Akhtar Balouch, also known as the Kiranchi Wala, ventures out to bring back to Dawn.com’s readers the long forgotten heritage of Karachi. Stay tuned to this space for his weekly fascinating findings.
Similar was the fate of the Jewish and Hindu communities of Pakistan. There were some fortunate failures in erasing the archeological and developmental traces of the Raj from Karachi. However, when it came to ridding Karachi of the traces of Hindus and Jews, no stone was left unturned. Our hatred for the Jews goes a long way into the past. The Jews knew it, too. That is why they left the country for good and chose to make Israel their home.
In her book ‘Malika-e-Mashriq’ (Queen of the East), Mehmooda Rizwiya has written about the Jewish presence in Karachi. On page 146 of the said book, the author tells us that the Jews are settled in Lawrence Quarters… That a majority of them belong to the working class… That they are commonly known as ‘Bani Israel’ (the tribe of Israel)… Their ways of butchering edible, kosher animals is different. She also tells us that they have a cemetery and a haikal (synagogue), and that they are very few in numbers, and are mostly educated and well off.
In the Sindh Gazetteer of 1907, Edward H. Aitken mentions that according to the 1901 census, the total population of Jews [in Sindh] was 482 and almost all of them live in Karachi. They are mostly from the Bani Israel community, it further states.
In his book ‘Karachi Tareekh Ke Aaeene Mein’ (Karachi in the Mirror of History), Muhammad Usman Damohi writes on page 652 that the Jews only had one cemetery in Karachi, located south-east of the Haji Camp area. It was called the Bani Israel Cemetery.
Mehmooda Rizwiya writes that the Old Jewish Cemetery is adjacent to Usmanabad and is in the south-east of the Haji Camp. She has also mentioned two synagogues in Karachi. Before we move to the two synagogues, we should be aware of how the migrant Pakistani Jews dwelling in Israel are doing and what they think of Karachi.
Daniel of Soldier Bazar
Renowned author, journalist and columnist, Muhammad Hanif once had the opportunity to visit Israel. Associated with the British Broadcasting Corporation, Hanif’s travelogue of this tour was broadcast from the BBC. It was later published in the renowned literato Ajmal Kamal’s monthly Aaj magazine in 2001 (edition no. 35).
In his travelogue, Hanif writes of an event that he attended during his visit to Israel. He says at the end of the event, the organisers suddenly remembered that Hanif had not delivered his speech, so they grabbed his arm and brought him on stage. Hanif writes, “I spoke and told them that I was not from India but Karachi, I said and I had come on account of some business. And then I went on to say how glad I was to see them etcetera… Upon hearing of my origins, a man sitting in the first row began sobbing. As soon as I stepped off stage, this man, probably in his later 40s then, obese in outlook and dark in complexion, came to me and took me to a corner where he embraced me like a long lost brother. This man was Daniel from Karachi’s Soldier Bazar. “I have not seen anyone from Karachi since 1968,” Daniel, still sobbing, told me. “I used to study there in an English medium school. We had our own mosque. Ayoub Khan (the then President of Pakistan) even sent police for its protection during the war of ‘67.”
Hand on his chest, Daniel then said, “We had no problems there (in Pakistan). No one ever said a bad thing to us. We just saw all the Jews were going to Israel and we followed. Do you know Zafar Khan of Soldier Bazar?”
Daniel is a factory worker in Israel. He is married to an Indian Jewish girl and is a father of two. He says it is his wish to visit Karachi once before he dies. “We hear there is another military government in Pakistan?” Daniel said, in a tone suggesting he already knows the answer, adding; “Only they can run the country.””
Hanif writes further that Daniel told him he was not happy in Israel, especially in Ramallah. When asked why by Hanif, Daniel replies, “You know how we, Pakistanis and Indians, are different from one another. They can never like us, nor we like them. We are only a couple of families here. My wife is an Indian, but it is just not that thing, you know.” Hanif tells him, “But these are your Jewish brethren,” to which Daniel instantly replies, “Yes, yes, but in the end they are Indians.”
The Bani Israel Trust
We were about to explore the Jewish synagogues of Karachi. The most famous among these was the building of the Magain Shalome Synagogue of the Bani Israel Trust. It is still known to the people of Karachi as the 'Israeli Masjid' or the 'Yahoodi Masjid'.
An old friend and senior journalist, Mr. Zarrar Khan, who used to live in the Ranchore Line area up until the 70s related an eyewitness account that the synagogue was situated at the central square of Ranchore Line, where now in its place stands a tall building called the Madiha Square. Zarrar also said that the official name of the street then was 'Synagogue Street'.