Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi

Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi

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by Steve Inskeep
     
 

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From the host of NPR's Morning Edition, a deeply reported portrait of Karachi, Pakistan, a city that illuminates the perils and possibilities of rapidly growing metropolises all around the world.

In recent decades, the world has seen an unprecedented shift of people from the countryside into cities. As Steve Inskeep so aptly puts it, we are now

Overview

From the host of NPR's Morning Edition, a deeply reported portrait of Karachi, Pakistan, a city that illuminates the perils and possibilities of rapidly growing metropolises all around the world.

In recent decades, the world has seen an unprecedented shift of people from the countryside into cities. As Steve Inskeep so aptly puts it, we are now living in the age of the "instant city," when new megacities can emerge practically overnight, creating a host of unique pressures surrounding land use, energy, housing, and the environment. In his first book, the co-host of Morning Edition explores how this epic migration has transformed one of the world's most intriguing instant cities: Karachi, Pakistan.

Karachi has exploded from a colonial port town of 350,000 in 1941 to a sprawling metropolis of at least 13 million today. As the booming commercial center of Pakistan, Karachi is perhaps the largest city whose stability is a vital security concern of the United States, and yet it is a place that Americans have frequently misunderstood.

As Inskeep underscores, one of the great ironies of Karachi's history is that the decision to divide Pakistan and India along religious lines in 1947 only unleashed deeper divisions within the city-over religious sect, ethnic group, and political party. In Instant City, Inskeep investigates the 2009 bombing of a Shia religious procession that killed dozens of people and led to further acts of terrorism, including widespread arson at a popular market. As he discovers, the bombing is in many ways a microcosm of the numerous conflicts that divide Karachi, because people wondered if the perpetrators were motivated by religious fervor, political revenge, or simply a desire to make way for new real estate in the heart of the city. Despite the violence that frequently consumes Karachi, Inskeep finds remarkable signs of the city's tolerance, vitality, and thriving civil society-from a world-renowned ambulance service to a socially innovative project that helps residents of the vast squatter neighborhoods find their own solutions to sanitation, health care, and education.

Drawing on interviews with a broad cross section of Karachi residents, from ER doctors to architects to shopkeepers, Inskeep has created a vibrant and nuanced portrait of the forces competing to shape the future of one of the world's fastest growing cities.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Reviewed by Mohammed Hanif. On December 29, 2009, a bomb blast targeted the annual Shia procession in Karachi. Forty days later another Shia procession was attacked. When the victims, survivors, and their distraught families arrived at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital, another bomb blew up outside the emergency ward. And as the debris from the blast was being cleared, someone noticed a computer monitor strapped to a motorbike parked in the compound. The bomb disposal experts discovered yet another improvised bomb inside the monitor and defused it. Just another day in Pakistan’s largest city.In the absorbing Instant City, Inskeep, cohost of NPR’s Morning Edition, sets out to recreate the events of these two days. The opening reads like a sophisticated thriller as the author traces the movements of a number of people: the participants in the procession, the law enforcers monitoring their video screens, shop owners about to lose their half-century-old businesses, and ambulance drivers who’ll have to clear up the bloody mess. As we reach the computer monitor strapped to a motorbike in the midst of the carnage, Inskeep plunges us into another turbulent time—the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan—and he gives us very readable capsule histories of the various communities and political forces that have brought us to this hospital compound.This is an intimate book about a mega-city, and Inskeep succeeds by keeping his ambitions modest. By trying to understand the horrific event of one particular day, he keeps his narrative well paced and full of small surprises. The book sparkles when Inskeep takes an unexpected turn and follows a stranger, or when he tracks down a new trend to illuminate a new facet of the city. The old man he encounters outside a liquor shop, the slum under construction, the upscale leisure park tell us more about the city than any bomb blast.Occasionally, Inskeep overreaches—such as when he tries to understand the mood of the nation by deconstructing the wardrobe of its founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, or speculating about the personal lives of Pakistan’s most famous philanthropist couple. It’s in the ordinary fates of the ordinary people that he finds the extraordinary spirit of Karachi. The story of Tony Tufail, a cabaret manager who built Pakistan’s first casino but could never open its doors is heartbreaking, yet foreshadows the new religious trends. The story of Nasir Baloch, a young activist, fighting to save his neighborhood park, is evoked in loving detail. Baloch takes on the land mafia encroaching the park and is shot dead. Inskeep tries to offset such tragic stories by comparing Karachi to other megacities around the world, and in the end includes an obligatory set of recommendations. Not many politicians read books in Karachi, but if they were to read one, let it be Instant City. (Oct.)Mohammed Hanif is author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes (Vintage, 2009). His new book, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, will be publishsed by Knopf next May. He lives in Karachi.
Library Journal
Megacities keep mushrooming up in our overcrowded world, and Inskeep, the cohost of NPR's Morning Edition, uses Karachi, Pakistan, as an example. In 1941, it was a sleepy port town of 350,000; now it's home to more than 13 million, often violently divided over religion, ethnicity, and politics yet noted for innovative projects aimed at helping the poor help themselves. So much literature on the Middle East, but this goes behind the headlines and has that NPR advantage. With a national tour.
Kirkus Reviews

NPR'sMorning Edition co-host Inskeep explores Karachi, Pakistan, a mega-city of hopes and conflict, "a field of operations for the makers of buildings and bombs."

