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Karachi, You're Killing Me!


A crushing load of pretentions
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: March 23, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Saba Imtiaz | Karachi | You’re Killing Me! | Helen Fielding | Moni Mohsin | Pakistan | Ayesha | Chaudhary Aslam |

Ok! Ok! Ok! By now we know that Karachi’ites are normal people. They drink like fish, snort like alligators, and have sex like rabbits. We now also know that they have the biggest number of people on earth that are looking to escape out. Done and dusted. Now can we have a break please? Are we allowed to breathe? We DON’T want another novel telling us that. Period.

My friends and colleagues often rub it in that as books editor I get to read a variety of books and get to keep them for free. They never miss a chance to remind me of this. I wish I could tell them that there is no pain on earth more excruciating than reading a bad book from cover to cover, with the exception probably of a pretentious book. You die after every page. It’s like self-flagellation. Only self-flagellation leads to fulfilment for people who believe in such things. Reading a pretentious book does not.

Saba Imtiaz’s debut novel, Karachi, You’re Killing Me! is one such wonder. A visible amalgamation of Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Diary of a Social Butterfly by a very talented Moni Mohsin, Karachi, You’re Killing Me! reeks of pretentions from the word go. This is the story of Ayesha, a female journalist in her late 20s who is trying hard to escape out of Karachi. She has a friend, Saad, who we are told in no uncertain terms describes his sexual escapades to her whenever they talk and in the past, lent her his jacket during her menses. There is an obnoxious boss and then there is Karachi in all its flavours: target killers, dumb socialites, snob feudal, et al.

Saba sticks to Helen Fielding’s style and throws in Moni Mohsin liberally. The hotchpotch comes out as just that, a hotchpotch. To give credit where it is due, the novel is not unreadable. But for pretentions, it would have scored some points as a glorified chick lit or metro read. But the writer eagerly wanted to bite off more than she could chew.

The book ignores small details liberally and prays readers won’t notice. On a certain page in the middle of the book, we come to know that the journalist has merely Rs 300 or so left with salaries not in sight. Several taxi and auto rides later, voila, she still has the same amount. And the dichotomy also seems not to bother the author even slightly.

Saad, yes the cool friend of the protagonist with whom, it is hammered into us, she shares a platonic relationship, falls for her. By page 50 smart readers know where their relationship is going. By page 150, everyone from the publisher of this book to the proofreaders to the guy sitting in the printing press knows where this is leading. It is only the very talented protagonist who does not notice. We are left to think that truly boys and girls cannot be merely friends.

Also, if by mistake this is your first novel on Pakistan, you’ll be forgiven for believing that people in Pakistan don’t do anything but indulge in bingeing and one night stands. Twenty pages into the novel and you actually start to sympathize with the authorities who banned alcohol in the country.

One could have still understood had Ayesha been a caricature. The problem is her character is outright fake. It is an attempt to juxtapose Bridget Jones in Karachi. The result has gone horrendously wrong. To make her look cool, she is made to dish out banalities. Consider this. After a casual sexual encounter with a White journalist, Ayesha lets us all know, in as many words, that Goras are the best f**cks. Moments later, when he f**ks her figuratively, you feel no sympathy for her.

The failure looks more acute in scenes where she tries to come up as an intellectual. Somewhere in between these 272 unreadable pages, Ayesha goes below the belt and calls the now deceased Karachi super-cop Chaudhary Aslam a failure and a disaster. This for a police officer who lived and died protecting Karachi from falling into Taliban’s hands. On the contrary, the judgement is passed by a girl who is running away from troubles rather than facing it. Her ultimate dream is to escape Karachi. To say that coming from her, this is a tad rich, would be letting her and her author off too easily. This is revolting and symptomatic of the rot that troubles Karachi. Writing a light read does not give you the right to utter banalities and get away with it.

Karachi, You’re Killing Me is not a book one keeps in one’s library. It is to be read, laughed off, and thrown away. It tickles you in parts. In fact, some parts are hilarious. The problem is, most other parts are hilarious too, but in a wrong way.

Author: Saba Imtiaz
Edition: Paperback
ISBN: 978-8-184-00460-1
Pages: 272
Price: Rs 299
Publisher: Random House

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017