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Mr. Strachan and Maulana Wafaai

Updated January 23, 2014


-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

There were many people who played their part in the development of Karachi, but among them a name that stands out is Mr James Strachan. When it comes to political and journalistic terms, Maulana Deen Muhammad Wafaai tops the list.

Let us first speak of James Strachan, an engineer. Rather, the engineer. Muhammad Usman Damohi writes about Mr Strachan in his book Karachi Taareekh Kay Aaeenay Main:

This English engineer was a humble servant of the city of Karachi, and was wishful of bringing its development on the standards of London. He was an intelligent and a worthy gentleman. Although his professional expertise was in railways, but his skills in city planning was also admirable. He was appointed the Chief Engineer and Secretary, Karachi Municipality in 1873. It was his genius that turned Karachi into something it was never before, a city with evermore flexibility for progress. It would be appropriate to say he changed its fate.

It was Mr Strachan who first both envisioned and planned brightening Karachi with electricity and connecting its people to the rest of the world through the telephone. With matchless sincerity in efforts, Mr Strachan, during his tenure as Chief Engineer and Secretary, succeeded in implementing the telephone plan. However, electricity came to Karachi after Mr Strachan was transferred from the city. It was his efforts through which every home in Karachi was given a water connection. He was awarded with a cash prize worth £500.

A lot has been said in the Karachi Municipality journal about Mr James Strachan. The journal says James Strachan was appointed as an engineer in 1873 in the municipality. An exceptionally intelligent man, he literally changed the face of the city. He constructed the Empress Market, the Marry Weather Tower, founded the tramway company, and started the tram service. He also built the hospital at Kemari, established an arts college, constructed many other markets, roads, and moved the municipality office to a more spacious building on McLeod Road.

Additionally, he presented the government with a scheme of water supply. An ambitious man, he threatened the government that if the municipality did not receive the appropriate funding for the scheme, the entity would then utilise its own resources to implement it by any means possible. Some of his threats were to increase the taxes collected from the government and military vehicles and in the transit duty.

Not only did he suggest that the entity could go that far, but he actually proposed the amount of increase that he had in mind, along with the water supply scheme proposal. The British government, understanding the risk involved in case the proposal was rejected, approved the scheme, which was a first of its kind of an episode in the municipality’s history. Mr Strachan was given the responsibility of overseeing the entire project.

The initial proposed budget of the plan was 1.2 million Indian rupees, but the government adjusted it to bring the amount down to Rs 800,000. Resultantly, the diameter of the pipes to be used was decreased and only two water wells were dug. On February 18, 1880, the first phase of the scheme had been completed, and by April 1883, the scheme had been finalised. The Governor of Bombay inaugurated the scheme.

According to a book, ‘Capital of Sindh’, it was thus that water was being supplied to homes and other establishments in Karachi through water pipes for the first time.

Forty-five gallons of water were available per capita for a population of 80 thousand people. Never again did the people of Karachi enjoy an abundant quantity of water as that after the British departed. 0.854 Million INR were spent on that scheme. The government saved 20 thousand rupees per year because of the water supply which were mostly spent on the water supply for the army.

After the water supply scheme was accomplished, public taps were installed at various locations, houses were given water connections, and wells were closed. Only those wells were kept open to public where the pipes could not reach.

Mr Strachan also tried to increase the amount of water supplied, bringing the daily supply from three million gallons to three and a half million gallons. The municipality was receiving half a million gallons of extra water, which could be used for planting trees, parks and gardens.

James Strachan came up with a sewerage scheme too, which was budgeted at Rs 700,000. Once he got the scheme approved, work on the plans was initiated. Mr Strachan kept English development standards in his mind when thinking of schemes for Karachi. It was because of this that the water connections for homes in Karachi was an expensive scheme as the pipes being used were not cheap at all. The municipality eventually resorted to installing public water taps at 238 locations in the city. It was in these days that fountains were installed in the city at various places.

It was Strachan who had met with many European businessmen to attract their investment for a tramway in Karachi. He provided them with the feasibility reports and all the documentation that was required. However, by the time the tramway had become operational, Mr Strachan had been transferred from the municipality.