Karachi is an "instant city," where, as with Shanghai and Istanbul, the population has soared with unprecedented speed. In 1945, Karachi had a population of 400,000; today it is 13 million. Millions arrived during the partition of India, still more from what is now Bangladesh, and millions more have fled the violence of Pakistan's northern border with Afghanistan. Amid a combustible mix of religious difference—though the population is overwhelmingly Muslim—and divisions of class, language and even ancestral home village, Karachi is a city where "[l]ifelong residents and newcomers alike jostle for power and resources in a swiftly evolving landscape that disorients them all." As venal political parties both breed and feed on the city's divisions, battles over the riches to be made, especially in real estate, have changed the city. Inskeep examines this part of the culture, but he also looks at those simply trying to make a difference. An emergency-room doctor tended to all wounded by bombings and riots, as the emergency room itself became a target for terrorism. Another resident built a charitable empire by providing cheap or free ambulance service and pharmaceuticals. An organizer helped the poor build housing and find basic services, creating self-governing enclaves within a debased political system. Developers have dreamt of, and at times realized, skyscrapers, malls, hotels and city centers to attract the foreign capital Karachi needs to survive in an age of globalization. Inskeep seemingly looked at everything and talked to everyone—religious zealots, political bosses and people simply trying to get by. Here he finds the promise of Karachi, "the most powerful force in the instant city; the desire of millions of people—simple quiet, humble, and relentless, no matter what the odds—to make their lives just a tiny bit better than they were."

Passionate and compassionate reporting on an extraordinary city.

Akbar Ahmed
Inskeep writes with dramatic flair…A tribute to Karachi is long overdue, and Inskeep provides one. "If this book succeeds at all," he writes, "it lets the city speak for itself and be judged on its own terms." For those exasperated and puzzled by Pakistan, Instant City is an excellent introduction.
—The Washington Post
THE WASHINGTON POST

“It is an act of courage for Inskeep to write a book about Karachi based on interviews in that city. As the well-known host of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” he must have been aware of the possible dangers he faced… A tribute to Karachi is long overdue, and Inskeep provides one. “If this book succeeds at all,” he writes, “it lets the city speak for itself and be judged on its own terms.” For those exasperated and puzzled by Pakistan, Instant City is an excellent introduction.”

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

“Informative, ambitious, chaotic, and sometimes glorious”

The Washington Post
It is an act of courage for Inskeep to write a book about Karachi based on interviews in that city. As the well-known host of NPR's “Morning Edition,” he must have been aware of the possible dangers he faced… A tribute to Karachi is long overdue, and Inskeep provides one. “If this book succeeds at all,” he writes, “it lets the city speak for itself and be judged on its own terms.” For those exasperated and puzzled by Pakistan, Instant City is an excellent introduction.
Christian Science Monitor
Informative, ambitious, chaotic, and sometimes glorious
From the Publisher
“It is an act of courage for Inskeep to write a book about Karachi based on interviews in that city. As the well-known host of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” he must have been aware of the possible dangers he faced… A tribute to Karachi is long overdue, and Inskeep provides one. “If this book succeeds at all,” he writes, “it lets the city speak for itself and be judged on its own terms.” For those exasperated and puzzled by Pakistan, Instant City is an excellent introduction.” — THE WASHINGTON POST

“Informative, ambitious, chaotic, and sometimes glorious”CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

“Absorbing… reads like a sophisticated thriller as the author traces the movements of a number of people… he keeps his narrative well paced and full of small surprises. The book sparkles when Inskeep takes an unexpected turn and follows a stranger, or when he tracks down a new trend to illuminate a new facet of the city. The old man he encounters outside a liquor shop, the slum under construction, the upscale leisure park tell us more about the city than any bomb blast…Not many politicians read books in Karachi, but if they were to read one, let it be Instant City.PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“Steve Inskeep has written a magnificent, engrossing book about one of the world’s most vivid and fascinating cities. His subject – urban Pakistan’s struggles and zig-zagging achievements – is of deep and timely importance. His voice reflects the best traditions of politically alert travel writing, endowed with calm wisdom and curious empathy.” — Steve Coll, author of GHOST WARS and THE BIN LADENS

“Urbanity is our certain and fixed future. How human beings live together—or fail to live together—compacted into great cities where a world’s races, religions and ancestries share ever-tighter quarters—this is the fundamental question for the new century. With Instant City, Steve Inskeep tells the story of a single violent and volatile day in the teeming streets of Karachi, Pakistan. In doing so, he reveals what is now at stake not just for Pakistan, or Asia, but for the human species. This is thoughtful, important work.”

