Saahil Kia Hai?

Spoil/rubble from dredging; looking north

  • Karachi could be submerged by 2060 (warned the Pakistan Senate's Standing Committee on Science and Technology in 2015).
  • Arif Hasan—city planner, social researcher and activist—describes Clifton Beach/Sea View as the city’s only multi-class recreational public space.
  • 23 people drowned here over Eid in 2014, taken by the undertow created by a new breakwater at the western end.
  • That breakwater encloses the Pakistan Deep Water Container Port, which began test operations in December 2016.

Pakistan’s existing ports could handle ships carrying up to 8,000 containers; its newest one will receive mother vessels carrying over 18,000. So, dredgers work around the clock. Cutter head blades used to be changed every 24 hours but dredges have reached bedrock so hard they need changing after every two; each costs $250. Work forges ahead.

Seafloor rubble is piped towards the silting, shifting shoreline, littering it with fossil shells and stones bored by piddocks. Behind the long bank of sand and stones, a lake has formed—the raw sewage of thousands of homes, searching for a way to the sea. Once, the effluent nurtured a river of green that cut right across the beach. Now, a rivulet sidles parallel to the coast till wherever it can break through the sandbank; at high tide, the mouth is impassable.

The land closest to the breakwater is already being reclaimed—dark grey clay under black plastic tarpaulin, overlaid with sand that the wind stingingly whips away. The sea gnaws at the new land’s edge, fraying the tarpaulin into strands like seaweed, creating miniature cliffs. 14 kilometres of beachfront properties, racing upwards to offer a view…and someone else is moving the view two kilometres into the sea.

Perhaps this city will never be submerged. Nonetheless, new questions are being thrown up. Where...and this beach?

  • Where in space is this beach located when the shoreline keeps shifting—and will eventually be reclaimed?
  • Where is the beach that Karachi’s inhabitants have known and populated?
  • What type of beach is this, beautiful but alien, littered with stones when we have known only silver sands?
  • What is this beach…if not the property of the people of Karachi?

(Series in progress. Some images were exhibited for a solo show, Saahil Kia Hai?, August 2017, at Koel Gallery, Karachi, Pakistan.)

Eastward view locating the sewage and brine ‘lake’

Reclaimed land at the western end of the strip; looking westwards to the deepwater port

At the mouth of the channel from the sewage and brine ‘lake’, looking northwest; little egrets and black kites along the banks

Sewage and brine ‘lake’ with post-monsoon algae; looking east