DAWN - Features; January 22, 2007

22 Jan 2007


City needs more festivals

Our city pulsated from January 6 to 18 with activities concerning the Hamara Karachi festival. It was this megalopolis’s answer to the Basant frenzy that grips Lahore at the beginning of every year.

Fortunately, everything went without any untoward incident. It was unlike the Basant festival which every year kills several people and plunges localities into darkness despite official bans on kite-flying and shooting into the air. Incidentally, the Punjab governor has authorized town nazims to relax the kite-flying ban for 15 days. The Site blaze and building collapse, which claimed the lives of seven firemen, was a great tragedy, no doubt, but it was not directly linked to the festival.

Enthusiasts enjoyed themselves at the mushairas, Qawwali concerts, musical performances and other cultural events. There was a troupe from Indonesia, which performed on the last evening on the festival at the KMC building. The previous night at the venue was dominated by the whirling dervishes. This troupe from Turkey enthralled a large number of people with their spiritual dance accompanied by the recital of Jalaluddin Rumi’s verses:

Guft, har kas keh manam Maula-o-dost

Ibn-i-Amm-i-Man, Ali, Maula-i-oost ….

As these functions were held in almost every nook and cranny of the city from Orangi to Korangi and beyond in Bin Qasim Town, milling crowds thronged the venues and thoroughly enjoyed the events. The youngsters were particularly thrilled to see their favourite artistes perform and sing in the flesh. There were Najam Shiraz, Rahim Shah, Strings Band and others.

Foreign diplomats and dignitaries from abroad also arrived in the city to grace some of these functions. Among them were the mayor of the KMC — Kolkata Municipal Corporation — Bhattacharya Ranjan, and his delegation from India. He offered valuable advice on how to run the city in a better way.

It was gratifying to see former mayors, Jamshed Nusserwanjee, Teakum Dass, Qazi Khudabux, Malik Bagh Ali, Hatim Alavi, Hakim Ahsan, S.M. Taufeeq, Abdul Sattar Afghani, Dr Muhammad Farooq Sattar and Naimatullah Khan were also honoured for their contributions to the city’s development.

The KMC building was the hub of all these activities and naturally it claimed its due share of the limelight like a bride, which is still young at 75.

It seemed ironic that the rangers headquatered in a historic building, the Jinnah Courts, also celebrated the KMC building’s platinum jubilee. With so many important buildings already under their occupation, one hopes that they do not plan to move into that building also.

As millions watched the show from the sidelines, the players in the game tried their best to perform to the satisfaction of the spectators. The main character was played by City Naib Nazim Nasreen Jalil. She could, of course, relax only when everything went smoothly. It was on Saturday that she held a press conference and thanked all who played the supporting roles also those who filled the spaces as audience.

The festival was a great success, the flaws pinpointed by the experts notwithstanding. Let the city fathers make it a regular activity. Besides the KMC building, there are a good number of historical edifices and monuments. There should be no dearth of ideas on how we can celebrate their distinguished presence in the modern shapeless structures, whose construction is aimed to create space for commercial purposes with little consideration for elegance and beauty. At least one of the historical structures can be chosen every year.

And it should be ensured that the next time these events are also spread out to the suburbs and slums. People in shanty towns might not have a legal right to live where they are compelled to live by their economic conditions, they do belong to this city. Their contribution to the city’s development, particularly as labourers, cannot be ignored.

The Lakshmi building

Lakshmi Building, once an enchanting five-storey edifice every Karachian was proud to behold and now a smoke-ridden facade on MA Jinnah Road (Bunder Road), was the tallest structure of the city till partition. It was in the mid-fifties when it lost its stature to Qamar House.

Then the city saw many high-rises built and got each other replaced. Qamar House succumbed to the height of Mohammadi House for a while until Habib Bank Plaza’s 311-feet high building literally concluded the race in 1963. The Plaza reigned for around four decades as the largest manmade structure in the country until 27-storey MCB Towers finally eclipsed its height, but, undoubtedly, the white and round building is still the most beautiful post-1947 structure of Karachi.

