Witty tales of the city

February 2, 2014

Witty tales of the city

In just a few months there have been so many new novels set in Karachi. After Bilal Tanweer’s The Scatter Here is too Great and Omar Shahid Hamid’s The Prisoner, we now have Saba Imtiaz’s Karachi You’re Killing Me.

While Bilal Tanweer’s book was a complex, rather disturbing, narrative and Omar Shahid Hamid’s was a thoughtful thriller, Saba Imtiaz’s book is a very funny story in a very grim setting.

The protagonist, Ayesha Khan, is a reporter for a Karachi newspaper, whose perpetually demanding young ‘seth’ editor has the job because the paper belongs to his rich father.

Ayesha is underpaid, overworked and constantly fearful of being seen as a ‘sad singleton’ in the style of Bridget Jones. She is rather like Bridget except that she has to function in a Pakistani context. Like Bridget she drinks too much, parties unwisely, gets involved with unsuitable men and has a core group of lovely, uber loyal friends. In chick-lit style, most of the story and the ending (the romance/betrayal part) are quite obvious and completely predictable, but it is all recounted with so much wit and charm that it makes for a great read.

In style as well as in content, the book is very similar to Maha Khan Phillips’ 2010 novel Beautiful from this Angle, which navigated a similar social landscape (filthy-rich socialites, drinking, taking drugs and sleeping around) and also similarly satirised the western media style of reporting and depicting Pakistan, particularly Karachi. As Maha Khan Phillips did in that earlier novel, Saba Imtiaz too begins each chapter with a newspaper headline. But what sets Imtiaz’s book apart is her down to earth depiction of the gritty work of news reporting and surviving in a city like Karachi.

Despite all the blood and gore, Saba Imtiaz’s book is surprisingly upbeat. As a journalist myself, I particularly loved her optimistic (but sadly untrue) vision of evil journalists getting their come-uppance, while good journos triumph. (Although I have to say that something about the reporting did rather puzzle me: even though it’s all set in a high-tech world with mobile phones and twitter, Ayesha seems to scribble all her interviews in writing, in her notebooks, never seeming to record any audio or taking any photos with her phone)

Karachi You’re Killing Me is a funny and perceptive book, although perhaps not one you’d recommend to your mum. What with its accounts of alcohol-fuelled partying and the casual use of the morning-after pill, this might prove too shocking to those of the aunty generation (like me). Overall, this is a fun story, sharply observed and, despite its humour and romance, rooted firmly in the confusing metropolis that is Karachi.

Witty tales of the city