The magnificence of the city of lights and the innumerable stories it carries
couple of weeks ago, I’d been hearing a lot about deep-fake technology and its characteristics. I was naturally worried to learn that such a thing really exists, stirs the routine of life and has the ability to distort the image of an individual or a society in general. Still in this flux, I accidentally got hold of Legends of Karachi by Muhammad Ali Samejo. Gradually I learnt about the intention behind deep-fake technology, which is to make someone vulnerable or damage something. The book reveals that the undercurrents are huge and horrible. The smooth surface one gets to see hides troubling details beneath it. The collection of stories also provides insights on the state of Karachi, also known as the City of Lights. Unlike other texts written about the city, Legends of Karachi focuses on its dark side. It is a valuable addition to the field of city literature for its focus on graphic detail and hyper-reality.
The author tells us about Karachi’s residents, with a candid focus on their sufferings and problems. As a reader one virtually hears the cries of people stuck in difficult situations who are unable to see any light at the end of the tunnel. Samejo’s Karachi is a city where birds wail, wolves goral and humans suffer; sparrows and dogs hustle one another to maintain a balance of power. It is as if the City of Lights is turning into hell. Reading the book can be as traumatic as organ removal surgery without anaesthesia.
Samejo in Legends of Karachi, studies Karachi and the people living in it, in an attempt to find out the truth about their lives – the “sillier” truth if you may.
The book addresses many contemporary themes being discussed in the literary world across the globe. While its themes are modern, the writing technique is mostly postmodern. There are references to many places across several continents but it is mainly about stories from Karachi. The names of most of the major characters – including Azmat, Furqan and Saba - have positive connotations. However, this has no bearing on the kind of roles they play.
Communication with the past is established through the story of a time-travelling professor. There is a reference also to the Bambino cinema, which is linked to some politically significant people in Pakistan. Samejo highlights the menace of rampant corruption in the society. There are many illustrations of how the powerful behave.
Samejo describes the lived reality of people related to Karachi in various ways. One comes across many ‘familiar’ stories where some disturbing details are added to what has been common knowledge. The truth, it is implied, is often “sillier” rather than stranger. Besides other things of import three are lessons in artificial intelligence, evolution and threats resulting from the way medicine is practised. Many of the stories use magical realism. These include A woman in a Grey Alto, a study in psychic trauma.
The language of the book is simple and quite accessible.
Legends of Karachi
Author: Muhammad Ali Samejo
Publisher: Liberty Publishing, 2021
Price: Rs 920
The reviewer is pursuing a PhD in English literature