Lakshmi Building was huge news for the inhabitants of a small and beautiful town called Karachi over seven decades ago. Its red bricks were not the big deal for the people because the city’s every second or third building was made of that stuff mostly coming from Jaipur. But, what Karachians admired the most was its height, its state-of-the art clock-tower, its location (then) in the middle of the city and, of course, its iron elevator, which was the rare facility then offered by the city’s skyscrapers.

“It was a great sight to visit Lakshmi Building and people would love it like a property of their own,” octogenarian Mohammad Ali, who still lives in a worn-out apartment house along Outram Road in Mithadar, reminisces.

He has some loving memories about good old history pertaining to Lakshmi Building and the rest of Karachi that now sound as fairytales and myths. “The city roads used actually to be washed every morning, and the great buildings like Lakshmi Towers and the (City) Courts used to be watered down every year by the hoses of the fire department,” says Ali.

But the municipal authorities have forgotten their old schedules and have not washed these buildings for a very long time, which have actually been the hallmarks of Karachi, for around six decades now. Lakshmi Building still gives a great look and stands like a king surrounded by the new and shabby structures that are even not worthy of being called as pawns. Its façade still gives a great look but the interiors have seen huge changes.

Its original colour inside the offices and along the corridors of the five storeys has turned asymmetrical and lost its originality. On the fifth storey one finds the door to the roof locked.

“It remains locked most of the time because there is nothing worth witnessing upstairs except refuse and waste items,” says Karim, a peon at one of the offices situated in the building.

The historic escalator still serves its visitors but most of the time it remains out of order due to lack of maintenance. The old manual bells (shaped like teacups) had been fixed beside the escalator’s door at every floor and one would use it to notify to the lift-operator. Some of these bells could still be used but they have become rusty and lost their grandeur now. In fact, the entire iron escalator-mechanism has become rusty and complains of huge neglect it has been meted out.

But, it still houses dozens of shops selling toys, watches, wholesale items etc and is able to gather a great buzz around despite decades-long apathy towards it. In fact, this structure still offers ample lakshmi (wealth) to many.

Unpolluted moments

Seven years ago the price of apartments in Seaview Township was nowhere near the prices of flats in Clifton, even though they were incomparable as far as covered area and the facility of a garage to each apartment was concerned. But they were unsafe. Armed burglary and car snatching cases were rampant but ever since the residents got together and with the help and permission of the DHA built up walls, the problem of insecurity has been solved to a very large extent.

The DHA and the Cantonment Board have built up and are maintaining lawns in front of each block, which has added to the attraction of the apartments from where one can also get a partial or a panoramic view (depending on the location) of the sea. Garbage bins have been placed and garbage is removed six days a week, even though some people, particularly the servants, don’t bother to throw the garbage inside the large containers.

With the building of service lanes the residents are saved from the pressure of traffic particularly during weekends and holidays. Many people prefer to walk inside the walled sectors of the township but those who walk on the pavement that runs parallel to the beach prefer to do so mainly in the morning. The only people that one sees at that time are the members of the sanitary team who pick up the litter thrown by the crowd on the preceding evening. Though garbage bins have been placed all over our people don’t believe in using them.

It’s fun to walk when the pavement and the beach are both empty and the traffic is thin. With the installation of statues the place has got a facelift.

On Sunday mornings there used to be walks for different causes, but of late the organisers prefer to hold their marathons on the road in front of Area 51. A case in point is the Ilmathon, the annual fund-raising walk organised by the supporters of the Citizen Foundation, which runs schools for economically under-privileged students in different parts of Pakistan. This year the Ilmathon is on Sunday February 4.

— Karachian
Email: naseer.awan@dawn.com

Indiscriminate killing of stray dogs

By Aileen Qaiser

THE recent attacks by rabid dogs on some 80 people in Rawalpindi city are testament to the growing menace of stray dogs in our cities, a problem which is already being faced by Karachi.

This menace could eventually spill over into Islamabad where hundreds of people who daily walk the streets or play and jog in numerous parks will be at risk of being attacked, if we fail to effectively control the population of stray dogs in our twin city.

Apart from being a public health hazard, rabies being a contagious and fatal viral disease, stray dogs also often cause traffic accidents. Besides, the sight of sick hungry dogs roaming the streets and foraging for food is distressing to residents and visitors, and tarnishes the image of our cities.

