFE AND DEATH IN KARACHI
By Steve Inskeep
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2011, pp. 284, Rs. 599.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 2-3 February/March 2013

A city is not an onion that can be unpeeled to reveal its layers. It is a breathing organism shaped by the ideologies that create it. Karachi is one such city or as the author would have us believe—‘the’ instant city. Steve Inskeep, a journalist for National Public Radio in the US attempts to chronicle and comprehend Karachi in his book under review. Out on a quest, he has set out ‘to learn the events of the day, the history that led up to it and the aftershocks and consequences that followed’. Briefly put, for Inskeep an instant city is one which has grown manifold from the WWII era and this growth is largely due to the migration that these cities have seen. The book is not about Karachi. It is about the Ashura bombing, Korangi, Edhi ambulance service and the political set up of the present-day Pakistan, and a few other narratives. The author tries to keep it simple, and by ignoring the complexity, he limits the understanding of Karachi. It is a slice of Karachi, yes. But it is more a slice of Inskeep’s narrative. Instant city for Inskeep is quite simple, perhaps too simplistic, ‘a metropolis that has grown so rapidly that a returning visitor from a few decades ago would scarcely recognize it.’The ‘instant city’ is just a loose concept tied together to interpret the text, Karachi. The factors that went into the making of the city are brushed aside as mere references. Facts without contexts, makes the reading incomplete. The rupture caused by the formation of a complex nation-state—the Partition, and the influx of migration as an aftermath Inskeep claims, is the reason of the present status of Karachi. There are references to other similar cities which have grown manifold post WW II. But these references do not really lead to an understanding of the ‘phenomenon’ of instant city as the author would have us imagine. Inskeep would have us believe that he is starting at some disruptive narrative of Karachi; however it is just another narrative in the flow of life in Karachi shaped not just by migration but also the external forces that created the conditions for its change. He reconstructs the day of the Ashura bombing in Karachi and the mayhem that followed. The city’s story is told through a constructed memory of a quest and the ...


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