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.
This is part 2 of a 2-part series on Ranchor Line. Read part 1 here.
Any mention of Ranchor Line is incomplete without including the Salawat community, which occupies most of its central parts.
Baba Mir Baloch and Hashim Gazdar are the two names known for giving the Salawat community its separate identity, an identity that existed before partition. This community is particularly known to be among the more politically aware and mature communities within Pakistan.
Back in British India, they were huge help in the struggle against the Raj. In Karachi Kee Kahani by Ajmal Kamal, the author gives a reference of Pir Ali Muhammad Shah Rashidi’s book, Woh Din Woh Log, which speaks of Baba Mir Muhammad Baloch:
“Baba Mir Baloch was a Baloch after all: a courageous, vehement and a fearless man who was an arch nemesis for the British. He would always create mayhem for the government. Mir sahib even got elected to the Bombay Council as a member. Although he did not know English, but by seeking help from friends who knew the language, he would table questions that no one else would ever dare ask the government."
Sindhi separatist leader G. M. Syed writes under the title Baba Haji Mir Muhammad s/o Baloch Khan in his book, Janab Guzaryam Jin Seen on page 146:
“He was born in 1870 in Jaisalmer (presently Rajasthan, India). He belonged to the Chauhan community in the Rajputs. He started working as a labourer in his adolescence and began taking small scale contracts. He saved some money through these contracts and then went for the big contracts from the government and the municipality.
“In 1919, after the Khilafat Movement began, he resigned as an honorary magistrate to join the movement. All the government contracts he received as a contractor thenceforth ceased to come his way.”
In light of his services to the movement, he was appointed the Vice President of the Sindh Khilafat Committee. For his services and his old age, people call him Baba Mir Baloch. However, G. M. Syed writes his name as Baba Mir Haji Baloch.
I was both delighted and astonished to learn about the struggle against the British by a Marwari from Karachi! The astonishment though, was on a Baloch from the Marwari Salawat community.
What Ali Muhammad Shah Rashidi and G. M. Syed write about the man confirms that he was a Baloch. However, Haris Gazdar, a member of a local community from Ranchor Line, denies Baba Mir Balochi being a Baloch.
Haris gave me Lala Hussain Baloch’s number who is a relative of Baba Mir Baloch. It was Lala who told me that his grandfather’s first name was Mir Muhammad, while his great grandfather’s first name was Baloch, and that is why they are called the Baloch family. However, they are not Baloch and are in fact from the Chauhan tribe of the Salawat community.
Naturally, this got me curious about why Ali Muhammad Shah Rashidi and G. M. Syed would refer to Baba Mir Baloch being a true Baloch.
Renowned journalist Siddique Baloch answered this question for me. “Baba Mir Muhammad was a Marwari Salawat,” he said, moving on,
But since he was mostly in the company of the Baloch from Lyari (Karachi), and since his clothes, too, were of the Baloch style, people started calling him a Baloch.”
He added, “He [Baba Mir Baloch] was an ‘honorary’ Baloch."
The name Hashim Gazdar is embossed quite evidently on the political and social history of Karachi. He, too, was a Salawat from Ranchor Line.
Muhammad Usman Damohi writes on page 506 of his book, Karachi Taareekh Kay Aaeenay Main about Hashim Gazdar:
“He was a minister for Sindh before the partition and became member of the central legislative assembly of Pakistan after the partition.
“He was made Mayor of the Karachi Municipality in 1941 and 1942. Born in the city of Jaisalmer in Rajputana in 1893, the name Gazdar comes from his father who received it as a title from the Raja of the state after he built a villa atop the main entrance of the royal palace.
“He presided at the Muslim Marwari Salawat Jama’at for 25 years, earning himself the title of Baba-e-Salawat (father of the Salawat community). He established many health care centres, madrassas and industrial homes for women in Karachi.”
About Ranchor Line, Damohi sahib writes:
“The name of the area is associated with a Hindu named Ranchor. The area was first inhabited by its occupants in the early days of the British Raj. With time, it became one of the most densely populated areas in the city. Before the partition, the area was home to a majority of Hindus.
"There were a huge number of Muslim Marwari people living here as well, divided into many a community. Salawat was the only community that earned a name in Karachi.
"Although they were stonemasons by profession, but there talent and genius has not always been limited to stonemasonry. There have been great authors, poets, journalists and architects from this very community. Muhammad Hashim Gazdar sahib was also from this community.”
Ahmed Hussain Siddiqui writes about Ranchor Line on page 96 of his book, Gohar Baheera Arab (Karachi):
“It is an old area of the city, spread on 14 acres. Most of the people living in this area are from the Marwar region, and have been here for a long, long time now. Karachi owes a lot to these people for its architecture.”
Muhammad Usman Damohi says that Ranchor Line was renamed to Gazdarabad in light of Hashim Gazdar’s services. Albeit Hashim Gazdar’s services and Baba Mir Muhammad Baloch Marwari’s role, no one from their families lives in this area, even though they do participate in almost every big social event of the area.
The area’s name in the government records is Gazdarabad. Apart from that, one very rarely finds the name written on the buildings in the area. Regardless of what the records call it, if you search for a Gazdarabad in political party units or sectors, you will only tire yourself. One word about Ranchor Line and all units and sectors will pop up before you like there were on top of all other records.
No Salawat calls the area Gazdarabad; they all still call it Ranchor Line. It is hard to decide whether this is a hesitation in abandoning an old identity or just plain ignorance.
The Salawat community has established a library in the name of Baba Mir Muhammad Baloch. Sadly, it is almost always closed. In the evenings, however, Salawat elders sit in front of and around the library to enjoy tea and conversation.
Photos by Akhtar Balouch
Translated by Ayaz Laghari