Every city evolves and Karachi too has evolved from being the federal capital to a metropolis that controls whatever happens in the country, at least economically. But there is one area in the former capital that, despite having much historical value, is fast deteriorating: Saddar.
A trip to Saddar is like a trip down memory lane; old streets, old shops and sometimes even old vendors in front of very old buildings. The names of the markets also remind one of the British era — Empress Market, Preedy Quarters, Bohri Bazaar — where one can still find everyday items at wholesale rates. But Saddar has changed considerably in the last 40 years or so. The overcrowded roads, the dirty surroundings and the uninterested authorities contribute to making it one of the most unpleasant places to visit in the city. Rickshaws and buses will make manoeuvring impossible and pedestrians will ensure that they use every possible space left on the road, which makes driving hazardous. The overhead bridges are populated by vendors with weighing machines, Chinese ‘dentists’ who might never have been to China as well as drug addicts.
The eateries in the area are known throughout the world; be it the hot-cross buns from a famous bakery located in the area, to the delicious chillou kebabs in the vicinity and many other delicacies. But the open sewers and the unhygienic living conditions make people think twice before they decide to visit their favourite food joints. There was a time when Karachi’s streets were washed daily with water. But it seems more like a fairytale now because the city has grown tremendously since the ’50s and not much has been done in order to preserve the buildings of the past. Even the opening of malls in the area hasn’t helped because the malls might be clean, the outside certainly isn’t.
Gone are the days when Saddar was the centre of activities in the city; be they literary ones at the coffee houses (now gone) or entertainment-related at clubs (mostly defunct). Even many cinemas in the area have been taken over by shopping malls and apartment complexes. It was sad to see a ‘for sale’ sign at the site of the once-famous Nishat Cinema. But that’s the truth — standalone cinemas don’t stand a chance in front of cineplexes. There is one in Saddar and it seems to be doing well; its biggest competitor is not a cinema but Rainbow Centre, the headquarters of pirated films and other related items. The remaining cinemas on and near M.A. Jinnah Rd seem to be doing satisfactory business thanks to the cinema revival through multiplexes, otherwise they would have closed shop for good as well.
Saddar was not always the big dump it has now become. There was a time when people used to travel safely in the area in trams and it was considered one of the cleanest parts of the city. There was hardly a dull moment in the vicinity. For safety measures, there were water hydrants round every corner for fire engines in case a building caught fire. All that is now gone and the authorities, as well as Karachi’s residents, are to blame for the destruction of one of the most beautiful and historic parts of the city.
The old part of Lahore has been well-preserved by the local government and that’s why the Punjab capital gets tourists from all parts of the world, including Karachi. Karachiites have a heritage, but it seems to have been ruined by carelessness.—Omair Alavi
Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2015