Ya! Ya! Husayn! Ya! Ya! Husayn!`
The procession approaches where Mehdi and I stand outside a bank which has its shutters down. Normally Bunder Road bustles with buses, cars and camel carts going to and from the harbour, but today the street is sealed off and is thronged with thousands of people, wearing black, the sign of mourning.
The occasion is Ashura, the tenth of Muharram (the first month in the Islamic calendar) when devout Shi`a Muslims remember the martyrdom of Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet, at Kerbala, in AD 680. A tall, young doctor working at Karachi Eye Hospital, Mehdi has agreed to accompany me, but although a Shi`a Muslim, he does not participate in the frenzied manifestations.
As the shouting intensifies, a white stallion splashed with red dye and prancing like one of the famous Lipizzaner horses at the Spanish School in Vienna, appears at the head of the marchers. It symbolises Zuljana, Husayn`s trusted steed, which returned alone from the battleground on the banks of the Euphrates, after his master was slain: ( it is said those who found the horse swore it had tears rolling down its face).
`Ya! Ya! Husayn`!
Now I can see the first marchers slashing their backs with small finger knives attached to chains. Swish! Swish! The blades whistle through the air, but there are no cries of pain: this is the point, Husayn had suffered for Islam, so what`s a few slashes between true believers?
As the procession draws level, I watch in horror as the marchers whirl about lacerating their naked torsos. An intense youth rakes his back spattering my Armani shirt with spots of blood: his own baggy trousers are saturated.
Mehdi looks uncomfortable at the self inflicted wounds. For days the local press has urged people not to get too emotive, but the Red Crescent tents set up along Bunder Road are tending scores of walking wounded.
I manage to photograph dressers, stitching a nine inch gap in someone`s back, before soldiers hustle me away...
Excerpt from: Travels With My Hat: by Christine Osborne for publication in 2010
Photography: N.Roberts and C.Osborne
Muharram 2009 will begin on 18th December.