In Muhammad Ali Samejo’s second collection of short stories, the city of lights both stands front and center, and lurks in the shadows, while some incredible things that may or may not be fiction, happen.
he thing about Karachi is, it has always moved imaginations. The city opens its arms to welcome anyone and everyone, and the mere flow of human bodies going about their day builds the rhythm and ruckus we associate with our chosen home .
That Karachi features heavily in the works of artists of all media and genres if they do indeed live there, is no surprise. From Kartography by Kamila Shamsie, to e.g., Tunnel Vision by Shandana Minhas, to Karachi: The Musical by Nida Butt’s Made For Stage (and the accompanying incredible soundtrack by Hamza Jaffri). In that, Legends Of Karachi is no different. But where the others speak of events that have happened, or are happening, Samejo’s Karachi seems to exist in a parallel reality, sprung from countless conversations countless groups of people have no doubt had over the years.
Opening rather unimpressively and self-consciously, Legends Of Karachi slowly gains momentum and then bullet-speeds into a not completely surprising end but one that is still somewhat satisfying.
Muhammad Ali Samejo drifts between genres, and keeps his prose short. No story – or chapter – is really longer than four pages, which is great. As the reader, we can focus on what is happening in the current chapter, while keeping sight of the bigger picture. Each chapter/story builds into a latter moment and the whole thing crescendos dramatically. As far as pace goes, Samejo makes no mistakes.
He does, though, like injecting pop culture references into his writing whether they have a place there or not. Or even if they could totally be part of that particular scene, maybe they could have been written in better. Points for remembering The Jupiters, an ‘80s Pakistani rock band, but why mention them at the moment they were mentioned? Just naming a character Ali Azmat would ring a bell with most Pakistani readers, but also adding a reference to Junoon as the most influential rock band just seems kind of redundant in that instance.
Then, while we’re at it, Samejo has the right idea of every genre this book flirts with, but if the genre is introduced, and not carried forward in the narrative, what was the point?
All of that said, this is one of the more fun books that are set in Karachi, and though no work of fiction or nonfiction that comes out of the region can ever be free of mentions of blatant corruption and traumatic events that we take in our stride, Legends Of Karachi makes it work, and makes it entertaining. We just hope there’s a follow-up book that ties up loose ends to look forward to.