Standing on the murky shores of Clifton beach the other night (“God, I hope that’s a plastic bag and not a radioactive jellyfish under my toe…”), I had a strange sense of déjà vu. There were hundreds of people, looking up and holding long strings and engaged in aerial warfare far up in the sky (as below, so above); music blared from the stage to the left and occasionally a group of people would burst into dance.
Turns out Karachi was co-opting Basant.
I was skeptical when I first heard that the extensive Sindh Festival had decided to throw a Beach Basant as part of their cultural initiative. “Surely not,” scoffed the Lahori in me, “Karachi can never do basant, it’s a crime-ridden fishing village!” But despite the fact that Basant was for years inexplicably linked to Lahore, it is now conspicuous there only by its absence. We not only lost Basant but banned it, so I am all up in the grill of anything that lets us fly kites again with a bit of lounge music in the background.
Not many people wore yellow to the event in Karachi. When you walked past security into Beach Basant, you were faced with rows of white sofa lounges in front of which sat a stage set against the beach. Behind the stage, and on the actual sand, is where the kite flying was happening.
[quote]”Karachi can never do basant, it’s a crime-ridden fishing village!”[/quote]
I went to a stall to pick up my free kite and string and was suddenly reminded of all the rituals of basant that I had forgotten: the puncturing of the paper to tie a knot; the rubbing of the pliant wooden support over one’s head to increase malleability; the way one person throws up the kite and the excitement with which you see it rise; the adrenaline rush of cutting some other person’s kite and then running up to them and making rude hand gestures and saying “Suck it, you rancid loser!” before realizing this is an unbecoming way to speak to children and then apologizing lamely. God, I missed basant so very much.
The event itself lasted two days but luckily one is spoilt for choice in Karachi in terms of what to do. Seriously, it’s like Culture has abducted me and kept me hostage in a romantic bed-and-breakfast somewhere warm, reading books and watching films and commenting on the existential nature of Dawn Op-eds about fashion ads. In real terms this translated into my going to the Karachi Literary Festival, or KLF. The KLF has been very cool for quite a while and this year was no different. It was hosted at the Avari Beach Luxury (its name is more aspirational than descriptive) and was packed with hundreds of people on its first day.
I spotted the singer Zeb (of the duo Zeb & Haniya) in the lobby and freaked out a bit because I adore her music. I decided to stalk her quietly, hiding behind columns and giant cutouts of Coke cans, until I saw which session she was attending. That’s I how I found myself watching a panel with her and Tina Sani singing and talking about music. They were amazing! Zeb is actually even better in real life than on CD and she sang a snippet of her recent Coke Studio hit Laili Jaan, at which point I was screaming like a 12-year-old with braces. The event organization was great and the view of the shimmering water behind the stage made me weep (Karachi makes me emotional, but it may be the smells).
As it transpired, Tina Sani and Zeb were not the biggest celebs I saw this week.
Brace yourselves: I went to the Sindh Film Festival and I saw *gasp* Shabana Azmi (“OMG aaaaaaahhhhhh!”). Someone I knew knew someone who was arranging it, so I talked my way into opening night. Fairly ignorant of most stars in our dim firmament, I cajoled my way to the buffet and made friends with the hors d’oeuvres (lovely pizza canapé things and some fish fingers with Tiramisu). Shabana Azmi suddenly came out of a secret door to my left looking like Mother Gaia in a sari. She was all smyes (‘smyes’ = ‘smiling with your eyes’, you know the technique). I may have made an involuntary noise for she looked at me with mild surprise, smyesing professionally; I too tried to return a volley of ‘smyes’ but instead my half-chewed pizza dropped from my mouth onto my suit jacket and then I stared at her open-mouthed and wide-eyed. She wasn’t impressed and glided on to meet better mannered people. All wasn’t lost, though. I also saw Roger Ashton-Griffiths, which I was terribly excited about because, wait for it, he’s going to be on the next season of Game of freaking Thones! (Aaaaaahhhhh! Ooooooooo!) and has worked with everyone from Scorcese to Nicole Kidman. I actually got to chat with him for a little bit and turns out he was a judge for a festival. Someone called Neil also later introduced himself to me as a judge but he has a crop rotation of hair plugs on his bald patch, so I chose not to believe him.
Lest it seem that Karachi has all the fun, I am looking forward to the territorial fights that will start at next weeks Lahore Literary Festival (Feb in Pakistan really is just about attending lectures it seems), and I cant wait for that to begin. In the meantime, thank you Karachi for having cultural events. I love you for it. It’s not easy for the organizers of these events to keep going in the face of an ever-present threat. I suppose it’s not easy for any of us. But sometimes, rarely, you get an inkling that things may turn out in your favor after all. With that in mind, I leave you with this:
Last week in the north of Baghdad, a master suicide bomb instructor was teaching his intrepid students how to properly kill themselves and others around them using a variety of accessories. During the more demonstrative parts of his detailed lesson, he unwittingly strapped a belt packed with live explosives to himself and then pushed a button, killing him and all his would-be students in one giant, ironic explosion.
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