Footprints: The past is among us

February 12, 2016


RENOVATIONS of the autaq of the 130-year-old Odho haveli in Jacobabad district have come a long way from when they were initially approved in 2011.—Photo by Saman Jamshed
RENOVATIONS of the autaq of the 130-year-old Odho haveli in Jacobabad district have come a long way from when they were initially approved in 2011.—Photo by Saman Jamshed

ON both sides of the road to Tajo Dero village in Jacobabad district acres of lush fields can be seen as far as the eyes can behold, with sarson and its quintessential yellow bloom making a regular appearance. This picturesque scene is in contrast to the image most tend to have of Sindh, believing it to be primarily comprising barren topography. The arresting sights keep conversation between inhabitants of the bus to a bare minimum as we are headed to the Odho haveli, an architectural wonder said to have been built around 130 years ago.

The Odho haveli was built by Sardar Lal Mohammad Khan Odho and despite the lineage it boasts of has fallen into disrepair. At present it is in the care of his grandsons, Mohammad Panah Khan Odho, and Javed Alam Odho who also happens to be Mirpurkhas DIG.

Despite the controversies attached to its restoration work — from appropriation of funds, compromises on the quality of raw materials used, as well as not remaining true to the original design — the project is progressing under the watchful eye of the Endowment Fund Trust with project director Mohan Lal at its forefront.

The haveli evokes a conflicting mesh of emotions on its first perusal. The autaq, a rectangular building primarily used for entertaining guests, is in its final stage of completion with the walls within waiting to be restored. At the moment they were being lime plastered after which oil paints were to be used to paint the original design onto them. The ceiling has been completed using kashi tiles from Hala, similar to the original design.

The outer facade of the autaq is made up of baked bricks and blue tiles with floral designs, and the team inspecting the conservation very proudly takes us on a tour, highlighting the progress of the restorations that were officially approved in 2011.

On leaving the premises of the autaq, we head towards the main residence behind it, through life-sized gates. A boundary wall surrounds it, which had been constructed to honour the tradition of strict separation of household women from the public eye, widely practised in the province.

And at first sight of what lies behind these gates, my heart sinks.

It seems as if one has walked into a new era. An era of disregard towards elements that hold sentimental value, where each brick narrates a tale of desolation and disrepair, shared by hundreds of historical sites and buildings throughout the country, as they crumble into oblivion.

The haveli is in a dilapidated condition, in sheer contrast to the progress made with the autaq. According to Lal, great care is being taken to restore the structure to its former glory, and “more than Rs20 million has been spent so far in the restoration of the autaq and the playroom. Once complete, the trustees at EFT will assess the site and then accordingly give approval for the restoration of the main residence.”

Historical buildings in Sindh are plagued by several factors. Vagaries of time, rising water tables due to which dampness directly affects the structure, increasing salinity which attacks the bricks most structures are heavily composed of, as well as the effect of the changing weather. And the Odho haveli has also not been spared.

It is said that Sardar Odho married a British woman. The fireplace and the wooden chest with slim drawers are also a testament to her presence. In one corner on the ground floor is a functional bar where empty wine bottles sit on the counter collecting dust. Workers claim they are placed exactly as they were originally found.

The inside of the residence seems to be frozen in time, as if the occupants left in a hurry with only the bare essentials and the team has been strictly instructed not to tamper with the items within. However, exposed to the elements, they are falling to pieces though these could have been easily salvaged and documented.

Several accounting registries were found in different rooms of the residence. Meticulous in their record, yet completely undecipherable as to the contents of what they documented, the decaying paper disintegrated on contact. This utter disregard for the treasure trove of information these documents posses is just another indication of the apathy shown towards our historical origins.

The residence requires more conservation efforts as it is primarily a wooden structure, and with each step and the consequent creaking, there is no doubt that the rot has set in. The creaks became more pronounced when we take to the long winding staircase which opens onto the rooftop.

Looking around us, with a few figures visible here and there, amid acres of cultivated and barren land, one is reminded of the dichotomy of being alive amid the crumbling haveli; our minds and our bodies on a similar path of decay though at a pace much quicker than we desire.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2016