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Of streets and names

December 05, 2013

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-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch
-Photo by Akhtar Balouch

You will be amazed to know that there are two streets in Karachi, which are named after five personalities. These personalities include mystic poets, religious and spiritual leaders, and a pre-partition British commissioner.

Let us begin with the first street. It is located in Saddar. This street alone has three different names. One can read these names on the various signboards of shops in the area. If you ask someone the directions to this street with the big names with which this street is associated, chances are no one will be able to help you. However, if you refer to the famous Zahid’s Nihari then not only will the people from Saddar, but from across Karachi tell you the exact location of this street instantly. For now, this street is only famous because of the nihari.

If you are on the local bus that commutes to and from Korangi in Karachi, then you will surely be entering a street that leads from Lucky Star to the Empress Market. The street is filled with arms shops. The signboards on these shops will tell you that the name of the street is Mansfield Street.

Mehmooda Rizwiya writes in her book, Malika-e-Mashriq (Queen of the East) that Samuel Mansfield was the commissioner of Karachi from 1862 to 1866. During his time as commissioner, many good public schemes were brought to completion. The import yard in Karachi was also named after him, the Mansfield Import Yard.

Muhammad Usman Damohi writes in his book, Karachi Taareekh Kay Aeenay Mein (Karachi in the Mirror of History), writes that it was in Samuel Mansfield’s days that Karachi and England were connected through telegraph for the very first time. The telegraph service was made available for the general public in 1865, proving to be an impetus for trade in Karachi.

The Karachi port, too, underwent an ample amount of development in Mansfield’s days as commissioner. It was also this era when the Manora breakwater was constructed in the harbour to save the Karachi port from the savage waves of the seas. In 1864, the first high school in all of Sindh was opened in Karachi. It was also in 1865 that the construction of Frere Hall was completed.

The Frere Hall project had begun in 1859. However, sadly, due to a lack of funds, the construction work was slow. It was due to Mansfield’s efforts that in 1865 the hall stood tall in its glorified height.

The people with businesses on this street are mostly from the Dawoodi Bohra community. On the same street they have their mosque, the Tahiri Mosque. Mehmooda Rizwiya, in her earlier quoted book, writes under the title Bohra that this Muslim community has three sects: the Dawoodis, the Sulaimanis, and the Sunnis. There have been many big names from this community, among them Badaruddin Tayabji Justice, Sir Akbar Hyderi, Hatim Ji, the Luqmani family, and so on.

The Bohras in Karachi are mostly Dawoodi. The community follows their spiritual leader, Syedina Saifuddin; his word is final for them. So much so the community members have all memorised the sayings of their leader. Syedina Saifuddin has many sheikhs and other religious subordinates in the community. The Bohras are considered a humble and cultured people. They have their own trust, scouts, bands and community centres.

The Dawoodi Bohris have lodges by the name of Faiz Hussaini on the Napier Road. One of their community centres is located on the Frere Road and another one in Saddar. The Madrassa Hussain, Academy High School, and the Moras Wala Girls High School are the community’s educational institutes.

Some of the families in the community who were more adoptive of the western culture have been excommunicated. There is the millionaire Seth Tayyab Ali Mandvi Wala. There is the Sheikha family, the Alvis, the Tapal family, Seth Moosa Bhai, Karimji, Seth Abdul Hussain, Noor Bhai Lotya, and Ferozpur, all considered which are considered as refined lineage. Hussain Bhai Bando Wala is another wealthy person.

The people from this community spend generously on community welfare. They are quite disciplined when it comes to being a Muslim, following the prescribed prayer and fasting schedules quite seriously and a majority being well versed in religious knowledge.

Moosa Reza Afandi writes in one of his essays in March, 2013:

“The spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohra community and internationally respected Syedina Burhanuddin is now 102 years of age. The Bohra community all around the world is celebrating his age. Syedina Burhanuddin has spent his whole life praying to his God and for the welfare of the people. A number of countries have awarded him their best of titles. He receives international protocol in many countries only because of his identity and his personality.”

