My first visit to Karachi was in 1992, when the Kalashnikov culture was strong, and Karachi after dark was eerily quiet. Today, Karachi is Pakistan's happening place. The streets are lively till all hours. Restaurants cater to Karachi's eclectic love of fine food. There is even a spot for excellent Goa curry, and another for masala dosas that can stand up to any cross-border competition. Fusion bands are everywhere, and consume the largest chunk of TV time. At the Mohatta Palace (once the fantasy of an eccentric Hindu merchant, and later Fatima Jinnah's home), the 'Jewel in the Crown' exhibition is drawing crowds. It tells the story of Raj-era Karachi, designed by a consortium under the leadership of Dawn
editor Hameed Haroon. It is the first of a series of events planned for a restored palace that some say once housed the ISI, and others claim is haunted! Karachi's Kara Film Festival each year showcases the subcontinent's new talent and is the symbol of a resurgent film movement. Attending celebs include Om Puri and Pooja Bhatt. If Bollywood is still barred from the big screens with an import ban, Indian cinema dominates the parallel circuit, as well as the public mind. Everyone seems to have seen everything. Om Puri is asked what he thinks of Bollywood's Paki-bashing potboilers. "Terrible," he responds, "The government and censor boards shouldn't pass such films. They are in bad taste and a setback to peace".
Karachi is Pakistan's media city. The extraordinary vitality of local press and TV channels makes one wonder how President Musharraf copes with this range of expression. Admen, models, rock stars are feted. Harry Potter aur Aag ka Pyala is the fourth of the series in Urdu, fresh off the press. Galleries thrive, and Karachi is the hub of Pakistan's art market. The largest enrolment at the outstanding Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture is in fine arts. Here, as at the National College of Art, Lahore (earlier Mayo College of Art, founded by Rudyard Kipling's father Lockwood), a unique feature is miniature painting in a contemporary mode, now world-renowned through the work of young artists like Shahzia Sikander.