WE may gripe about things in Karachi and consider it a very crowded crime-plagued city. But that was not always the case. I recently chanced upon an information booklet about Karachi published for the benefit of American soldiers stationed here during World War II.
Entitled ‘A locally produced information booklet for US soldiers for Karachi’, published in 1942, it speaks of Karachi as the “Paris of the East” because it says it is “the cleanest city in the whole of India”.
After giving information about the city’s political status – capital of the Sindh government with a population of 400,000 – the guidebook says Karachi is called the ‘Gateway to India’ because as a port it serves not only Balochistan, Punjab and UP but also Afghanistan.
Very few of us know that Karachi used to produce grapes. While talking of the Gandhi Gardens, the guidebook says “grapes grown in the gardens are famous not only in Karachi but outside also”. Malir, now part of Karachi, is referred to in the booklet as being “12 miles from Karachi” and is “well-known for its fruits gardens”.
The Clifton beach “is considered by some as the best in the whole of India. It has a parade made of cement concrete and red stone. The beach extends about seven miles and is a very fine place for sea bathing and excursions in the moonlight”. It also dwells on Sands Pits and refers to Hawks Bay “as the best spot in Karachi”.
The museum the book refers to is still there where it was in 1942, but very few Karachiites know or it bother to visit it – at Burns Road. Called then Victoria Museum, it contained Moenjo Daro relics, a variety of fighting arms and tribal dresses for men and women.
Transport finds repeated mention in the guidebook and gives details of bus and tram routes and the fares. The newspapers then published were Sindh Observer and Daily Gazette, besides two evening papers — Karachi Daily and Sindh Observer’s evening edition.
Fascinating to read are advertisements. Some of the shops mentioned are still there, but many have disappeared. As for eating houses, old Karachiites will miss restaurants which have disappeared — Café Grand, Café Oxford and two Chinese restaurants — Chunking and Victory.
All that has happened to Karachi is not all negative. Karachi has flourished into a major industrial centre, it is a dynamic city, its educational institutions continue to increase, and it has an enviable philanthropic establishment. Let us work to restore Karachi to its glory and make it a crime-free city.
S. MOHAMMAD SIBTAIN Karachi