by M Bilal Hassan
My journey to Lyari began by meeting up with a Lyari resident and award-winning filmmaker Ahsan Shah.
His short film Jaawar (meaning ongoing situation in Balochi) bagged the first prize in the short films category at the International Youth Creativity Awards in Bahrain in 2016.
I had come to see firsthand how the Lyariwallas celebrated the arrival of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. We met at the multicoloured Kiran Street in the Baghdadi neighbourhood. The entire lane is painted in the hues of the rainbow.
Ahsan welcomed me into the area with, “Welcome to our Little Brazil.”
I could totally see why the area got that title. For starters, the Brazilian flag was literally everywhere, the area’s colourful narrow alleyways accompanied by the vibrant street culture easily conjure up reveries of life in Rio de Janeiro.
Some parts of the neighbourhood could have been movie sets on Brazilian cult classics like Cidade De Deus (City of God) and Tropa De Elite (Elite Squad).
The only thing missing from the scene was the melancholic sound of bossa nova or the beating of the samba drum in the background.
We started off our odyssey by walking on foot from Kiran Street to Mombasa Street, named after the eastern Kenyan port city of the same name, perhaps a nod to the African origins of some residents in the area.
Nowadays, this thoroughfare is the nerve centre of Lyari’s footballing excitement. The entire street is decked out with flags of all the big teams playing in the tournament. Even the walls on both sides of the street are covered in murals of football players and teams.
For a second you’d be mistaken into thinking that Neymar and Messi were from Lyari and not Brazil and Argentina.
From Mombasa, we made our way to Mohammed Ali Mohalla, a more residential and less commercial part of the area.
There, Ahsan took me to the rooftop of his friend’s building to see the excitement from above.
Every household in the area had a flag mounted on top of its roof, clearly indicating the team they were supporting.
The most popular of the lot were Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, Germany and Spain — in that exact order.
Ahsan had one last location left to show me and that was Maulvi Usman Stadium, also known as Bhaiyya Bagh.
The stadium was packed to the seams for the local league football matches. In one corner of the stadium, two teams were battling it out in an intense penalty shootout, while at the other end, another two were warming up for their upcoming matches.
It was loud and chaotic — this was Pakistani football at its rawest and finest.