June Issue 2012

By | Arts & Culture | Books | Published 12 years ago

From the sleepy fishing islands in the harbour to the bustling streets of Saddar, Karachi is arguably the most diverse city in Pakistan. And with its exponential growth and constant developments, the city can sometimes feel like a stranger to even born and bred Karachiites. Therefore, one would expect a guidebook on Karachi to not only provide insight on the city’s culture and history but to also capture the energy of the city.

The Jumbo Karachi Guide is certainly informative with its maps, directories and chapters on everything from the climate to the Karachi Literature Festival. The guide provides a history of the city and even offers relatively obscure facts e.g. in 1846 there were only 9,000 inhabitants and a Karachi Conservancy Board was created to oversee a cholera epidemic. The chapter on Karachi’s architectural heritage is another highlight and features well known landmarks such as Frere Hall and Mohatta Palace.

However, the guidebook leaves a lot to be desired. One of the main setbacks of the book is that the publishers paid little attention to design and aesthetics. The cover, a collage of different postcard-esque images of the city, is simply uninspiring. Flipping through the guide, not a single page stands out to strike the attention of the reader. Some photographs suffer from poor lighting, while others are outright blurry. The slipshod production is disappointing and, in some cases, has resulted in glaring mistakes. A photograph of St Joseph’s Convent School, with all its crucifixes in sight, accompanies the description on Sindh Madressatul Islam.

The text suffers from typos and grammatical errors and the information is organised somewhat haphazardly. The food chapter, for instance, begins with three paragraphs on Port Grand, which are immediately followed by a health warning to foreigners about drinking clean water, only to continue listing other restaurants in Karachi. And while the chapter mentions everything from Espresso to Burns Road street-side cafés, it would have been better if the publishers had focused a little more on descriptions of the food Karachi is best known for.

However, the biggest oversight of the book is that it makes no mention of handicrafts — a subject that surely warranted a chapter to itself. The section on shopping mentions that the Cooperative Market is a good place to buy onyx, brass and wood handicrafts but a guidebook certainly needs to go into more detail than that.

The Jumbo Karachi Guide may not live up to expectations but to its credit, the guidebook covers a variety of topics and provides a directory of everything from hospitals to art galleries, which would be handy for visitors and residents alike. Hopefully Jumbo Infomedia will note the shortcomings of this book and improve on it in future editions.

This review was originally published in the June issue under the headline “If You’re Going to Karachi…”

Zehra Nabi is a graduate student in The Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at Newsline and The Express Tribune.