I was first introduced to the city of Karachi thanks to a piece in The Economist magazine. As I read the article I was shocked by the magazine’s depiction of the Pakistani megacity of 14 million as a hotbed of ethnic violence, political instability, corruption and religious tension. To make matters worse, what little infrastructure the city possesses in no way come close to serving the needs of Karachi’s teeming millions, many of them considerably impoverished. On top of all of this, Karachi limps along as Pakistan’s commercial capital and most populous city, while the nation’s leadership must deal with a nuclear-armed India on one border and Taliban-led insurgency on the other. Interesting times indeed.
I have little doubt those arresting images came to mind once I stumbled upon Steve Inskeep’s Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi during one of my weekend library visits. Published in 2011, Instant City is NPR Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep’s boots on the ground look at the troubled city of Karachi and how it became the chaotic place it is today. To do this, Inskeep begins his book with a description of a religious procession by members of the city’s Shia community. From there he works backwards, examining Pakistan’s origins as a homeland for Indian Muslims and how the sudden influx of millions of those refugees would end up profoundly shaping the city’s destiny. From there Inskeep visits with activists, business leaders, professionals, politicians and commoners to help serve up a detailed and nuanced portrait of Karachi.
While I didn’t find Instant City wildly entertaining, I did find it highly informative, much like I did Edward Luce’s 2007 book In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India. Because of the book’s focus on life in a South Asian megacity, Instant City would make a pretty good follow-up read to Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found and Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity as well as novels like Cracking India and Partitions.
With all the time I’ve been devoting to Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge in addition to hosting the Middle East Reading Challenge (which pathetically needs to be a lot more time) I feel I’ve neglected books about South and East Asia. I’m hoping before the end of the year to turn that around a bit. Therefore, in the coming months get ready to read about more books that deal with the Indian Subcontinent, East Asian or places in between. With this part of the globe possessing much of the world’s population and being responsible for so much economic growth, how can I afford not to?