Lyari is misunderstood by some ‘intellectual circles’ that have put labels on this old settlement which are not always positive. But Lyari was not always what it looks like today. In fact, it has evolved over decades and, in some ways, is changing for the better.
Going into Lyari’s history is an exercise in nostalgia. Lyari gave birth to the bustling city of lights we call Karachi. Many researchers agree that about three centuries ago, the few huts of fishermen along the coast (of the would-be Karachi) later shaped into a Balochi-speaking settlement, adopting the name of Lyari. It was from there that the boundaries of Karachi later expanded.
Lyari has been home to peace and tranquillity. Its Baloch residents, who migrated here from the Makran Coast and Balochistan, welcomed every community that followed them and found an abode here. That is why one can see different faces in the area with diverse cultural backgrounds, including minorities like Hindus and Christians, all living with harmony and mutual respect. Every community played a significant role in strengthening the basic structure of love and peace.
The residents here, particularly the Baloch descendents, were great promoters of football, boxing and cycling. Captain Umer, Ghafoor Majna and Abdullah Hero were a few of the most popular footballers of the subcontinent.
People here were also famous as music lovers. Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Karim Khan and many other renowned classical singers were not strangers for them. Their voices could be heard on gramophone records that were available back then in the 1950s and 60s over a cup of tea in various cafes in the area.
Melodious local singers like Faiz Mohammad Baloch, Ustad Jharok, Shafi Sattar, Qasim Ameen and Wali Mohammad were also popular in the 1960s and 70s. Live concerts were also usually held during marriage ceremonies.
Another passion for these art-loving people was watching films and visiting street theatres. Mostly, they would visit cinemas to watch cowboy films. Alan Ladd’s Shane, Yul Brynner’s Magnificent 7 and Steve McQueen’s Great Escape were some of the many popular films.
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In our young days, we still remember the informal street cinema in the neighbourhood. Handy projectors and Hindi films like Bhai Bhai and Nek Perveen were hired for free screening on the occasion of marriage ceremonies. Males and females would sit at either side of the canvas screen to enjoy the film.
Street theatres were organised by non-professional enthusiasts like Siddique Shidi and Hussain Madari who were also performers. They would provide entertainment to people by organising stage plays on the roads during late night hours. Quite significant were the loud dialogues written by Agha Hahsr Kashmiri and delivered by local actors who greatly amused the crowd.
It looks odd now but it is a fact that marriage ceremonies would last for seven days. Singing, dancing, stage plays, story-telling by males and females brought enjoyment for grown-ups and children alike.
Poets and writers of Balochi language would gather at Baloch Hall Chakiwara (and sometimes in the houses of two remarkable personalities — Rahim Baksh Azad and Lala Faquir Mohammad) fortnightly and they had a big enthusiastic audience. Hakeem Haqgo, Ahmed Zaheer, Ahmed Jigar, Murad Awarani, Murad Sahir and G.R. Mullah were some of the popular literary figures.
This was all happening in the poor neighbourhood of the glorious city of Karachi during the 1960s. On the other hand, Karachi Arts Council was active as well. Literary sittings were common on Sunday evenings.
As students, our group of friends made it a habit to be present there on alternate Sundays witnessing the great literary figures like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Shaukat Siddiqui, Ibne Insha, Jamiluddin Aali and many others presenting their poetry and short stories.
Literary engagements increased further when in 1967-68 Faiz Ahmed Faiz joined Sir Abdullah Haroon College at Khadda Lyari as the Principal.
Not to forget, Pakistan’s former Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Syed Sajjad Ali Shah, belonged to Lyari.
This was the environment that supported a culture of mutual understanding and respect for all the segments of society in Lyari.
There was no lack of communication between the people living in Lyari or any other part of the city. Activities in the Arts Council or other venues of the city and in Lyari were enjoyed mutually by all.
Everyone loved the evenings of Saddar and going to cinemas, the tidy Iranian restaurants, the beautiful and well-maintained parks at Frere Hall, Jehangir Park and Clifton beach. And some would not forget to have a look at the bars and night clubs to make their evenings more colourful.
A great number of Catholic Christians were visible. Churches and mosques were open for all believers. All over, the factor of love was dominant. Finger-raising and hateful minds were invented much later.
Then came the Ziaul Haq era, which many prefer to call the ‘Dark Ages’. He succeeded in cutting off the well-woven fabric of Karachi’s culture of love and peace. Hatred in the name of religion, ethnicity and politics was patronised systematically.
The result was not too difficult to guess. All the good things were replaced with the newly manufactured hateful ideology of destruction of the norms of a peaceful society. Karachi’s well-preserved culture was shattered which was converted into chaos and violence. Peace and harmony became the real victims.
Of late, things have improved a lot as far as law and order situation is concerned. Peace has returned and things look not so glum. Some NGOs are doing a lot to infuse a sense of hope for bringing the people of Karachi together. I AM KARACHI and the recently launched “Azme Naujawan” are the platforms where the youth belonging to all parts of the city come together from time to time for doing positive activities. The youth of Lyari is an important stakeholder in these engagements.
We are proud of our enlightened and progressive thinking youth. That makes us, the generation of yesterday, jubilant.