Compassionate Karachi

Karachi is a strange city. People who have been born and raised in this booming metropolis often end up cultivating a love-hate relationship with it, and one that would rival the most complicated and convoluted of romances at that. There are times when you want to end what feels like a largely unrequited love affair, but then something wonderful always happens and your faith is momentarily restored. And so the denizens of Karachi go on.

Lately our city has been plagued by violence that, even by its own standards, is appalling. You are not considered a true Karachiite unless you’ve been mugged, parents worry about their children being out too late lest something happen, and people who go to work every day do so prepared that it might be their last day alive. We’re used to very high levels of uncertainty, and have even learnt to take it in our stride.

However, living like this does have its repercussions. According to a 2012 report, 30 to 40 percent of people in Karachi suffer from common mental disorders caused by the stress of living in a city like ours. Apart from that, we tend to become more selfish in our quest for self-preservation and security of all kinds, whether it be financial, personal or anything else. We forget that we share this wonderful, albeit suffering, home of ours with others who are more underprivileged than we could ever imagine, that small acts of kindness can go a long way. Most importantly, we forget that no matter how many problems we have, we are still more blessed than someone else might be.

So how can we be compassionate and not lose our sense of humanity in these troubled times? Let’s start small. Next time you go out to eat, if you can afford it, buy food for the little children milling around you begging for money. A bunkabab or plate of chaat doesn’t burn a hole in anyone’s pocket. When you go out to eat at a fancy place, donate an amount of money to an organization that feeds the poor and hungry.

There are various NGOs running educational programs and schools for underprivileged children. Examples include the SOS villages, The Citizens Foundation, and Rabtt. These organizations are doing some wonderful work, and donations are always helpful and welcome. However, volunteering and going to see how they do their work is also a great idea. Our responsibility as citizens doesn’t just end on giving away money for charity- we should also be contributing to our society and the welfare of our people in other ways. So make that trip, go to one of these schools, go to Dar ul Sukoon and see how the children’s faces light up when you arrive with gifts and food. The best part is that they’ll probably be happier to see you than the gifts.

How about what we do in our own homes? Hiring domestic help is a common practice. But how about we give these people the respect and recognition they deserve? They make our homes livable, leave behind their families to take care of our children, and do work we don’t do only because we were born privileged and they weren’t. A domestic staff member’s place isn’t on the floor just because of their vocation- people in first world countries pay thousands of dollars a month to hire staff, and they are treated accordingly with respect. Don’t make your domestic staff sit on the floor by your feet. Don’t give them separate dinnerware- you can talk to them about hygiene, but treating them like they’re a different breed is demeaning and disrespectful. We see it all the time. A relatively affluent family comes to a wedding or a restaurant with their maid in tow. The maid is usually no older than a teenager, but usually younger. She sits by in her tattered clothing, watching everyone have a merry time. How much does it take to treat someone who looks after our children, even though they’re barely older than them, with love and respect? Not much, I would say. The biggest gift we can give to ourselves is learning how to be empathic, compassionate and considerate.