KARACHI: As Pakistan Chowk is a symbol of the city’s rich cultural and historical fabric, the inauguration of the Pakistan Chowk Community Centre (PCCC) on Wednesday was another step by concerned citizens and activists to reclaim the space long usurped by increasing violence, hoards of waste and gentrification.

The flag bearer of the initiative is architect Marvi Mazhar who spoke about how far the project, initially only a concept, has evolved. She said that the project became a part of the lives of those living near and far from Pakistan Chowk. 

With the aim to create a space that encourages engagement of the community with arts and culture, public support has been overwhelming and heartening for the PCCC. Mohalla-saazi allowed women and children to take care of this Chowk, she said. The newly inaugurated community centre, just a few steps from the roundabout, would allow greater community engagement and ownership of public property, she explained.

In his opening speech, German Consul General in Karachi Rainer Schmiedchen spoke about the importance of culture in South Asia. “I hope that the Germans can contribute a little bit of preservation of local languages in South Asia, as we have contributed a little to the rehabilitation of Pakistan Chowk. The PCCC is an important step for old town Karachi and will further uplift Pakistan Chowk.”

He also said a lot of hard work was still left. “Good projects need to be identified, plans implemented, good artists have to be invited. I would be personally very happy to see poets from India, sculptors from Sri Lanka and painters from Bangladesh performing in the new community centre.”

Politician Sharmila Faruqi recalled how the project was “envisioned as a public square for different communities, different religions and for recreational activities as it was utilised in pre-Partition times.” However, a lot of people were critical of the project initially, she said. “Among the criticism were also questions from my colleagues in the government who kept asking how many funds had we taken from the government for the project. Just to reiterate and clarify, not a single penny from the government was used in this. It was all a personal effort because we wanted to prove a point that a lot of things can be done with the communities involved.”

Writer and critic Asif Farrukhi recalled his childhood spent at Pakistan Chowk. “However, our cultural heritage, camaraderie and mohalla-saazi have all been thrown away. This is why I am personally thankful to Marvi for reviving and rehabilitating this cultural treasure and gifting it back to Karachi.”

Stefan Winkler, director of the Goethe-Institut Pakistan, and Ambareen Thompson, executive director of I AM KARACHI also spoke. The event ended with a dastangoi session by Fawad Khan.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2017

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