Published on Aaj TV Blog
If you live in Karachi, how many times have you found yourself wondering about where to go to have some fun? On numerous occasions you find yourself telling enthusiastic foreign guests that there is not much to see really.
Apart from the not-so-clean beach, Jinnah’s mausoleum (which is not really a picnic spot) and the countless eating out places (many of which are extremely over-priced), there are very few places that provide entertainment to the common Karachiite.
A select few venture to the small number of poor-quality cinema houses present in the city. Karachi Cineplex is one exception as far as quality is concerned but it is not affordable for everyone or large enough and is also perceived as too distant from many areas of the city.
There are bowling places like Arena and Area 51, game arcades like Sindbad and adventure/amusement parks like Fun Land, Hill Park, Safari Park and Aladdin Park. But they are very few in number and several of these hangouts are not well-maintained. They are opened up with a lot of fervour and many people initially visit them. But after every few years, many of the rides stop functioning, the parks become a little less green and the undernourished animals start disappearing from the already dismal Karachi Zoo.
Shopping malls like Park Towers, The Forum and City Centre have opened up but apart from branded stores and some branded, musical activities, they do not offer very much although cinemas could easily have been constructed within them, along the lines of multiplexes in other big cities of the world. Even experiential retail concepts can be adopted for the sake of consumers.
Apart from shopping, the much-hyped French Beach is also a disappointment. The only difference one finds from the other beaches is that it is clean. There are no facilities or even palm trees.
What I find lacking in the few places that do exist is tastefulness and ideas that will help make these places more fun. I remember visiting Juhu Beach in Mumbai. Even though it was not very clean, it used to have crazy rides and chaat shops; a place where the common man sat on simple mattresses, savoured delicious pau bhaji and enjoyed the sunset. It only took some imagination to put these things up in an organized manner. One did not need to hunt for someone selling tea and snacks, and for a clean place to sit.
I also enjoyed my brief sojourn in Dubai, a city which is often criticised for being too artificial. Everything there is man-made no doubt but at least they have worked hard to make it into something noteworthy. Apart from the amazing architecture, even malls there offer something more: from Spanish dances to ice skating at Emirates Mall; a walk through history at Ibn-e-Batuta Mall and so on. Of course, there too, affordability is an issue.
Locally, not much effort is made to link culture and entertainment. Sindh has a very rich culture and so does Karachi, which is home to so many different communities. But our cultural heritage is not highlighted in any significant manner. Diversity goes unappreciated. Arts are ignored or still seen as elitist. Few know of or are willing to pay to attend theatrical productions.
Only corporate-sponsored events and fashion shows are well-attended, and not everyone is invited. People wander aimlessly at B2B exhibitions at Karachi Expo Centre when the entry is free. Many Karachiites are left wondering how to spend their time away from the idiot box and the fast food deals that empty their wallets much too quickly and only satisfy their taste buds.