Carriers of Dil

Introduction by: Bhavani Esapathi

Anita and Shabbir, writers, humans and mostly imaginateurs of all things that should be real. Reality has evaded many of us in the current social-political climate, but what never ceases to amaze is our abilities to conjure new realities that supersede and invoke new worlds. Do we live in the real or do we live in our minds? Whether our minds delude us or we delude ourselves, reality as it exists needs to be challenged. But how they challenge us is the process of living, surviving, that Khayali Karachi manifests within its body of work. True to its name, Khayali as a classical genre of whimsy and surrealism is captured within this work. Read, wonder and create together with Anita and Shabbir, so we can indeed turn our realities into the better world we know it can be.

Meet Shaji.

Shaji, our guardian tree, stood tall at the edge of lovers’ cliff, with his branches frolicking towards the sunrays and his leaves brushing into each other. The couple lay under his shade, tensely flirting. Shaji was happy because today marked his 99th couple. One more and he could claim himself a full love guru. His twig caressed the red-painted 99 on his bark.

This couple had come all the way from Lyari. Shaji smiled and figured they must have heard of his larger than life family, the Shajjars of Hill park (Guardian trees of Hill Park). The Shajjars of Hill park came bearing the grandest responsibilities in Karachi. They were here to protect the sacred matters of love. Shaji had learnt to cast invisibility cloaks, earned great wisdom from the Shajjars, and had managed to reclaim public affection.

These two seemed to be a young pair. They were stuttering in this newfound language, hesitantly sitting one inch apart. Their eyes wandered around. In the glances they shared, they would fidget with their hands and then skid them closer. Every inch finished the gaps between. Right before the pinky fingers could intertwine, a siren wailed from afar.

Meet Bhaoo Patrol.

The Bhaoo patrol spray-painted walls of Hill Park the same way a feline would have pissed to mark territory. They bhaoo-ed around to cow down rebelliousness. The fate of those who got caught by the Bhaoo patrol was one that was not openly discussed and it was not clear where they ended up, but those unfortunate souls were not to be seen again This patrolling fiend circled Hill Park with eyes ticking in every direction hungry to find its next target.

Shaji paused his hums and focused on making the couple invisible from the Bhaoo patrol. ‘Time to let the prem gali exist like a secret quarter.’ As the night eased itself into the world and longer deeper shadows eased themselves into hill park, the couple leaned against Shaji. The air of awkwardness had faded away. Heads now rested on the other’s shoulder with such comfort that it could beat the softest of pillows, and hands embraced each other like they were an entity of their own. They shared this moment before they headed to their own homes.

Soon they got up to depart, and whispered, ‘Thank you, Shaji’.’ They stepped out of his shade. ‘Wapis jaldi ayen ge.’ (‘We will be back soon.’) Shaji was filled with glee for having done his duties well and spent the night with a smile cracked across his bark.

It would be a week before this couple would come back to hill park. This time they would come earlier in the day. They would walk through the pockets of families sitting under gazebos, gathered around the goose lake, and under the shade of a few shajars here and there. They would make their way through the shajar forest, walking in the rubble range. Their hands not quite holding each other but close enough for their fingers to bump every now and then.

They still had to be wary until they were under a shajar’s spell. Finally, they came to Shaji on Lovers’ Street. As he tried to shelter them out of the eyes of the Bhaoo patrol, he felt something was wrong. He couldn’t hold the couple in invisibility. He tried to focus, and his branches creaked in an effort to block out Bhaoo’s vision. Despite all his efforts, he failed. The sounds of a Bhaoo rang through as one of them spotted the couple under Shaji.


The couple quickly disappeared in different directions, their faces covered before the Bhaoo could get close and identify them.

