3 Tales of Lyari alluded to in Movie Daadal

Releasing this Eid-ul-Fitr, Daadal is likely, to begin with, the disclaimer: All characters in this film are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. In an official trailer, and by its very name, the movie alludes to several things that have come to be associated with its notorious setting – Lyari. One may only guess if any resemblance is coincidental.

Some of these things are in the news very often, which is probably why you are sure to have heard the name of the town regardless of where you are from in Pakistan. Others have been there too long to merit mention in popular discourse anymore, except when talking about history. In this article, FourFaces helps you make sense of all these things.

But first, where is Lyari?

Lyari is a town in Karachi that takes its name from the Lyari River, which is just a stream (hence the term Lyari Nadi). This river originates in the Kirthar (pronounced keer-thar) Mountain Range. Sounds familiar from your Pakistan Studies class. It straddles the provincial border between east-central Balochistan and Sindh, and its southern hills – the Khasa and Mulri Hills – extend into Karachi city. The Lyari River originates in these foothills. Let’s look at a map:

The True Map of Pakistan
Location of Lyari with respect to Karachi

Before the 1890s, the river used to split into two branches. One of these, the northern branch, flowed into the Sandspit waters (located between the Hawke’s Bay and Manora beaches), and into the sea through the Baba channel. Today, the Lyari River is its erstwhile northern channel which discharges freshwater into the sea during monsoon, and domestic and industrial waste the rest of the year. We’ll just gloss over this part pretending it’s completely normal!

The southern branch flowed directly into the sea through Chinna Creek. This southern branch was blocked by the British because it was eroding the settlements on its left bank. After the southern branch was blocked, the settlements of Lyari and Khadda merged into what was earlier the walled settlement of Kolachi. This was the beginning of what would become the major metropolis of Pakistan, and this region particularly, home to a large and diverse working class, would be named Lyari Town in 2001. The town structure was abolished in 2011, and since the reconfiguration, it has been part of Karachi South. Scroll below the maps to see the evolution of Lyari

Let’s go back to Daadal and the 3 tales:

1. The Baloch arrive in Sindh

The female lead played by Sonya Hussyn is a Baloch. The Baloch is one of Karachi’s largest and most powerful communities, whose ancestors lay the foundations of the modern metropolis. This goes back to the 13th century when migrants from East Africa settled across the Makran coast in Balochistan, and parts of lower Sindh. The settlers along Makran, by now indigenized and a unique blend of African and Baloch cultures, migrated to modern Lyari because of famine conditions in Makran and settled along the erstwhile southern bank of the river. They were mostly skilled fishermen, sailors, and boat operators, and – in addition to a fishing business – set up tanneries and saltworks, eventually acquiring masonry and carpentry skills. The African heritage is still reflected in the contemporary social and cultural landscape of Lyari – especially in music and fashion. Sonya Hussyn’s cornrows in a poster from the movie may well be a nod to this heritage.

2. The streets turn into proxy battlegrounds

The characters Sarmad (Rizwan Ali Jaffri) and Jibran (Mohsin Abbas Haider) allude to another tale of Lyari. Sarmad is a young man from the neighbourhood who aspired to become a professional boxer but ended up doing petty street crimes for a living. Jibran, on the other hand, plays an ends-justify-means police official who subverts the law to enforce it. Both these characters are features of the socio-political conditions that have come to plague Lyari since the late 20th century.

To understand this, let us fast forward (from where we left off) to the 1950s. Lyari is now part of the Dominion of Pakistan (not yet a republic), and home to a diverse, multilingual, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious community. Meanwhile, the city of Karachi has been elevated to a higher administrative division – the Federal Capital Territory – and its population has gone up from 0.4 million in 1947 to 1.14 million in 1951! In the years that follow, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s socialist politics resonates with Lyari’s predominantly working class. As a minister in Ayub Khan’s military government, Bhutto successfully lobbied against a resettlement plan for the residents of Lyari and – upon the assumption of power himself in 1972 – directs municipal authorities to give them rights to their land. Thus, Lyari becomes a bastion and an ‘unbending’ vote bank of the PPP.

