Day 17 – We don’t want to be clones of each other

After writer and illustrator Rumana Husain brought together 64 different ethnic communities for Karachiwala, she found 64 street professionals for a follow up book titled Street Smart.


Writer and illustrator Rumana Husain

We met Rumana in her house in Defence. It is said that Karachi ends outside Defence for the people who live there. Well Rumana definitely is the antipode. Both her books found narratives necessary to show a vibrant and cosmopolitan Karachi – a city that aquires a very certain approach. “The difference… she says… shows the beauty, not the similarities”.

However THE Karachiwala is a person who carries the characteristics of Karachi in his appearance, behavior and language, for instance: It is Urdu combined with words from different ethnicities living in Karachi. Rumana’s book in this manner is a description of all the complex communities Karachi has to offer.

One of the experiences Rumana has had is that the city she has experienced is in many ways different to the what is taught of the city in schools – karachiwalas are not only Balochis, Pathans, Punjabis and Sindhis. Knowing that Karachi is the mirror of Pakistan and according to the book’s caption “Subcontinent within a City” her book the “Karachiwala” is a person formed by all the characters and approaches of the city. Rumana Husain presents in both her books all the different languages, ethnic costumes, recipes, rituals of the various communities of Karachi.

Street Smart is a reflection and a documentation of street professionals who have to survive on their daily wages, many of whom reside on the street their entire lives. The professions practiced in Karachi are traditional professions, that have formed communities like those of the qasai – the butchers, or those of the kumhar – the potters

These are people that can be found all over Pakistan and in other South Asian cities: such as the bird trapper, who belongs to a community called the Vaghdis coming from India. Associated as gypsies they are part of the so called “Untouchables” or the Dalit Hindu caste.

In the recent ‘anti-encroachment’ drive in Karachi’s Empress Market shops were bulldozed, which caused the loss of over 140,000 jobs. Rumana’s books in this sense can be considered history – the presage of a documentation of what remains. Taking it into bargain that she has not covered them all.


Aslam Yaqoob Baloch, The Parrot Fortune Teller, has unfortunately vanished

Babu the Bird Trapper with his little son and about a dozen sparrows

Sammo Puran, street sweeper since more than thirty year

Mohammad Bashir, the earcleaner has picked up this trade from his father

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