Shaji was horrified. Had he failed? Had he failed the couple and all the shajjars? All around him, Shajjars had failed. He was not the only one. The sounds of Bhaoo echoed, scarring the ears of every couple at Hill Park. Alarmed by this unveiling of their sacred privacy, couples started walking like magnets repelled away from each other. One by one, each couple became strangers on their way home. The soft orange of the sunset now seemed angry. It shone an unwelcome light on those who had to try hiding. Shaji was distraught. What was happening?

What happened should not have happened.

Meet Gulsu.

Gulsu frowned, her ridges furrowing into worry lines. Her invisibility was calculated and precise, to the point of no failure. She was having a blast with today’s couple, the 68th of her Shajar life. Sixty-eight intimate couples had sheltered in her shades, each one tenderly breezed in her presence. It was not the quantity she aimed for; it was always the quality. Tender, carefree love brewed under her roof. And today, when her invisibility spell faded, her branch broke in the process. She felt the trust placed on her being judged.

All the shajjars were facing similar problems; there was simply no success and no solace from the Bhaoo to be found that day. Thoughts intruded into Gulsu’s brain. Why had this happened?

The dim-lit park gleamed like an abandoned house. The only part alive at night were the roars from Fun land. It usually allowed shajjars to loosen their roots after a long, dutiful resistance against the Bhaoo patrol. Except everyone was confused tonight.

‘Kuch garbbar hai (“something is not right”),’ Gulsu said, walking towards Shaji. ‘My powers are not working. Jo bhi karloon (“Whatever I do”), I can’t hide anyone from the Bhaoos.’

Gulsu observed Shaji’s distraught face and found familiarity. She took her broken branch and smacked it on Shaji’s face.

‘Oww, Gulsuuu.’

Shaji rubbed the number on his bark, concerned. His twigs fidgeted around, letting loose of the taweez that hung on his bough.

‘I must have not tried hard enough. I must have been distracted. Maybe I need to practise some more. It’s all my fault,’ he rambled on.

‘Arey budhu (stupid), it happened to me too. Tumhari ghalti nahin hai. Something else is wrong around here.’ Gulsu smacked some sense into Shaji.

‘What is the problem then?’ asked Shaji

‘I don’t know,’ Gulsu shrugged.

Shaji felt compelled to find out what it was. ‘Acha, let’s go find out, Gulsu.’

But the other Shajjars were too tired. Losing power was like a light flicker for them. Karachi wreaks havocs different kinds of weirdness. Maybe today was one of those days. They felt no need to wonder why this happened and no need to fix it. They had hoped for the next day to be different. Everyone came to the same conclusion: hope was all they had.

The lights patched some areas with pale light, and so the two tippy-toed towards Fun land. That was the only place offering light and perhaps some answers. It felt odd, terribly odd for two trees to have scavenged in their own town. The night lay itself out in dark shadows. Unlike sirens of Bhaoo patrol that would queue after Fajr azan, the night offered eerie silence and small cricket chirps. There was barely anything to see, and the walls of the park seemed to grow an inch higher after every hour.

Shaji clung to Gulsu’s bark. They reached Fun land, a glowing catacomb of metal and electricity spinning and turning its shapes against the dark sky. It filled the space with vivid colours that washed over the two as they went on to the Fun land stood the valley of 420 trees. A large arc of whispering trees crowned this valley. They were the wisest shajjars of the park. Every shajjar would seek their truth after Fajr.

Shaji shadowed behind Gulsu and walked into the hums of 420.

‘What truth must you seek this late at night?’

‘We failed our couple. We can’t seem to help them anymore.’ Shaji’s voice cracked.

‘Saray shajjars ka yeh masla hai (“This is every Shajjar’s problem”), we’re all failing to hide anyone.’

‘Kamzori ho gayi hai tum mai. Jin se tum chupa na chah rahe ho woh takatwar hotay jaa rahay hain (“You are weak. Those who you want to hide from are getting stronger”).’

‘You mean the Bhaoo patrol?’ asked Gulsu

‘Jawaan shajjars, agay jawabb tumhay khud dhoondnay parein gey (“Young Shajjars, you will have to find your own answers now on”).’

