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When I think about Karachi, it is with the sensory overload of childhood: the smell of agarbati and lobaan as I stroll past hawkers and mendicants on the seaside. The snarl of pie dogs as I wander the streets with friends, searching for a patch of grass to play cricket on. The early morning songs of koels, the azaan, the clatter of pots in the courtyard below. The orange sun impossibly big and laddu-like as it sets over the spires and peaks of Mohatta Palace. And inside, the closeness of mothers and aunts - the clack of tasbees, the smell of mustard oil on their fingers. The Flamingo Pan and Juice Shop, where we bought bhel puri and cigarettes, the musky fragrance of guava hanging heavy like decay in the air. The choke of kerosene heaters and burning garbage from squatter camps. Wedding shamianas fluttering in the breeze. The slap of chapals in the stairwell.

I left Karachi in 1983, for college. Each time I returned, it was with the critical eye of a growing political consciousness. Karachi was curfew, sniper-fire, slums; corrupt police, trigger-happy rangers, boundary walls that grew ever higher and more forbidding. Karachi was neighborhoods where friends and family lived - replete with trees and gardens and clubs - and neighborhoods to pass by or pass through with the car windows rolled up. This Karachi was about words - words like "Muhajir," "democracy," "feudalism" and "martial law."

When I returned to Karachi in 1996, it was with a mission, both intellectual and aesthetic, to make sense of the city of my birth - through photography. It is deceptively easy to visually "know" Karachi - a city that began as a fishing village named for a dancing girl (Kolachi) and rapidly developed into a cosmopolitan sea port under colonial rule. You find the familiar divisions of cantonment and native town in Karachi - grid-like city quarters bordering winding mohallas. You see neo-gothic cathedrals and make-shift dargah sharifs; imposing mosques and national monuments, and crumbling Sikh and Hindu temples. There are vivid traces of the populations that have fled; and a polyphonic, sensory clamor of the populations that have arrived. The city expands, ever wider, ever higher; more and more villages on the outskirts are getting "incorporated" into the city; innumerable concrete high rises now tower beside colonial buildings of yellow gizri stone.

It is tempting, when photographing the city, to revel in architecture, skyline, reti and bajri. But Karachi is a place where all too often, the people get forgotten. Who cares about yellow gizri stone and colonial monuments, when there are heroin addicts crouched in front of them, shielding spoon and match from the westerly wind? I was determined, both aesthetically and politically, that people be in the foreground of these photographs, and the buildings, the landscape, their background. The first photographs I took when I returned to Karachi in 1996 for my year-long odyssey were remote, far off, passer-by visions - of tiny people, vistas, horizons. I was dissatisfied; I wanted my "proximity senses" to participate in what I was to "know" about this city - thus, the addict's face, the sweet smell of burning hashish, the sting of mati on my neck. And I moved in closer.

Karachi is an extremely difficult place to photograph. In addition to the heat, lack of adequate materials and severe water shortages, one is confronted with the undeniably violent tenor of the city: after only two short months I had been beaten up twice by street toughs, had my car stolen, and had numerous unpleasant encounters with the notoriously corrupt Karachi police, seeking to extort money from hapless citizens. There is a kind of safety in skylines, horizons, that you forego when you move in closer. When I look at these photographs, I can't help but hear the sounds of this dangerous intimacy: the scuff of laathis on white starched police uniforms; the crackle of film buckling in the intense humidity; the snap of a fresh magazine being loaded into a casually-held kalashnikov.

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