With time, other contenders jumped in. This included political parties and the most politicized of non-political institutions in Pakistan – the military. The narrow, crooked, and densely populated streets of Lyari, because of its strategic proximity to the ports and incoming sea trade, were fast turning into a hotbed of criminal activities. 

Drugs, kidnapping, prostitution,  Extortion, and killings grew more common and entrenched as more sophisticated weaponry was smuggled in, and gangs emerging in various parts of the town started claiming their fiefdoms. These fiefdoms, though riddled with criminal activities of the reigning gang, were out-of-bounds for the activities of rival gangs.There was a prevailing order, as Laurent Gayer puts it, in all this disorder where each gang limited ‘operations’ to its area so long as no other gang – or the state apparatus – attempted to overstep or challenge its authority.

Ironically, these gangs also engaged in welfare work and some of the crime lords were often seen as Robin Hoods. It should not have come as a surprise when these gangs became so powerful that they were co-opted by elites, institutions, and political, sectarian, nationalist, and – eventually – terrorist outfits. It was only a matter of time. 

Led by generations of crime lords who were inspired by – and in turn inspired – a glamorous and glorified subculture of violence as depicted in Hollywood and Bollywood films. This subculture – for its charm, but also for its ability to reward handsomely – attracted a generation of disenchanted youths, like Sarmad. On some days these youth would be pitted against forces like Jibran, and on others, they would join hands with them.
3. Gangs lord over Lyari
Pencil Sketch of Arshad Pappu

The name Daadal may or not be making an implicit reference, but it certainly rings a bell. Dad Muhammad, alias Dadal, was the protégé of Lyari’s earliest gang lord and drug king, popularly known as Kala Naag. Some say he was his son, but the versions are disputed. Dadal and his brother Sheru were trained in the ‘business’ by Kala Naag but fell out between themselves. Eventually, they were both side-lined by Kala Nag 2. Kala Nag 2 was, by all versions of the legend, Kala Naag’s son – though he preferred to spell his surname with a single a.

Dadal relished drinking whisky, and smoking hashish and had a network of bootleggers, extortioners, and petty street criminals. His son, Rehman Dakait, orphaned at a young age, would grow up to be a bigger criminal and legend, closer to the character of Pasha in the film. Rehman was taken in by Haji Lalu, an associate of Dadal after the latter was killed. Lalu trained him to confront Babu Dakait, an associate of Kala Nag 2. Rehman had all the makings of a crime lord: he committed his first murder with a knife when he was just thirteen. Sometime in the 1990s, he was rumoured to have killed his mother. In him, Lalu saw the perfect man to lead his death squad and so Rehman took up charge till he was arrested by the police. 

He came out of prison to find that Lalu’s gang was headed by his son, Arshad Pappu. Rehman Dakait and Arshad Pappu worked hand-in-glove until they too fell out. Their rivalry culminated in several deaths and Arshad Pappu desecrating Rehman Dakait’s father, Dadal’s grave.

After Rehman Dakait was killed in a police encounter in 2009, Uzair Baloch took over his gang. Uzair’s father was murdered, his body mutilated and dumped near a garbage dump by Arshad Pappu’s gang. Eventually, Uzair’s men killed Arshad Pappu and subjected him to the same mutilation. His body was never recovered.

Uzair Baloch was arrested and incarcerated in 2016 and continues to appear before courts in cases related to murder, kidnapping, and extortion. Till now he has only had acquittals. In March this year, an anti-terrorism court issued a notice to the public prosecutor concerning the prison authorities’ inability to provide ‘the necessary facilities’ to Baloch.

But let’s get back to the movie!

Neha Laaj’s previous film Chaudhary was a movie about the dreaded police officer Chaudhary Aslam who was responsible for leading the infamous ‘encounters’ that killed many of Lyari’s gang lords. Whereas that movie was a macro approach to the issue, chronicling a confrontation between state good guys and non-state bad guys, Daadal looks like a more personal portrait, a still closer look at how violence in communities co-opts young people and affects families.

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