Swimming With Crocodiles
The hipster biblevice magazine claims to have put out a ‘subversive’ guide to Karachi. But have they just recycled cliches, asks AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
MANGHOPIR IS one of Karachi’s little secrets. The place people who grew up in Karachi remember going to when growing up in Karachi. Near the Sufi shrine are some hot sulphur springs and a pond with 100 crocodiles. Legend has it that Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar miraculously made the hot spring and date palms appear. Bizarrely, he gave the lice in his hair to Pir Mangho, the dacoit-turned-Sufi saint, who put them in the pond and they turned into crocodiles.
Apparently, the crocodiles have never harmed a human. Not since the 12th century. Local tour guides often leap into the pond just to prove the point. For residents, the pond is a distraction from the city’s violence.
That Karachi is a violent city is hardly a secret. But you cannot accuse the brave VICE magazine reporters of shying away from the obvious in their five-part documentary, The VICE Guide to Karachi. Instead they revel in it. The film, slightly over 40 minutes, is presented by a VICE founder, Suroosh Alvi, and Basim Usmani, bassist with Taqwacore punk band The Kominas. Both are of Pakistani origin but that doesn’t result in a less sensationalist documentary. Alvi is particularly eager to emphasise the personal risk he’s taking just setting foot in Karachi.
Typically, when the duo stops by at Manghopir — as relief from their squalid visit to Jam Chakro, Karachi’s vast open-air garbage dump, and watching junkies inject heroin into their veins — their only response is to snigger. “They’re the only crawcadials in the world,” drawls Usmani, referring to their penchant for gulab jamuns and halwa, “that eat desserts”. “That’s random,” says Alvi,