Colour, music and happiness…children jumping with joy, people happily riding horses, shrieks of delight at being swung into the air… these are images not often associated with Karachi. Yet these unexplored sights and sounds do exist in the City of Lights, and it is just a matter of finding them.
With its extremely diverse population, Karachi is a cosmopolitan city.It has grown manifold from its humble origins as a fishing village to become a metropolitan of 14.9 million people, plus another million residing in its rural outskirts, according to the 2017 government census.
For Karachiites however, these are not the only statistics that matter. Day-to-day happenings in any city have a lot to do with buying power and prices of commodities… and this is where Karachi takes the lead, for it has recently been named as one of the top ten cheapest cities in the world by The Economist Intelligence Unit.
Some might consider this an over-statement, but it is a fact that despite the growing population, there are many places in Karachi where even those existing near the poverty line can have their daily meals. The low-cost options are not restricted to the bare necessities. Even non-essentials such as fashion and recreation are cheaper here than in most other metropolitan cities.
The beach is the ultimate go-to place for any Karachiite to enjoy their spare time. However, due to long commute distances and crowding at the seaside, some people prefer to look for entertainment opportunities closer to their homes. Luckily for them, there are numerous imaginative individuals willing to provide amusement at very low costs in all parts of the city.
On our recent explorative excursions into various areas of Karachi, courtesy the I Am Karachitravelogues program, I met some people who made me realize that having fun need not be expensive. You only needto have an open mind and grab opportunities of recreation wherever you can find them. One such interaction was with a group of gentlemen on Baba Island, a small fishing island located in the neighbourhood of Kemari Town in Karachi.
When I saw them, they were having lunch under what appeared to me to be a very small and low tent. It took me a while to figure out that it was a trampoline.On talking to them, I found out that these men had the trampoline custom-made for Rs1 lakh for the purpose of renting it in circuses and using it as a swing for children.
Zeeshan, the person who owned the swing, told me that he has been in this business for more than two years now. They had the trampoline built in such a manner that they could dismantle it and transport it to other places.
The trampoline men do not settle anywhere permanently. They have been in Baba Island for 2-3 months and charged Rs.5 from small children and Rs.10 from older children for 5 minutes of jumping on the trampoline. They said that they also used the trampoline for giving gymnastic displays, and Arshad, one of the men on Zeeshan’s team, offered to show us his skills, and did some flips and backflips on the trampoline.
Just beside Arshad and Zeeshan’s trampoline was another swing, sort of a miniature merry-go-round with wooden seats shaped like airplanes and steel chairs taking the place of the traditional horses. Its owner said that he charged Rs.5 for a 2-minute round and had been operating in the area for the past one year. Another swing in the vicinity was a small metal boat on a metal frame, whose owner charged Rs.10 for 5-minute rides.
These portable, pocket-friendly rides can be found all over the city. In another part of the city, a ‘mela’ or fair is setup. A vacant ground in Landhi is the venue of this event, whose attractions include food stalls, ‘maut ka kunwaan’ (well of death), a circus show and various rides.
Tickets to the Ferris wheel, boat swing and the well of death cost Rs.30 each, whereas that to the merry-go-round costs Rs.15. There is no entry fees and an evening of fun here would not set one back more than Rs.300, including the food.
Here too, there are two trampolines on which the children of the owners of the various rides are jumping. It turns out they are all cousins, named Shiraz, Faraz, Aijaz and Nawaz. Their 100-watt smiles push their old clothes to the background. They do a half jump-half dance to the folk songs blaring from all directions and are oblivious to their surroundings.
However, one notes that there are no safety precautions on any of the rides or attractions. Most of the rides are set on frames that appear old and unstable. There are no ambulances or hospitals nearby and most of the people here would be at a loss to do anything in case there’s an accident. This is a scary thought, considering that most of the people at the fair are women and children.
There are countless other fairs and recreational activities like these scattered throughout the city. With proper administration and planning, they can be regulated so that health and safety guidelines are followed, and tragic incidents are avoided. Communities can be mobilized to own their grounds and public spaces, ensuring that there are suitable and healthy avenues for enjoyment in all areas and for all socio-economic strata. After all, Karachi is a working man’s city. Small steps like these can turn it into a working man’s paradise.