This flash fiction anthology explores our deep fascination with narratives of life emerging from places lived-in
Compiled and edited by Taha Kehar, the anthology Tales from Karachi is a quick read for readers with fleeting attention spans. Shorter than most short stories, the less than 1,500 word pieces of flash fiction that have found place in the anthology are an attempt to encapsulate the pulsating heart of Karachi and its inhabitants and the many conversations the two share, at times in whispers at others, boldly; the deafening sounds of the city by the sea.
The compilation began as an e-anthology, Tales from Karachi: City of Words, that Kehar set up on Instagram in April of this year. He hoped to discover “creative voices that sought a conversation partner or confidante”. As a Karachi native, the novelist wanted to bring together the changing narratives from a city so prolifically reminisced in writings that even its people had started believing that newer conversations were a rare possibility. However, the e-anthology began shaping up soon, as if stories were waiting to be heard.
The word limit imposed by the platform gave the storytellers a chance to experiment with flash fiction. The anthology now available in print contains several short stories, many of them award-winning (Kehar organised online competitions, some decided by established writers, others through polls), and a few pieces of poetry.
Divided into three parts, Stories, Poems, and The Blue Ribbon, Tales from Karachi has the potential to draw in readers, especially the winning pieces. However, perhaps it’s the nature of flash fiction that the reader is frequently left wanting more. Flash pieces are not entirely different from other forms of writings except in length. They also need to have all the elements of a short story with a beginning, a middle and an end: a conflict that requires resolution and a conclusion that promises to provide one.
The first few stories contained in the slim volume do not strictly belong to Karachi. The writers have explored multiple genres, some with great ease but not all. Originating from Karachi, the tales could be from anywhere. The fact that the anthology is titled Tales from Karachi, means that the reader sets out to encounter Karachi’s endless repertoire of mystifying resistance, continued resilience and speckled moments of sheer joy shared by its inhabitants, but often finds the city missing from the pages altogether.
Two of Kehar’s stories have made their way into the volume as well, both fulfilling the requirements of a story from Karachi; loss, blood and tears, the three elements, unfortunately, representative of experiences of many having lived in the proverbial City of Lights. And then there are others, stories that lack any connection to the city.
The three poems from Part II are moving but not memorable enough to remain suspended in the conscience of the readers, tugging at their heartstrings from time to time when someone mentions Karachi. Nonetheless, they are brave attempts at capturing the city’s spirit with multiple facets and facades explored mostly in blank verse.
Stories that won online competitions are the most well rounded. Even though the narratives, as expected with flash fiction, are tightly packed, with little space for character development, the stories are complete. Some of the shortest pieces are also contained in this, third part of the first volume. The writers were given prompts online, and the best submissions in the category have been collected for the readers’ pleasure.
From historical fiction to horror stories and lyrical tales, Part III is the high point of the anthology. However, it is imperative to mention that Karachi is not always the sustaining theme in these pieces.
The luminous eyes of Rani from Huma Sheikh’s The Banyan Tree are endearingly haunting. The warmth of the characters lulls the chilly horror of the tale. With the sudden turn of fate as fiction collides with recorded history in The Train, the reader is overcome with a sort of anguished angst, typical of partition stories – a time when blood was drawn mercilessly, hopes quashed ruthlessly, and humanity forgotten.
Lastly, Karachi is ..., succinctly captures the emotion deeply embedded in the local narratives of the city, the chaotic labyrinth of a city, with all its memories of happier times and the ones when pain reigned supreme.
Flash fiction is not a recent phenomenon. From Kafka to Virginia Woolf, many writers of modern times have explored the style. It certainly is not for everyone especially, those who prefer romancing paper and plot at length, visualising the character archs and savouring settings. Flash fiction is a delicacy quickly relished that leaves an aftertaste one can ponder on for days.
Tales from Karachi is a splendid attempt at conjoining twitter length writings and our deep fascination with narratives of life emerging from places lived-in.
Tales from Karachi
Edited by: Taha Kehar
Publisher: Reverie Publishers, Moringa Books
Pages: Rs 500
The reviewer is a staff member