Lyari – one of the city’s oldest towns – houses a space for public discourse, where young and old alike share their love for literature, art and culture…
Centuries old fisherman’s corner or a citadel of peace – the latter phrase if used for Lyari now will sound peculiar to a Karachiites’ ears. One of the city’s oldest settled towns, Lyari is densely populated with residents belonging to different ethnic and religious backgrounds. With the erratic ambience this locality has been associated to since the past decade, it would be difficult for a layman to fathom how this place was a bulwark of tranquillity with art thriving and a fondness and lustre amongst the residents of diverse cultures who were living in harmony... until the neo century dawned.
In one of the poorest areas of the economic capital, Lyariites and their love for sports is unconditional. Football aficionados are aplenty, making this town exceptional, for the multitudes’ love for boxing and football outweighs that of cricket.
Hearing about a youth discourse point in the most commonly known hotbed of political parties and turf wars was something unthinkable. The commute to Khadda market, the area where Rose Youth Point (RYP) is located was thrilling to say the least.
Gunshots followed by mugging is what the driver was telling the team to be aware of. With kids on the roadside, playing with a round object against which their lives loop around, decked up in football jerseys of their favourite maestros, every corner is a field for them.
The lane that houses RYP is a literary street which has a few schools in it. Waqas Sheikh, the owner of this public space, states, “This platform is for Lyari’s youth to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands which was started around a year and a half back.”
The Sheedis, as the residents of this overly populous township are commonly known as, hail their origins from Africa. The continent’s people are popularly known as highly active and their culture is interspersed with music. Lyariites being scions of the area, have it in their genes to dance to the beat.
This town, in the 70s and 80s produced its own music, known as Lyari Disco.
A group of young boys were sitting around; Abdullah and Abdul Basit, two residents who were practising their vocals with a guitarist while fellow members were humming to the beat. While the duo’s youthful voices had lead to music buffs plunge in the chorus, on the other side, teenage girls were occupied in dolling their subjects – beautician courses is what these girls were being trained for. “There is no discrimination against those who can’t seem to afford the training,” as Sheikh elaborates, “these are courses for which there is a nominal fee, and those who can’t afford, they can avail these for free.”
Anwar Ali Bhatti, the founder of RYP and a Lyariite runs a school network and is the brains behind this venture. With drug culture on the rise and no activities to get enrolled in, the youth wastes its talent spending time loitering at roadside dhabas and kiosks which are hunting and breeding grounds for evolving minds.
Keeping in mind the conservative stronghold of the area, the administration of RYP has reserved two exclusive hours for girls alone. “From 3-5 pm, the place is reserved for girls only except when we have an ongoing event when boys are allowed too.
Apart from that, 5-8 pm is the time when it is open for all,” Zahid, the coordinator of RYP mentions.
The centre that provides a platform for those who wish to be heard, caters to the needs of 14 to 35 year olds. Language courses along with web designing and web security programs are in the pipeline as Zahid tells me.
Is it Lyari’s T2F? Zahid who earlier worked for Lyari Youth Cafe which was then closed down due to security reasons mentions, “We visited T2F several times to see how the place functions.”
Rabeea Arif, who worked as a creative director at T2F verbalises, “The Lyari Youth Cafe guys came up to our director, Sabeen Mahmud when they planned to open up the space and they made it on the same model as T2F. Sabeen was very supportive and encouraging and shared T2F’s model and business plan with them.”
As for RYP and whether Sabeen knew about it or not, it is hard to dig up now as Rabeea puts it “whether or not the RYP folks met Sabeen is hard to say for I didn’t hear any such thing and Sabeen’s no more.”
Running a place that conducts musical sessions in a locality that is highly pumped up with religious fanaticism isn’t easy, as Zahid claims, “there are a lot of problems that arise and we need to keep them in mind so that none of the community members’ emotions are hurt.”
RYP with its neat arrangement of tables and chairs was all set up for the weekly meet up of volunteers.
Girls donning the much common black gown were arriving in throngs to be seated. Many could be seen carrying backpacks and a few boys could be seen with a knapsack too. Trisha Maheshwari, the only girl I could spot adorning a bright red, had girls grouped around her. On nearing her, her lips extended to form a smile. While she was checking her point and shoot, I caught hold of an interesting shot.
“I have been shooting since quite some time now.
Whenever I passed a street, I used to wonder about how, let’s say a mechanic’s story could be told via photographs. After all he could’ve been a cricketer or a model previously,” Trisha, orates complacently.
A high school student who wishes to pursue a doctorate from Oxford University to become a neurosurgeon, comes to RYP everyday and doesn’t feel minorities are discriminated in anyway. “I think belonging to the Hindu community, the people here have supported me a lot and they are very kind and helpful.”
To become a member of this place where intellectual discourses are frequent in the form of debates, quizzes, art and motivational sessions, one needs to be a local resident and a form needs to filled and submitted simply which has no fee. “We have kept the registration process very simple,” Waqas explains, “about 50-60 members visit the centre on a daily basis and as far as new memberships are concerned, we have so far received about 3,000 completed forms that need to be processed.”
With preparations ongoing for the upcoming Lyari Youth Festival, a band of hyped up girls settle themselves on a round table. These girls were seated in a space where the rush of the opposite gender raises as the clock strikes 5. Thinking about the conservative area where these young women aren’t even permitted to get their shots taken, due to cultural restrictions, I inquired if their families allow them to be a part of this place.
“Our parents are the ones who support us because they know we’re enrolled in something good and have never acted as hindrances,” Ruqaiya voices, who has been an active volunteer since RYP initiated. Shirin, another teenager of the lot, reminisces about the activity of cleaning the area up where girls also played their part, breaking the norm of cleaning up open spaces. “RYP is helping us in breaking self-created boundaries – cleaning up this space with brooms outside our own houses is just one example in which girls played their part.”
The residents of Lyari are breaking the shackles of being stereotyped. Shabbir Khanji, is a part of Humans of Lyari, an initiative to bring people of Lyari together on the basis of photojournalism. “I always loved taking my own snaps and that’s what led me to getting enrolled in this activity,” the guy who aspires to be an anchor-person expresses.
RYP in the current era is painting a totally different hue to Lyari’s peppered canvas. If the team can bring up young, diverse, culturally ripe minds to think out of their confined boxes amidst gun shots and terror factions, it won’t be long when this public space will set the benchmark for being a focal point of cultural medley.•