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Everyday Peace in a Karachi Apartment Building

Laura A. Ring

Publication Year: 2006

Ethnic violence is a widespread concern, but we know very little about the micro-mechanics of coexistence in the neighborhoods around the world where inter-group peace is maintained amidst civic strife. In this ethnographic study of a multi-ethnic, middle-class high-rise apartment building in Karachi, Pakistan, Laura A. Ring argues that peace is the product of a relentless daily labor, much of it carried out in the zenana, or women's space. Everyday rhythms of life in the building are shaped by gender, ethnic and rural/urban tensions, national culture, and competing interpretations of Islam. Women's exchanges between households -- visiting, borrowing, helping -- and management of male anger are forms of creative labor that regulate and make sense of ethnic differences. Linking psychological senses of "tension" with anthropological views of the social significance of exchange, Ring argues that social-cultural tension is not so much resolved as borne and sustained by women's practices. Framed by a vivid and highly personal narrative of the author's interactions with her neighbors, her Pakistani in-laws, and other residents of the city, Zenana provides a rare glimpse into contemporary urban life in a Muslim society.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

I am grateful to Arjun Appadurai and Leora Auslander, who provided guidance and direction from the earliest stages of the project to its completion. For their careful readings and warm friendship, I wish to thank Kimberly Mills, Krisztina Fehervary, and Elise LaRose. For their thoughtful criticism and advice, I am grateful to Barbara Yngvesson and Mary Hancock. Many thanks to John Kelly, Kamran Ali, Sylvia Vatuk,...

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Note to the Reader

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pp. ix

For the sake of readability, I have employed a simple transliteration system for Urdu and Sindhi words that does not use diacritics. This system does not distinguish between long and short vowels (a, not aa; i, not ee) or between dental and retroflex consonants (t, not tt; d, not dd). A glossary of select terms with standard diacritical markings can be found...

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1. Introduction: The Zenana Revisited

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pp. 1-39

We stood in the dimly lit hallway, my husband Sheheryar, son Faizan, and I. Our downstairs neighbor, Ruhi, had said to come at 9 pm, and we were late. “Oh, you people have come!” she exclaimed, throwing open the screen door and ushering us inside. As we turned toward the drawing room, Ruhi admonished, “Brother, this is...

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2. A Day in the Life

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pp. 40-59

Any Karachiite living near tree life—almond or walnut groves, guava trees, coconut or date palm—will almost certainly be awakened each morning by the singing of birds. Whenever we stayed at my in-laws’ flat in Old Clifton, the ravens and koels nesting in the chiku tree outside our bedroom window would awaken us just before sunrise...

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3. Tension

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pp. 60-102

That morning, the batliwala had come early, calling out for bottles, newspapers, flip-flops, and other recyclables as he pushed his cart along the dirt path behind the building. Zubaida and I were sitting on the floor by the sliding-glass windows in her sparsely furnished living room, drinking tea and watching the pye dogs huddled in the mangroves...

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4. Anger

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pp. 103-136

Throughout my days in the Shipyard, from my first awkward meetings with neighbors to our final, warm good-byes, women would spontaneously—and, it often seemed to me, inexplicably— tell me stories. The question “ek qissa sunaun?” (Shall I tell you a story?) punctuated many a hallway and drawing room conversation. Informants’

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5. Intimacy

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pp. 137-169

In addition to the wealth of “angry men” stories with which I was regaled, stories drawing explicitly on hadith and other religious themes were legion. One topic in particular stood out as a perpetual favorite. I will shorthand it, roughly, as “the moral deed justly rewarded.” Typically, tales with this theme featured a good and modest...

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6. Conclusion: Emotion and the Political Actor

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pp. 170-182

Throughout these pages, I have labored under the assumption that there is a meaningful relationship between emotion and the political actor. We are heir to an intellectual, Enlightenment tradition that has pondered this relationship in scores of treatises, inquiries...

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pp. 183-184

...burqa (burqaasper). A garment that covers a woman’s face and body; a veildastarkhan (dastar-khwfia¯n). A cloth spread on the floor, on which food and dishesdupatta (dfiupatfitfia). A long cloth or scarf that women wear across their shouldersHoli (Holı¯). Hindu festival in which participants sprinkle each other withcoloredkhichao (khic´a¯leniso). State of being stretched, drawn out, extended...


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pp. 185-192


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pp. 193-201


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pp. 203-211

E-ISBN-13: 9780253116734
E-ISBN-10: 0253116732
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253348241

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 21 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2006