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.
Most people know the Christian cemetery located on Shahrah-e-Faisal as 'Gora Qabrustan'. Although the official name of this cemetery, as per public records, is 'Maseehi Qabrustan' (meaning Christian Cemetery) but no one seems to call it by that name.
My journalist friend Saeed Jan had been insisting for some time that I should write something about the Gora Qabrustan. But I couldn't think of an angle that would provoke the reader's interest.
Much has already been written about the origins of the graveyard, so let's not go there. I will tell you this much, though: Saeed Jan informed me that Pakistan’s former Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad was also laid to rest in this very burial ground.
However, on digging up some facts, I came to know that he was actually buried in the military graveyard located opposite of the Gora Qabrustan.
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So that was that. But I did learn from Naymatullah Bukhari (another journalist friend) that there were, actually, two 'Gora Qabrustans' in Karachi.
“There’s one on Bandar Road as well,” he informed me.
Naymat had guests soon after, so I couldn't learn more from him on the subject. Nonetheless, I could not stop thinking about it all.
There was another Gora Qabrustan in Karachi, let alone on Bandar Road?
Then it occurred to me that four-time MPA Michael Javed could be of help in this regard.
The very next day, I showed up at his residence in Eesa Nagri (the name literally means City of the Christ). This is arguably the densest Christian locality in, not only Karachi but the whole of Pakistan. I’ll write about this place some other day.
It’s always pleasing to see Michael sahab. During conversation over tea, Michael reaffirmed that another such graveyard existed on Bandar Road.
“In fact,” he added, “it was the oldest Christian cemetery in Karachi.” I could feel that his eyes shined a lot less when mentioning that standing cenotaphs and monuments at the cemetery had been demolished, as the place was leveled to the ground and replaced with a building.
I requested him to share documentary proof of this, if he had any. Michael said a member of the Christian community did have some documents, but that person had moved to Lahore. He promised to try and get something for me.
A few days later, I received a call from Michael Javed. It was sad news. The person he was referring to had suffered a paralysis attack and was not able to speak or move anymore.
At that moment, I felt like I'd never be able to fulfill Saeed Jan's wish for an article on this graveyard.
Days went by. I have to admit, I had pretty much forgotten about it.
Then, one evening, I accidentally met Mumtaz Siyal sahab — an old friend and a fine gentleman from my hometown, Mirpurkhas. He is now retired from his position in the revenue department.
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Mumtaz and I started talking and somehow, the conversation meandered to the the lost cause of finding the oldest Christian cemetery in Karachi. He told me that he knew about the cemetery, confirming that it was the oldest. He also told me that an old colleague of his had conspired with the help of his allies in KBCA and other departments to hand over the land of the cemetery to a businessman on lease. The man erected a plaza there.
Later, the perpetrators were identified and suspended for the act. They appealed against the suspension in the High Court of Sindh which was rejected. Sadly, however, the Supreme Court of Pakistan reinstated them to their positions.
After Mumtaz, The Gazetteer of Karachi also proved to be of some use. The gazetteer was compiled by a certain J. W. Smith and was first published in 1919. The second edition was published in 2003 by Indus Publications under the supervision of Safdar Mehdi.
According to the gazetteer, authentic documents reveal the graveyard located between Bandar Road and the Preedy Tank to be the oldest European cemetery in Sindh.
Herein lies the grave of Captain Hand of the 2nd Grenadier Regiment, B.N.I., who was murdered by a local gang in 1839, when the Reserved Force was encamped near the old town of Karachi, prior to the conquest of Sindh.
Captain Hand had gone off to camp one day for a ride in the direction of Magarpir (Minghopir), but did not return. After a search was conducted, his body was found atop a hill.
Colonel Spiller, the officer in command of the small force, at once contacted Seth Naomal, who sent out his men and traced the murderer to Chaakar, the Khalifa of notorious religious leader Shah Bilawal.
Shah Bilawal's followers wanted to steal the gold buttons from Captain Hand's coat.
Mir Nur Muhammad, the political agent in Hyderabad, was ordered to arrest Khalifa Chaakar and send him to Karachi.
Chaakar was duly arrested and tried by a military court, following which he was hanged at the site of the murder, which is known as Hand’s Hill and is located about three and a half kilometres north-east of Napier Barracks.
Renowned historian, Gul Hassan Kalmati calls Mir Chaakar Khan a freedom fighter in his book Karachi Kay Lafaani Kirdaar. As the story goes, when Mir Chaakar Khan was standing at the gallows, about to be hanged for the murder of a British soldier, a British officer approached him to pull the customary black mask over his head before the hanging. Chaakar stopped the officer, instead tightening the noose around his neck himself and asking the executioner to go on about his business without further ado.
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Well, I had discovered that the old Gora Qabrustan was somewhere along Bandar Road. But where exactly? All you see today is Iqbal Centre, which stands right where the burial grounds once were.
I went to Iqbal Centre and met with one Zia sahab, who is the secretary of the traders’ union there.
“I don’t know about the Gora Qabrustan. I used to come play here when I was a kid. There were a couple of graves around here. Now it’s the Iqbal Centre,” he tells me.
You must be thinking where this Iqbal Centre is exactly. Worry not. It's easy to find.
You must have been to Dilpasand Sweets near the main intersection on Bandar Road, which is the next signal after the Jamia Cloth market. The sweets shop is part of the Iqbal Centre. That’s where the older Gora Qabrustan once was.
Translated by Ayaz Laghari from the original in Urdu here.