In the present times, two personalities belonging to the Bohra community have earned a great name. One of them was Fakhruddin G Ibrahim (Fakhru Bhai), a former Justice, Attorney General, Governor Sindh and Chairman Election Commission of Pakistan.

The second personality is Justice (R) Zahid Qurban Alvi, who remained the Caretaker Chief Minister of Sindh once. The name of Mansfield Street in the government’s books is Syedina Burhannudin Road. However, no shop in the street has that name in the address, save for a shopping centre beside the Tahiri Mosque that says it is located on Syedina Burhannudin Road. In brackets, however, you can also read Mansfield Street.

Since the Bohra community has been here before Pakistan came into being, naming the street Syedina Burhannudin Road must have been a source of joy for them. However, they have been kind enough to acknowledge the services of Samuel Mansfield.

There is another signboard on this very street. It tells you that you are on Mansfield Street and Shah Abdul Aleem Siddiqui Road simultaneously. Siddiqui sahib was a famous religious leader. His son Late Shah Ahmed Noorani earned quite a bit of fame in Pakistan’s politics.

The difference between Syedina Burhannudin and Shah Abdul Aleem Siddiqui is that the former belonged to the Shia sect, while the latter to the Barelvi school of thought.

Let us now move onto the second road. It is in Clifton, named after the famous Persian poet Abul Qasim Firdosi. Hakim Abul Qasim Hassanpur Toosi was famous in the 10th century AD (6th hijri century). He was born in 940 A.D. in a village near Toos, which was an Iranian city in the region of Kharasan. He died in 1020 A.D. at the age of 80 years in his village. Some legends claim 1025 A.D. to be his year of passing when he must have been 85.

His masterpiece is the work Shahnama, which brought him eternal fame in the world of poetry. Shahnama, literally means the endeavours of the Shah, is the most respected piece of work in the Persian literary arena. Firdousi composed the Shahnama in about 1000 A.D.

It is this work of literature in which the cultural and social heritage of the great Persian Empire has been brought to light. Shahnama is a collection of poetry, which has about 60,000 couplets, immaculately elaborating Persian tales and the history of the Iranian sultanate.

All these events have been expressed in great poetic style, and take on history from the days of the Persian Empire to the rise of Islam. Firdousi’s poetry is an extensive account of the civilization and culture of Persia. In the Iranian culture, the Shahnama maintains central importance. The Persian literati consider the work a service to Persian literature of unmatched greatness.

Famous columnist and journalist Wusatullah Khan sahib tells me that after the fall of the Shah of Iran, every single statue in the country was demolished or damaged to the extent that it would only seem a mere conglomeration of plaster. However, the statue of this great Persian poet still stands tall in Tehran University. Not only that but another of Firdousi’s statues can be found in Rome. The square where it stands is also named after him.

The same road is also associated with Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s name, who is considered (by a majority, at least) a respected Sufi elder. Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s mausoleum is located in Clifton, where every year his urs (literally meaning wedding, but contextually meaning a death anniversary) is celebrated. A website by his followers says that he was a Hasani Hussani Syed (a respected way of describing a Shia elder), and that he was born 28 years after the massacre at Karbala in 98 hijri century in Medina.

About his arrival in Sindh the website says that he came to the region to preach Islam. It also says that he had come as a trader, a leader in the knowledge of the Khilafat. When he was in Sindh, the governor of Sindh came to know that the elder’s father and brother had mutinied against the Khilafat in Medina and Basra.

In 145 century hijri news came to Sindh that Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s father Syed Muhammad Nafs in Medina and his uncle in Basra were killed. The Caliph Mansoor had also issued arrest orders of Abdullah Shah Ghazi but he was not arrested. Finally, in the Abbasid reign, during the days of war, in 151 century hijri, he was killed.

That was the tale of the two personalities. This road begins from the Kothari Parade. The Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry is also located on this street. Exactly in front of the chamber’s office, there is a signboard. A quick glance and the signboard will only tell you that the name is the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Road. But, on a deeper look the embarrassed signboard whispers to the reader that the road is also called the Firdousi Road. For this we have the Saddar Town to thank. For if it ever comes to record the history of naming roads and streets, I am certain that not only will the name of Saddar Town be written in golden letters, but an award would also be definite.


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