They were hissed with whispers from all sides. Each tree refused to answer. None of them wanted to let the truth float under the moon.

Shaji and Gulsu emerged from the valley of 420 trees to an open space. On their left, they could see this mass of torn-up cement and bricks.

‘I heard that there used to be a swimming pool here before the Bhaoo patrol decided to wipe it out of existence,’ Shaji said.

‘Well, it’s a good thing we’re not swimming pools,’ replied Gulsu.

The long trail led them into unknown territory. The hills became steep with each step. On their left was a city basking in the moonlight. The two stood next to an empty bench and imagined these tiny buildings sheltering their couples.

On their right, stood the edifice of a strange cement structure. They examined the walls. The cracks mapped around them. Enchanted, Shaji leaned on it to peel into one crack but it whipped open its eyeballs. The two large bricks had been awoken on a starry night. Under the bricks were benches with waiting passengers. The two bricks guffawed and startled the Shajjars.

‘Salam,’ Shaji and Gulsu said in unison

‘Salam,’ they replied, peering down at the two.

‘Who are you, ajeeb cement blocks?’ Shaji asked.

‘Ajeeb, we’re not ajeebb, you’re ajeeb.’ The blocks spoke each word alternating between them.

‘I’m Gunda and this is Munda,’ said one of the cubes.

‘Arey nahin, I’m Gunda and you’re Munda,’ the other block said to the first one.

‘And as to why we’re erected here, my curious plant friend, is that we are the water pumps of hill park.’

‘We pump water all the time, throughout the park.’

‘Why do you have benches under you?’ Gulsu asked.

‘Well,’ said Gunda, ‘you know how you Shajjars hide all those smoochie-smoochie couples,’ Shaji and Gulsu’s leaves rustled as they nodded in unison.

‘We do the same,’ finished Munda.

‘But not the same,’ said Gunda.

‘Kya?’ said the Shajjars.

‘The things that you see under us are more of a…. chikna nature,’ said Munda.

‘What does that

even mean?’ asked Shaji.

‘You know how you little tree folks have your little love carvings and drawings? Well, so do we. They just happen to be a bit more… adult,’ said Munda.

A few small buds on Gulsu bloomed pink as realisation dawned on what Munda meant.

‘Wha…’ Shaji began to ask but got interrupted. ‘Never mind, Shaji, we have more important things to worry about.’

‘All we are saying, my shajjar friends, is that we have fun to hide too. Here, take a look,’ Gunda said, smiling a big smile.

Shaji and Gulsu took a quick peak inside. Gulsu and Shaji both came out, more pink flowers blushed on them.

‘About that,’ Shaji said, still pink, ‘the shajjars everywhere seem to be losing their power to protect the people from the Bhaoo patrol. And the last time a couple got caught, well the older shajjars never told us what happened, but we never saw them again. We don’t even get to mention it in front of them. Do you have any idea what is happening?’

‘We don’t know, my dude,’ the two said, ‘but not too long ago while we were…. Vibing, we had these two human uncles doing a gossip.’

‘Oh yes,’ said Gunda, ‘they were having quite an old uncle human gossip.’

‘Mmmmmhmmm,’ said Munda.

‘What did they say?’ asked Gulsu.

‘Well, my little green friends,’ said Gunda.

‘They sounded quite like they had multiple sticks where sticks should not be.’

‘Allow us to demonstrate,’ said Munda. ‘I will play uncle 1 and Gunda here will play uncle 2.’

‘Ohhhh ye bigre huge bache haramiyon. Kitne saale be haya hai’ (“Ohhh, these spoiled brats!”),’ said Gunda.

‘Arey Haaaaan in bacho ne to jeena bhi jahanami kar diya hai, hab yehab aa ke dekho to chipak chipak ke baithay hotay hain (“Areey yes, these kids have made our places hell. Everywhere they sit so close”),’ said Munda.

