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Shamim Manzar on Karachi: “The Pakistanis Have Learned Patience”

Shamim ManzarCopyright: Goethe-Institut
Pakistanis come to the Empress Market in colourfully painted busses, the main mode of transport in Karachi (Photo: Kashif Paracha)

4 June 2012

The beach, the sea, and tropical climate, that is Karachi, but it is also poverty and bloody attacks. Between the two, a young music scene is emerging that seeks links with the west. Shamim Manzar, member of the staff at the Goethe-Institut Karachi, knows all sides of the Pakistani city.

What is the most beautiful part of Karachi?

Manzar: Have you ever looked in an atlas to see where Karachi is? On the Arabian Sea. The Arabs feel drawn to the sea. And the beaches of Karachi are particularly beautiful. People come here all the way from Lahore or Islamabad just for them.

What topic is currently the most hotly debated in the Karachi press?

Two topics: For one, the Pakistani blockade of NATO trucks to Afghanistan is in the headlines. Until now, the NATO soldiers were transported in trucks from Karachi to Afghanistan. But a few months ago, the Pakistani government prohibited this access. Now there are heated debates between the USA and Pakistan. Even here, opinions are divided about it. The second volatile topic is domestic political unrest. After the division of British India in 1947, different ethnic and religions groups who immigrated to newly established Pakistan settled in Karachi. There are always disputes between them. There is great resentment among the native population towards the immigrants, since the latter are better educated and therefore have higher status in society.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut
Elegant colonial structures like the D. J. Science College rise between slums and derelict apartments (Photo: Kashif Paracha)

What is ‘culture’ in Karachi?

Karachi is multicultural; the people have different cultures. For example, the Punjabis, who cultivate folk dances like the bhangra and play drums, the tabla, and string instruments. The Sufi culture is represented in Karachi with the Sindhi. It goes back to the scholarly poets of Sufism. At their celebrations, the Sindhi recite poetry in ecstatic chants and move as if they were in a trance. The young Pakistanis have discovered a new music style: it is a blend of western rock and Pakistani folk music. This trend has been going on for a while now, but since the beverage brand Coca-Cola set up a studio in Karachi, young musicians have the chance to show their creativity.

Copyright: Shamim Manzar
German teacher Manzar: “Pakistanis are more liberal than they are portrayed in Europe.” (Photo: Kashif Paracha)
What preconception about Pakistanis ought we rid ourselves of right away?

When Europeans think of Pakistan, most of them probably think of fundamentalists, al-Qaida and Osama Bin Laden’s following. I cannot deny that they exist, but they are not the majority. Most Pakistanis are more liberal than they are portrayed in Europe. They don’t want the fundamentalists. However, there are only a few courageous people who rebel against them; the larger part is silent because they are frightened.

What can we learn from the Pakistani people?

Patience. For example, when a Pakistani applies with the authorities for a certificate, he is told he can come and pick it up in one week. So, he goes back to the office, but the certificate won’t be ready, and he is given a new date. This can go on for three months until the Pakistani finally raises a ruckus. The people here have learned patience. Poverty and the political regime taught it to them.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut
Children sell sweets on the beachside promenade to assist their families’ finances (Photo: Kashif Paracha)

Why do Pakistanis learn German?

For three reasons. Pakistani students learn German so that they can continue their studies in Germany. Then there are the businesspeople that work with German companies and learn German because they occasionally travel to Germany or receive German clients in Pakistan. The third group learn German as part of marriage migration. Women and men who follow their spouses to Germany have to pass a language test to get a visa.

What surprised you the most in Germany?

How helpful the people are when you ask them directions. Once it even happened to me that a person took me to the place I asked about. If you ask a Pakistani for directions and he doesn’t know them exactly he’ll send you any place.

What do the people in Karachi love to do most of all?

They love most to walk on the beach. It’s also the only thing they can do; the summers are hot and it costs nothing.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut
Ramblers and decorated camels on Sea View beach (Photo: Kashif Paracha)

What is your dream project?

To promote European and German literature in Pakistan. Although prominent German works such as Goethe’s Faust or Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha are available in Urdu, Pakistan’s national language, many more ought to be translated. Here, we can only build a bridge to Europe through literature or music. For Pakistan, I hope for peace between all of the ethnic and religious groups.

Daniela Gollob asked the questions.

Shamim Manzar, 56, studied International Relations in Karachi while learning German at the Goethe-Institut. He was surprised when the director of the institute encouraged him to become a German teacher. He then went to Munich to complete his diploma. He has now been teaching German for 25 years and is head of language work at the Goethe-Institut in Karachi where he lives with his wife and five children.
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