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.
Bandar Road say Kemari, meri chali ray ghorra gaari… Babu hojana footpath pay…
(From Bandar Road to Kemari goes my horse wagon, kindly step onto the footpath, sir).
Those are lines from one of Ahmed Rushdi’s famous song about Karachi’s Bandar Road.
Before partition, and also after for some time, Bandar Road was identified with the Mary Weather Tower, Denso Hall, Haji Moula Dina Muslim Dharamshala (Maulavi Musafir Khana), Karachi Municipality, Swami Narayan Mandir and Bank of India.
A Muslim dharamshala in itself is an unusual reference. Perhaps, it was the last Muslim dharamshala in pre-partition India, where migrants to the new homeland sought refuge. I’m sure they too must have wondered why Maula Dina built a dharamshala, and perhaps that is why they started referring to it as the Maulavi Musafir Khana.
|The plaque of the Haji Moula Dina Muslim Dharamshala on M A Jinnah Road. -Photo by author|
What quintessentially added to the beauty of Bandar Road were the historical buildings, along with the tram track. The Khaliq Dina Hall too is located on this road.
Muhammad Usman Damohi writes about the Khalid Dino Hall on page 475 of his book Karachi Taareekh Kay Aaeenay Main:
Apart from the 70 feet long and 40 feet wide hall, the beautiful building also has two rooms constructed to serve as libraries. Mr Young Husband, Commissioner Sindh at the time, inaugurated this building on July 14, 1904.
After its completion, the hall was being utilised for various political and social events in Karachi. And in September 1921, when Maulana Muhammad Ali Johar and his associates were charged with treason, the building acquired a place in history and became known in every nook and corner of South Asia.
There is an inscription on the entrance of the building which is in the context of the Khilafat Movement. It says:
On July 9, 1921, Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar succeeded in getting a resolution passed in one of the gatherings of the Khilafat Movement which deemed the recruitment of Muslims in the British Army as sacrilege. For this crime, Maulana and his friends were charged with treason by the British government. The legal proceedings were held in this very building. However, Maulana’s verdict during the whole proceedings was as follows:
We are fond of martyrdom. So, what testimonies!? Pass the judgement as we plead guilty.
Ajmal Kamal writes about the recollections of Pir Ali Muhammad Rashidi in his book, Karachi Kee Kahani on page 115:
Bandar Road was a regular destination for us in those days. Mola Dino’s lodge, Ghulam Hussain Khalid Dino Hall, Denso Hall, Mary Weather Tower and Small Kaz Court, Custom House, and the Port Trust Building were the milestones of this tour.
On both sides of the Denso Hall were two streets. The one on the left crossed the Naee Chaali Muhalla (the Al-Waheed newspaper had its office there) and led to the MacLeod Road.
On the right of the hall were two roads. One was the Marriot Road which mostly accommodated commercial buildings and shops, while the second was the Napier Road. On this road, right in the beginning, were the offices of the Memon businessmen (the office of Sir Haji Abdullah Haroon and later the provincial Muslim League office were both located on this road). A little further into the street was a brothel.
Not only did singers and prostitutes live nearby brothel, but many families, which had nothing to do with these professions had their homes in this area. For example, the Commissioner Sindh’s chief assistant lived here. He was a good man, who prayed and fasted regularly. Often in the evening he would sit in his gallery, looking at passers-by.
Inviting professional dancers or taking them along for a party or a gathering was never frowned upon. The line dividing the professionals and the nobles was quite thickly drawn. All good or bad art was kept to oneself. The days of hypocrisy had not yet arrived.
The first veterinary hospital, established in pre-partition Karachi is also situated on this road. And the historical Radio Pakistan is located here as well.
Who can forget the headless creatures of Bandar Road! Fear not, they do not harm anyone. They dwell peacefully on the highest storey of the Sighan Mansion (Est. 1930) by the square in Jamia Cloth Market.
|The headless statues of the Sighan Mansion on Bandar Road. -Photo by author|
These headless creatures appear to be of deities. If you step onto the footpath that faces the Muslim dharamshala (Maulavi Musafir Khana), and look towards the Sighan Mansion’s top floor, you won’t miss them. Made of stone, I am most certain that the beheading of these poor statues was an act of righteousness performed by a devout Muslim, following the tradition of iconoclasm.
Also read: Napier’s bird of gold
If you head towards the Tower from the Jamia Cloth Market, you will see that adjacent to the Allah Wala Market a Blair Building stands proudly. Its balconies hold fast some eye-catching statues which are deteriorating at a good, sad pace.
According to one of my researcher friends Aqeel Abbas Jafri, Ahmed Rushdi sang the song “Bandar Road say Kemari” in 1954.
Another of my kind friends, Zakir sahib, who has served the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation for a long time, tells me that in 1949 Bandar Road’s name was changed to the Muhammad Ali Jinnah Road.
Renowned historian of motion pictures and what surrounded them, Zakhmi Kanpuri writes on pages 142-143 of his book Duur Koee Geet Gaaey that Ahmed Rushdi was born on April 24, 1938 in Hyderabad Deccan. He belonged to a Syed family and acquired all of his education in Hyderabad, Deccan. He had a love for becoming a vocalist since the beginning. That is why he became associated with Radio Pakistan where he met seasoned composer, Mehdi Zaheer.
His initial fame was due to his performance of the song Bandar Road say Kemari, at a children’s programme. It was written and composed by Mehdi Zaheer. Thank heavens Mehdi Zaheer wrote this poem in the 50’s and that it was sung in those days as well. If all this had happened today, Mehdi Zaheer might have been facing charges of insulting the founder of the nation!
My journalist friend Fazil Jameeli told me that there were tall Banyan trees on Bandar Road. He called them Buhrr trees, which confused me. Later, to clarify, I asked him if he meant the name burr for the trees when he said buhrr. He ran his fingers through his hair and said, “Yes, you take it as that.”
|-Photo by author|
A friend of mine, Abrar sahib, turns the bulb on with a pull and click of the wire leading to the basement of reminiscences and tells me, “Bandar Road used to be washed every morning and in the evening there would be people collecting the dry leaves that departed sadly from their Banyan branches and rested in solitude on the road.”
Renowned historian Alexander F. Bailey writes that Bandar Road stretches for a nice quarter less than three miles. The road ends at a huge ground which is called the General Parade Ground. By the road is a Muslim graveyard in a massive ground.
Bandar Road’s every nook; every building is a grand story itself. Once known for the Mary Weather Tower and the Denso Hall is now more known for nihari, sweets or kebabs.
Now as M. A. Jinnah Road, being washed every day is a far cry; Bandar Road cannot even handle half an hour of light drizzle.
Radio Pakistan, which used to be a hub of news, has become a clubhouse of bureaucratic employees of the national radio. Z. A. Bukhari, Bundu Khan and Maulana Ehtisham-ul-Haque Thanvi do not contribute to the pride of Radio Pakistan by being regular visitors of the place anymore. The only sound one can hear regularly on the road are blaring, merciless horns and angry commuters, bombarding unimaginable curses at each other as traffic personnel attempt helplessly to do their job.
|-Photo by author|
Buildings from the early 20th century are now being replaced with plazas. A couple of buildings which have survived the tests of time are now in the eyes of real estate mafia. These old architectural and historical heritages gifted, mostly unwillingly, to the newly formed nation are waiting for the inevitable conversion to rubble in the name of progress.
To the drivers who have been commuting to and from this road for over 50 years, it is and shall always be Bandar Road.
Translated by Ayaz Laghari
Read this blog in Urdu here.