Khurram Javed, Baldia Town, Karachi
Khurram had been busy since his brother’s death helping other families search for bodies, complete financial compensation paper work, deal with the police, the hospital and morgue formalities and prepare submissions for DNA testing to help identify bodies. Unlike his parents, whose spirits seemed quite broken in the aftermath of their son’s death, Khurram had turned his sorrows into small acts of social activism, conscience and concern. A friend introduced me to him when I had first arrived in Baldia town. I had never been to this part of Karachi even though I was born in the city, had lived the first eighteen years of my life here. Baldia Town’s may as well been a foreign country, and its rhythms and norms were entirely unknown to me. I needed a pair of eyes and ears to help me navigate my way through Baldia Town’s alleys and homes without getting myself into trouble. Khurram was the man.
Born and raised in the neighborhood, he seemed to know everyone, remember every alley, and the gossip that lay behind each door. And the people knew him too, and seemed to respect him. They shouted greetings to him from almost every shop we walked by, and others crossed the street to shake his hand. He had worked tirelessly to convince people to refuse the money being paid out and join together for collective action against the company, but it had an uphill and ultimately futile task. People were too desperate to simply walk away from the cash. That however did not stop them from respecting Khurram’s ideas. Many responded to his pleas with apologies, explaining that in a different time, and a different place, they would have stood with him, but that these days things were too difficult.
Walking into homes behind Khurram’s smile, out-reached hand and friendly greetings, opened many doors for me. In fact, so busy and distracted was I with my work, that it was only later that I realized that I never asked him anything about himself. I had even forgotten that Khurram had lost a brother in the fire, and that he too was in mourning. Some days after my return to my studio in Lahore, I was cruelly reminded of my oversight, when I received this text message from him.