David Simon, creator of HBO’s "The Wire;" author of HOMICIDE

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594203152
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/13/2011
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Shuja Nawaz
"Steve Inskeep has captured the vibrant, violent, pulsating rhythms of Karachi with a near native sensibility. His cinema verité prose brings you the sights and smells of this dystopian megalopolis on which the future of Pakistan may be riding. If Karachi can survive its violence and corruption, and thrive as a pluralistic city state then there is hope for Pakistan. If not, then the future is grim for this benighted land. Karachi represents the rich mosaic of Pakistan's different ethnic groups. It is the financial heart of a country whose instruments of state may be failing but whose inhabitants show great determination and creativity, surviving against all odds. Inskeep has written a worthy tribute to Karachi. He blends brilliant storytelling with an eye for detail and nuance that makes Karachi's sights and sounds come alive."--(Shuja Nawaz, Director, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council and author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within)
Martha Raddatz
"Steve Inskeep is a gifted writer and explorer who takes on life and death in Karachi like no other before him. The same mix of mesmerizing storytelling skills, journalistic integrity and downright courage that Inskeep brings us daily on NPR makes for a gripping read. You can hear Inskeep's inimitable voice on every page, excitedly guiding you through the rich and bloody history of this dangerous city. Most importantly, through a compelling cast of characters who help tell the story in such vivid detail, you realize how profoundly important this city is to us all." --(Martha Raddatz, ABC News Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent)
David Simon
"Urbanity is our certain and fixed future. How human beings live together—or fail to live together—compacted into great cities where a world's races, religions and ancestries share ever-tighter quarters—this is the fundamental question for the new century. With Instant City, Steve Inskeep tells the story of a single violent and volatile day in the teeming streets of Karachi, Pakistan. In doing so, he reveals what is now at stake not just for Pakistan, or Asia, but for the human species. This is thoughtful, important work."--(David Simon, creator of HBO's "The Wire" and "Treme" and author of Homicide and The Corner)
Steve Coll
"Steve Inskeep has written a magnificent, engrossing book about one of the world's most vivid and fascinating cities. His subject – urban Pakistan's struggles and zig-zagging achievements – is of deep and timely importance. His voice reflects the best traditions of politically alert travel writing, endowed with calm wisdom and curious empathy." --(Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens)

Meet the Author

Steve Inskeep is a co-host of Morning Edition, the most widely heard radio news program in the United States. After the September 11 attacks, he covered the war in Afghanistan, the hunt for Al Qaeda suspects in Pakistan, and the war in Iraq. He won a National Headliner Award for investigating a military raid that went wrong in Afghanistan and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for a series on conflict in Nigeria. This is his first book.

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Instant City 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
* sholwers have separate closed off areas for privacy. The lady products and such r chained down. Fights will result inan hr of tge Death Room*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JamieJS More than 1 year ago
Mr. Inskeep spins a good tale and presents a variety of facts but his organization is haphazard and often seems sacrificed to the demands of the narrative:to keep the story rolling. The discussions of Karachi relative to other developing world "instant cities" seems superfluous to this city's story. His discussion of the country's and province's political parties is fragmented and not terribly instructive about their intersecting ethnic, sect, and class-based loyalties. A better but more challenging book is Anatol Lieven's, "Pakistan: A Hard country".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The morning host of NPR's Morning Edition has written a worthwhile account of the staggering growth of the mega-city Karachi, Pakistan. Inskeep uses the bombings during Ashura in Karachi on December 28, 2009, to center several of his stories of the city. He reminds his readers this was a time when most Americans were more aware of the shoe-bomber than of these atrocities in Karachi. By using a series of anecdotes based on his journalistic interviews throughout the city, Inskeep familiarizes his reader with a number of the salient issues -- from the historical pressures that led to migration of the Hindu elite after independence in 1947 to the often far greater issues among the various groups of Muslims, both indigenous and those who immigrated, often poor and illiterate. He chronicles the impact of secular versus religious government; the impact of increasingly fundamentalist influences regarding alcohol, gambling, entertainment; the growth of illegal and corrupt practices; particularly to provide housing for the influx of refugees; the transitions to military government; the individuals and organizations, from city planners like Constantinos Doxiadis to ambulance entrepreneur Abdul Sattar Edhi to religious and political parties. The reader is given a quick and entertaining (and perhaps frightening) insight into the history and present of this city that grew from ~1M in 1950 to over 13M by 2010! The writing is journalistic in tone. The reader is sometimes treated to comparisons with other instant cities on the global scene before being brought back to Karachi. The story telling style may bury information useful for reading tomorrow's news, but makes the infusion of many names and places and groups palatable.