[I]n Pakistan we have reached a state of alchemy that typifies the post-post modern life. Life drudges through its multifarious activities of simple poverty until it climaxes into a bustle of hot abrasion in the struggle to churn out the most out of the given condition of existence. As the world turns its gaze on us, we struggle to mould a new fathomable identity- one that can be left on business tables after striking a deal or negotiation, a firm shake of the hand and a name and a number. I am Pakistani.
Still developing, the land of Pakistan leads its mass population toward labour. The majority of the populace is involved in hard manual labour of all sorts. Car mechanics, fishermen, dhobis (laundry men), trash-pickers; groceries stall owners, public transport drivers, construction workers; small industries and services conjoin to populate the hustle-bustle in the streets of the spreading metropolis of Pakistan, Karachi. From ad hoc tented bazaars to state-of-the-art shopping malls the streets offer you concomitant lifestyles to choose from. But those who offer these facilitating services seem to have not much of a choice. Their land unfortunately is offering them no change and no escape from the tedium of earning a living and sustenance.
As the lower class is chained to work and sustenance, the country’s facade is changing rapidly, its road to ‘international/global progress’ interpolating in the opposite direction. Sometimes it’s a surprise to catch yourself in the middle of a traffic jam alongside a donkey cart, because of obstruction in the road ahead due to construction of some appendage to the conglomerate. Modernism is the new tune to sing but is it for those who contribute to the country with their very own hands?
In this selection, most photographers have been unable to overlook this twist of fate. Yet the funny thing about spirit is that it always will raise its head if left in the dark too long. One would think that the men and women of the land, living amidst the machinery of constant labour, the pace of city life screaming to be kept up with would have deafened to the lighter side of life, to its accessible beauty even. But these people make their marks still for all to see. Rickety rickshaws and booming buses, long-distance freight vehicles are all decorated with an idiosyncrasy: they travel with some sort of poetry or art. Nearly always, a poetic verse penned by the driver himself perhaps will be written at the back of his vehicle. Or a random phrase that carries a profound meaning to him will identify him closely to his rickshaw or bus, and henceforth his livelihood.
When following these vehicles in an everyday flow of traffic in the city, one is struck by the universal journey that those we assume illiterate and uncultured, present: a searching for a point of calm, a release from the chains of overworked fatigue… whether they are part of the rat race involuntarily, the respite from rickshaw driving comes in the slow beat of afternoon heat as it breaks inside roadside hotels with a cool glass of lassi(milk drink), or a steaming cup of strong chai (tea).
The selection of photographs illustrate desperate struggle to rise above shadows and a naive delight in the hard sunlight that drives home the labour of love.
(by Faiza Shah)