It is difficult for an outsider to think of Karachi and not immediately call up images of violence, death and victims. Scrolling through headlines about the city over the past year is a macabre exercise. In April, Sabeen Mahmood, an activist and intellectual, was shot dead outside a cultural centre she founded. In May, gunmen attacked a bus, leaving 43 dead. A heat wave in June, during the holy month of Ramzan, killed more than a thousand. In August, Shafqat Hussain—tortured at the age of 16 into confessing to the murder of a boy over a decade earlier—was executed.
Amid these spectacles of death, where are the stories of the living? Karachi is, after all, a modern port city of some 20 million people, Pakistan’s largest metropolis, and the country’s financial and economic centre. It is home to many, successive waves of migrants, who speak half a dozen languages. Post-colonial Karachi is much more than the sum of a series of violent events.
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