It was, however, shocking to learn from reports of the attacks by rabid dogs in Rawalpindi that our method of solving the problem is the random killing of stray dogs by shooting them on sight.

According to the District Health Department, its teams had killed 65 dogs (and a suspected rabid goat as well!) within two days of the dog attacks in Rawalpindi. The department also claimed that in 2006 it had eliminated 730 stray dogs in the city and 1,562 stray dogs in the peripheral areas.

A total of 2,292 dogs indiscriminately killed in 2006 in the Rawalpindi area and yet the result in the beginning of 2007 is 80 people being attacked by dogs!

It is regretful that we are still practising this inhumane method of controlling the stray dog population when the World Health Organization and the

World Society for the Protection of Animals, an international animal welfare organization, have long opposed the method of killing stray dogs and instead have been advocating the ‘neuter and release’ strategy.

Not only is indiscriminate killing cruel and barbaric but, according to these organisations, it does not work in the long term. As stated in the WHO Guidelines for Dog Population Management: “Any reduction in population density through mortality is rapidly compensated by better reproduction and survival. In other words, when dogs are removed, the survivors’ life expectancy increases because they have better access to the resources, and there is less competition for resources”.

Thus, according to the same WHO report: “Removal and killing of dogs should never be considered as the most effective way of dealing with a problem of surplus dogs in the community.

It has no effect whatsoever on the root cause of the problem”.

Although killing or poisoning — as it is being practised in some cities elsewhere — reduces the stray dog population in the short term, it can never be carried out intensively and persistently enough to eradicate them.

As one American research study reportedly claimed, one fertile female dog (together with its subsequent offsprings) can breed up to 67,000 offsprings in 6 years! This is why it is widely believed that killing dogs can never effectively solve the stray dog problem unless every single female is exterminated.

Even when a large number of dogs in an area are killed, they are quickly replaced because the conditions that sustain the dog population remain unchanged.

That is why dogs are still prospering in some countries despite carrying out wholesale slaughtering of stray dogs for many years.

“In the long term, control of reproduction (i.e., neuter and release) is by far the most effective strategy of dog population management”, recommended the WHO in its 1990 report. This strategy involves catching the dogs, neutering them and vaccinating them against rabies, and then putting them back in their own areas. Only those dogs which are sick, incurable and dangerous should be humanely put to sleep.

The Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (Paws) has been campaigning for the adoption of the neuter and release strategy to control Karachi’ stray dog population, reported to number one hundred thousand. But so far, our local governments, at least in Rawalpindi and Karachi, seem to lack the political will and understanding, and perhaps the funding as well, to work cooperatively with local animal welfare organizations like Paws to reduce the population of stray dogs humanely.

It is a pity that we no longer have the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), an office which used to have branches in major cities of Pakistan (e.g., Karachi and Gujranwala). This office was vested with powers to arrest people for cruelty to animals “whether it be a caged parrot or a cart- pulling donkey — and haul them to the city courts to be prosecuted and fined for the offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1890).

If the SPCA existed today, it would not have tolerated the kind of wholesale killing of dogs being practised by our city authorities, nor would it have condoned the reported hunting of 800 partridges and 20 wild boars in Sanghar district by two federal ministers last month.

However, we do have now another local animal welfare organisation, the Pakistan Animal Rights Organization (Paro), which has been lobbying for stiffer penalties for cruelty against animals. Paro has been calling for amendments to be made to the 1890 Act, especially exemplary sentences for dog fighters and other animal baiters.

If we can get the 1890 Act amended to specifically make the indiscriminate killing of dogs an offence under the law, this could help pave the way for our local governments to adopt a more humane and compassionate way of solving the stray dog menace in our cities.

The chances of success would be greater if local governments implement the neuter and release strategy in close cooperation with local animal welfare organizations (e.g., Paws, Paro and perhaps even the Kennel Club of Pakistan), as well as commercial organizations like pharmaceutical companies, banks, consumer products’ companies, etc., all of which can play an important role as sponsors.

If implemented efficiently, not only would we be on the path towards permanently controlling the stray dog problem on our streets, we would also be correcting our image as a society uncaring to animals and wildlife.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007