‘Aye hai mai jya bataon aap ko, pichli dafa to mai ne unko…haaath pakar ke baithay huwe dekha! Haiii meray to hosh hi ur gaye (“Aye, last time I saw them… holding hands! My soul left my body for a bit”).’

‘Arey bhai in bacho ne to yeh hungama macha diya hai (“Arey bhai, these kids have wreaked havoc here”).’

‘Sunai ab mujhe koi dikh jata hai to ab mai bhao ko ja ke bata deta hoon, us se kaafi kam ho gaye hain, aap bhi bata diya karein (“If I see someone, I go up and tell bhaos about it. That’s helped finish them”).’

‘Yeh to bara zabardast idea diya hai tumne, kya baat hai (“You have spoken such wise words. Wonderful!”).’

‘And that’s the way the old uncles “uncled” all around us.’

The two towers gave a nonchalant grin.

‘So it’s the uncles who are causing all this!’ Shaji exclaimed. ‘What do we do now?’ He turned to Gulsu.

‘I don’t know,’ Gulsu said. Her bark lengthened in frustration.

‘What do you think we should do?’ she asked Gunda and Munda. They both smiled with their dazed look at her.

‘Heck if we know,’ they said, ‘but after the conversation, they went under us to have a little puff puff. Maybe you could invite them to a puff puff.’

Gulsu stared at them almost amused. ‘That’s it, Shaji!’

‘Ummm, we’re not that kind of plant, Gulsu,’ Shaji replied.

‘Aye hai bhuddu, not that. The carvings and paintings under Gunda and Munda! Just like them we have our own carvings, our own stories.’ Shaji stared at her. ‘Gul, I think you might be a genius.’

Smoke starting billowing from under Gunda and Munda. A strange stench settled a misty net around the building, and the bricks started laughing at each other.

Gulsu and Shaji painstakingly brightened every faded carving, every mark, every memory, every feeling that they had held. All the little glances shared between lovers, all the words spoken as if they were poetry, the hands held, the lips that dared to be part of a pair. They polished it all till they shone like streaks of gold shining through the bark.

By the next morning, a crowd had circled around them. Gulsu and Shaji gleamed with memories of lovers. 99 and 68 weren’t just numbers, they were stories held on bark by bark. People came, touched them and got flooded with intense love, longing, desire and fear. Where two eyes met in symphony, and two hands attempted to be a single vessel. Arms wrapped around their lover’s shoulders, music attuned to sargams of a romantic evening, and face glued within cheek proximity. With all those emotions came an understanding of what it takes for pyaar to be an ordinary site. The city abandoned lovers, but on top of this cliff, bodies became carriers of the heart.

The gold in Shaji and Gulsu faded back to their beautiful brown bark, but today if you are lucky enough to find them, place your hand on them, and say a thank you.

Anita Zehra and Shabbir Mohammed

Khayali Karachi is a speculative dive into the spaces of South Asia, starting from a city by the sea, based in Pakistan, called Karachi. This was co-founded by Anita Zehra and Shabbir Mohammed as young as 21 years old.

Through an immersive storytelling methodology, we intend to morph spatial awareness with wonder. It began with an idea, a desire. Sauntering through any city will open up valleys of information about the city. It unwraps the spaces as an interaction with the senses. If one can train their eyes to see the tales brewing in every crack of this city, ears to listen to the way the city speaks, meet the guardian spirits that protect the sea, and speak languages that go beyond the tongue, they can envision Khayali Karachi.

A toolkit around art, love, and peace building is created using wonder as a form of empowerment and hope as a tool to combat chaotic dishevels of any city. By asking questions with a sense of belonging and curiosity, one is rewired to think of the city differently. When does a land become mine? How do I create innocently? And what will I create? It extends into a vision of sustaining a community driven by hope and imagination, instead of violence and hopelessness.