Grudgingly write a review of a newly-opened bakery in the city. Hastily check your email to find that you’ve been rejected by the writing fellowship you’d pinned your award-winning-reportage hopes on. Pray to the Gods of Journalism that you can beat deadlines (and the deadly traffic) to reach home in time to have a semblance of a social life.
Only to be informed by your boss at the last minute that you must stay late to edit copies.
That’s the daily life of Ayesha Khan, a reporter with a Pakistani daily in Karachi, in Saba Imtiaz’s Karachi, You’re Killing Me! But it just as easily could have been an excerpt from my journal about working in a newsroom in Delhi, or a regular Monday of any reporter in South Asia.
And therein lies the inherent charm of this 272- page book from Pakistan being adapted into the Sonakshi Sinha-starrer Noor. It’s a relatable story of a reporter in her mid-twenties tackling a quarter-life crisis and a dead-end career, written with a healthy dose of sardonic wit and an honest (and humorous) look at life in Karachi.
Bombs, Bootleggers and Karachi
I hate living in Karachi, but it can be so heartbreakingly beautiful when it sets its mind to it.
Karachi is the strongest character in the book in an otherwise predictable storyline — overwhelming the characters with its bombs, alcohol prohibitions, complexity, power cuts and chaos. Always contrasted with its more orderly cousin, Islamabad, Karachi with its “Factory Boys”, wine-swirling cynical men, literature fests and consistent mugging is a character one can’t help falling in love with. In Imtiaz’s Karachi, a bootlegger is a lifeline, muggings are normal, old poets debate their contribution to Faiz, innumerable books are written about a post-9/11 Afghanistan, and roadblocks are as omnipresent as the power cuts.
The city is described lovingly, and with a refreshing honesty that might shatter stereotypes held about life of a young Pakistani for those of us who peek at the country only through a lens tinted by newsprint.
Imtiaz plays on the ‘outsider’ trope hilariously, describing Ayesha’s weary and cynical disdain for bright-eyed ‘foreigners’ who come to Pakistan to report on the imagined conflicts and strife. A sly comment on the ‘white saviour’ complex, the book refreshingly gives an insider perspective on how journalists are taken to ‘spots’ — to meet extremists, drug lords, and terror victims.
Every character in the film has a different outlook towards the city. Ayesha shares a love-hate relationship with the city, often proclaiming that she “hates” the city. She longs for a life outside Karachi, feeling suffocated – by the lack of opportunities, and sometimes literally, thanks to the dreadful heat.
But navigating the by-lanes of Karachi, reporting doggedly on gang lords and fashion shows, she seems to thrive in the chaos. She is what editors will call a ‘city veteran’, and in the end it is her knowledge of Karachi that becomes her calling card in journalism.
Eternal Frustration of a Mid-Twenties Life
Can’t I do just one great story that will get me noticed?
Ayesha’s frustration with her career and life is relatable.
Everyone in Ayesha’s world seems to be more sorted and successful than her, including her best friends Zara and Saad. We all know how impossible it can sometimes be to strike a precarious balance between career, social life and family. It seems impossible, yet a balance which the entire world seems to achieve, complete with a picture-perfect Instagram filter.
Imtiaz deals with the heartbreak and hope of a being an independent, working woman striving to achieve success with humour and plenty of Murree beer. In a breezy and honest narrative, the Saad-Ayesha dynamic strikes something of a false chord. Saad is Ayesha’s best friend and a successful professional in Dubai, but his character is never fully fleshed out – with the hasty dynamic leading to a somewhat dissatisfying ending.
Final verdict? If you’re stuck in a quarter-life crisis with a job going nowhere, a dwindling social life and in need of a dose of witty humour, read Karachi, You’re Killing Me! to discover a universal truth:
Journalists have it worse.