I picked up ‘Karachi, You’re Killing Me!’ thinking I was about to read a harrowing account of a female journalist living in Karachi; it turned out, instead, to be a surprisingly pleasant, humorous, laugh-out-loud experience.
Author Saba Imtiaz is a freelance journalist in Pakistan. Her work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Guardian and The Revealer. She spent a year working in Jordan for a non-profit organization.
‘Karachi, You’re Killing Me!’ is Imtiaz’s debut novel, and is written in a narrative that is loyal to the nuances of contemporary Pakistan, especially Karachi. It is somewhat along the lines of Moni Mohsin’s ‘The Diary of a Social Butterfly’ – a witty, tongue-in-cheek, keep-turning- the-pages account of a female journalist in Karachi whose ambitions in reporting are far from the type of work her paper employs her to do. Not to mention, her love life and wallet are not faring too well either.
The plot of ‘Karachi, You’re Killing Me!’ is quite predictable.
Ayesha is a 28 year old journalist hailing from an upper-middle-class home, who loves her independence and wants to carve a niche for herself in the world of journalism. Despite either always being drunk or hung over, Ayesha is forever ready to take on any assignment – from cupcake store openings to Karachi’s bomb-blast timelines. Her editor, Kamran, is a nightmare of a boss who keeps her on her toes.
This novel revolves around Ayesha finding both a groundbreaking story, and a Mr. Right who understands her challenging, time-consuming career. Just when she seems to have found both, things go terribly wrong, changing her life in a way that has her rethinking her priorities.
Ayesha’s anchors in life are her best friend, Saad, (nudge nudge) who has always been there for her; her journalist friend, Zara, and her father, who she sometimes suspects loves the house cat more than he loves her. Like I said – rather predictable.
Which brings us to the real charm of the book. This lies in seeing Karachi through Ayesha’s eyes.
The use of phrases like “I hate living in Karachi, but it can be so heartbreakingly beautiful when it sets its mind to it.” gives readers a beat of the city that only the locals can hear; where despite the constant fears of mugging, riots and bomb blasts, there is a feeling no other city can match.
From drinking tea in Lyari with a second-in-command of a criminal syndicate to attending fashion events, from political rallies to glamorous parties, Aysha sees it all. In the tough business of journalism, she has competitors like Ali whose “green and yellow mic has the same effect on interviewees that Ryan Gosling has on women.”
The book is filled with wit and humour, giving many opportunities for laughter, while presenting very relatable moments of vulnerability that everyone comes into contact with.
Imtiaz’s downplaying of the horrors of Karachi is done in a manner that draws readers to the more comical side of things. For example, when Zara is mugged, she hands over not only her new Charles & Keith wallet, but also a bottle of whiskey and a glass of falsa juice. Shaken at first while recounting the story, Ayesha and Zara cannot stop laughing at the prospect of the party the teen muggers must be having thanks to Zara’s generosity.
‘Karachi, You’re Killing Me!’ makes for a great vacation read. It is both light to carry (263 page), and light to read. Each chapter starts with a sardonic or sarcastic newspaper headline like “To Ward Off Evil, Zardari Kills One Goat Everyday.” and even “MQM sends Haleem and Nihari to the Prime Minister.”
‘Karachi, You’re Killing Me!’ is an uncomplicated, unchallenging read. Some readers might find the references to alcohol consumption and sex somewhat over-the-top. Not really a “great work of literature”, this book is pure entertainment with a Bollywood / chick-flick style ending.
Mona Wahid is a homemaker and mother-of-three, who resides in Islamabad, Pakistan. She holds a Bachelor in Law and Political Sciences from Jinnah College for Women, Peshawar. An avid reader, Mona loves classics and novels.