On the face of it, Karachi doesn’t come across as a particularly desirable place to live — and not just on account of its pock-marked political history or the fact that it is flush with weapons and that violent crime is routine. The city’s infrastructure is crumbling, all the new flyovers and bypasses notwithstanding. Power outages are long and regular, the water shortage is dire and public sanitation pathetic, the city’s roads are congested, the sea is filthy, and air and noise pollution threaten physical and mental well-being. Yet property prices have skyrocketed in recent years. One reason is that money can bankroll an escape from reality. No electricity? Get a generator. Pay for water tankers if the lines are dry. Hire security guards to protect yourself against crime. Gated, fortified communities are also springing up, because an existence divorced from the collective reality is in high demand. All that matters is the individual good.
Never mind that mansions abut squatter settlements, what counts is the space hemmed in by your own four walls. Feel free to toss your garbage into the street or any other place where it is out of sight. No such options though for the majority that comprises the ‘other’ Karachi that has been bypassed by the economic boom. Hardly any form of housing, however decrepit, is really affordable any more for most residents. Food items as basic as daal, flour and vegetables are straining budgets to breaking point and access to decent education or health care is unimaginable. Yet this city of paradoxes is said to be booming.