University of Karachi is a long drive from our corner of the city, Clifton, to the northern edge of Karachi where the campus of is located. (Everyone always refers to the University as KU or Karachi University, but today while doing a web-search, I discovered that the University’s real name is different…more formal). I’m heading out to the distant corner of Karachi at the invitation of Professor Amberina Kazi to give a talk to students who take a Post-Colonial Literature course in the University’s English Department.
As we visit in her office before talking to students, Amberina shares the challenges of setting up such a course at KU: “We wanted two new courses, South Asian Literature and Post-Colonial Literature but only one was approved.”
It’s an unusual day at the university. There is no electricity and the special auditorium that they’ve arranged for me to give my talk is locked and the special generator to pump air into the the room isn’t up yet. It takes some time for the custodians and the persons in charge to work out the minor kinks, but in the meantime, I get a chance to chat with Amberina and her colleagues about the challenges of working at the campus.
When we finally enter the room, I am struck by the high number of female students—there are nearly 80 students in the room and only about 10 are young men. Many of the young women wear hijab, their appearance representing a significant change in this city. I read an excerpt from Black Wings and then take questions—and I am surprised to see that students are very prepared. The questions thrown at me focus on issues of identity, language (English versus Urdu), displacement and much more.
In the evening while reflecting on my morning, I process the fact that Q & A sessions in Pakistan are very different from those in the US. In the States, people are not so direct and confrontational, while in Pakistan, the energy is higher and people don’t hold back from saying what’s in their hearts. I’m not sure which style I enjoy more… each has its virtues. It’s been a while though, since I’ve spoken in a large Pakistani gathering and today’s talk was a sharp reminder that that I’ve been away from “home” too long.