The Mohatta Palace in Karachi is a treasure trove of art, but few know that somewhere on the premises, bronze and marble statues that hark back to the heyday of the Raj are also kept.
The statue of Queen Victoria housed in the Mohatta Palace Museum was commissioned to celebrate the reign of King George VI – who was the long-reigning regent’s great-grandson – according to museum director Nasreen Askari. The marble pieces were part of a series, other pieces of which have since been misplaced.
The statue, along with one of King Edward VII, King George’s grandfather, was placed in the Frere Hall along with two bronze lions and the gardens on the property soon came to be known as ‘Queen’s Garden’ and ‘King’s Garden’ because of the two statues that stood at their entrances.
In the early 1960s, the statues were moved to the offices of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC). Fahim Zaman, a former Karachi administrator, told Dawn that that the statues may not have survived the rioting around 1960-61. To save them from being destroyed, KMC personnel dug a trench near the corporation’s offices on Lawrence Road and buried the marble statues there. The bronze statues, meanwhile, were stored in a room in the old KMC building.
Such was the paranoia about their safety that the room where they were stored had its windows and doors bricked up and cemented over. But after a while, people forgot the statues were ever placed in the building.
The statues were dug out on Mr Zaman’s orders when he became administrator and they were loaned to the Mohatta Palace Museum for an exhibition, titled ‘Jewel in the Crown: Karachi Under the Raj’ in 2004.
The statues have been on permanent loan to the museum ever since, because “no one wanted them”, according to Ms Askari.
Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2016