Interview with novelist Anis Shivani

Maliha Diwan in Dawn:

Karachi Raj encapsulates the different personas of the metropolis: the reader is taken from Regal Chowk to the heart of the film industry, from the Basti to the inner workings of KU. Characters from all walks of life populate the novel: NGO-wallahs, philanthropists, socialites, the Pakistani president, a feisty rickshaw-wallah, construction workers, shopkeepers, a housewife, and an anthropologist, but in many ways the central character is the city itself. How did you go about writing this novel? And what was the inspiration behind it?

ScreenHunter_1751 Mar. 05 17.19As someone born in Karachi, who harbors intimate knowledge of the city, I felt it had not yet received its due in fiction. The original title of the novel wasThe Slums of Karachi, but the novel is about much more than slums. It seeks to capture the different classes in their interactions with each other, and to penetrate the smokescreens of obfuscation the middle and upper classes in Pakistan throw up around themselves.

What is the unique nature of Karachi’s optimism and energy? Where does Karachi succeed in fulfilling its citizens’ dreams for a better life and where does it fail? What is the hierarchy of values and how does it get translated into distribution of resources and rewards? What is special about Karachi’s history — for example as the locus of much of the migration that occurred after Partition — and how does this illuminate the trajectory of other cities in comparable situations? This is what I was after in depicting the various physical manifestations of the city.

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