Using electricity to light up the streets and roads of Karachi was also Mr Strachan’s idea. He tried his best to bring private power companies to the city, but sadly this vision of his could not become a reality in those times as the European rulers did not have much interest in this city.

Whatsoever he did for the city was more than enough. Instead of the dusty old city that Karachi was, it now had parks and gardens. Homes and offices were now surrounded by trees and greenbelts. Clifton was the best place to enjoy the seaside in those days. People would come in hordes to enjoy the mighty sea embracing the beautiful shores of Karachi. It was in Mr Strachan’s days that a trek was managed in Clifton, and lights were installed.

Before envisioning electric lights for the streets and roads, the kerosene street lamps were also Strachan’s gift to Karachi. It was not the lamps that were changed; it was the product being used as fuel for them, which was coconut oil. Coconut oil was an expensive commodity and hence its replacement with Mr Strachan’s efforts in 1883 with kerosene oil was a smart move. At that time, 60 miles of road had a thousand kerosene lamps to light it.

G. M. Syed (the late Sindhi politician who tabled the resolution for Sindh’s accession to Pakistan in 1947, and who later founded the separatist Sindhi movement known as Jiye Sindh) writes in one of his books for Maulana Deen Muhammad Wafaai sahib that he was an eminent religious scholar with great credits of authorship and compilation. His authored books include the biographies of the Prophet (PBUH), Siddique Akbar, Farooq-e-Azam, character sketches of Hazrat Usman, Haider Karar Karamullah Wajahu, biographies of Khatoon-e-Jannat, Ghaus-e-Azam, newly converted Hindu queens, rejection of the Qadyan (the Ahmedi sect), books on Hinduism and sacrifice.

Syed further writes that when Syed became the education minister in 1940, he established Sindhi Adabi Central Advisory Board for the advancement of the Sindhi language and literature. Syed tells that he appointed Maulana sahib on the board as a member. Syed also appointed a committee to prepare the lexicon of Sindhi, which included Moulavi Fateh Muhammad Sehwani, Jethmal Pursram, Usman Ali Ansari, Doctor Daudpota and Moulavi Deen Muhammad Wafaai. It was them who prepared the first lexicon of the Sindhi language.

After Pakistan came into being, a committee was formed to develop new textbook curriculums in 1949. Maulana Deen Muhammad Wafaai sahib was also part of that committee.

Maulana sahib was a renowned journalist. Pir Ali Muhammad Rashidi sahib writes in his book, Woh Din Woh Log that Moulavli sahib was the editor of the daily Al-Waheed in testing times. Those were days when the editorship of this newspaper meant that one had to visit the jail almost every day.

The editors of the Al-Waheed were often arrested, but the position never remained vacant. Maulana Deen Muhammad Wafaai was one of those courageous men who invoked the passion of liberation and dignity in Sindh through their own lifelong suffering and struggle through their intellect and penmanship.

As far his writings are concerned, I loved one of his essays which was published in Al-Hazb from Sukkur. The essay was titled Usshaaq Conference (The lovers’ conference). Maulana sahib had skillfully collected the famous heroes and heroines from the oft-spoken love stories across the world, making them the narrators of their tales.

Whatever has been written about Moulavi sahib shows that he was an upright, religious man. However, it is truer that he prioritised the progress of Sindh above all.

We have already mentioned Mr James Strachan and now we had a brief discussion about Maulana Deen Muhammad Wafaai as well. A road was named after Mr Strachan in light of his services to Karachi. The road stretches from Pakistan Chowk to the Arts Council. Government records state that the name of the road is Maulana Deen Muhammad Wafaai Rd. I have been there, from one of the road to the other, but I could not see his name on any of the public signboards. A few buildings do say that they are standing erect on the Deen Muhammad Wafaai Road. However, when you get on this road from the Pakistan Chowk, on the left there is a traffic police post. After the post, there is a warehouse which still says it is located on the Strachan Rd.

I will let you be the judge of it, since you now know a bit about both the personalities. What do you say, what name should I call the road?

Translated by Ayaz Laghari.

Read this blog in Urdu here.