City Portraits – Azeem – Craftsman, Bhit Island

I took a boat ride to Bhit Island to meet Azeem. I had seen some of his miniature boats on display at Roadside Cafe and wanted to meet him there at his work space. Tahir, who is associated with Roadside Cafe and also lives in Bhit Island agreed to help arrange this meeting.

I met Tahir at KPT and took the ride to Bhit Island in his boat. Most of the fishing boats have been grounded along the shore due to monsoon. Most of the fishermen were taking break or just trying their luck in the shallow waters these days. I saw few of them in improvised small boats made out of fiber glass leftovers. They did not have any oars and used their hands to row the tiny boats.

‘They make 400-500 rupees with their catch’, Tahir lit up a cigarette and shared.

We decked our boat on one of the two jetties in Bhit Island. Bhit Island is only 4 square km wide and has an estimated population of 12,000. We walked through narrow lanes for few minutes before we reached Azeem’s house. It was adjacent to a park which was flooded with sewerage and littered with millions of shopping bags. There was a tiny shop adjacent to his house where kids played foosball. At the back were sega games with a makeover. The screens were replaced with monitors perhaps after original screen went irreparable.

Azeem joined us after few minutes . He greeted us with a broad grin which showed his stained teeth – tinted by years of gutka consumption. He was carrying two models in his hand one of which was still in progress. The finished one was a replica of Pakistani Naval Ship. The detail perhaps required more as I later found out was the case with most of his models which materialized out of his imagination. He however was very good with commissioned work, imitating details with great focus out of photographs. I asked him if he would like to show me his work space and he laughed.

‘This is where I work’, he pointed to his doorstep and sat down. He put his tool kit down – a humble one with only few cutters and glue – and perched on the floor. His fingers expertly started shaping unfinished boat. People started gathering around us. Nawaz, one of Azeem’s neighbors told me that Azeem learnt trade from his father who was a gifted craftsmen. However he did not achieve much since he lacked focus. Nawaz however had hopes from Azeem.

Bhit Island has fallen out of the imagination of authorities and Karachi residents since its disconnected from mainland. Something which affected not just Azeem but every resident of Bhit Island. Most of them are fishermen with some relying on leisure rides by people from mainland. The lack of mobility for Azeem has left him to rely on the orders from his fellow Bhit Island residents who could not pay much. Sibte, the owner of Roadside Cafe has been helping him by displaying his work at his cafe but he needed more such avenues. As we were speaking his kids joined. One of them brought a miniature boat built by Azeem’s father. There I understood what Nawaz meant. The boat built by Azeem’s father was basic but had finer details. Perhaps Azeem would achieve that level of craftsmanship one day but right now he needed to make both ends meet.

Nawaz and Tahir led me to the other jetty. We walked past garbage heaps where kids played and the streets which looked as if they belonged to a forgotten trading post from a different era. Bhit Island and its resident could play an important role in modern day Karachi but right now they remain forgotten and marginalized.

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Categories: City Portraits

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2 Comments on “City Portraits – Azeem – Craftsman, Bhit Island”

  1. Robin Mitha
    July 9, 2017 at 4:28 pm #

    Give me his no I want to order a boat

    • July 9, 2017 at 5:49 pm #

      He does not have a cell phone. You can contact Nawaz: 03462217886 to speak to Azeem

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