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,

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