KARACHI: Khori Garden and the historical buildings located in its surroundings became the focus of World Monuments Fund’s (WMF) Watch Day as the heritage cell of the department of architecture and planning of NED University organised a seminar, including a photo exhibition, a sketching and drawing competition, documentaries, and a panel discussion on Thursday.
While providing a bit of background on Watch Day, researcher and cultural heritage consultant Dr Anila Naeem said that the Watch was started in 2012 with an idea to involve people and communities of a cultural landscape to appreciate their heritage. “The Khori Garden has buildings around it which are reminiscent of the Victorian era with cast-iron grills for balconies and carved stones in the shape of rosette for decoration, which are now losing their identity thanks to the burgeoning population, pollution, congested roads, etc,” she said. “But we would like the community here to know the place better by sharing its history and spreading awareness about it among them,” she added.
It was shown in a documentary produced by NED University’s heritage cell that the buildings surrounding Khori Garden used to be inhabited by the Hindu community before Partition. After 1947 when the Hindus left, their place was taken by Muslims. But where there lived one Hindu family there were then six to seven Muslim families contributing to the densification of the area.
‘The Victorian-era buildings are losing their identity thanks to the growing population, pollution, congested roads’
Later, Khori Garden became known for all kinds of secondhand books. Then the books being sold there changed to secondhand course books, followed by books about computers. And slowly there were plastic goods and a toy market there too, along with a bustling pirated CDs and DVDs business until licensing by Microsoft brought an end to that. Now it is a place with the most congested roads and lanes all around. Still it has an identity, which is being snatched from it too due to the recent anti-encroachment drive.
An interesting panel discussion with Dr Noman Ahmed, chairman of the department of architecture and planning as the moderator, threw more light on the significance of the historical place. Architect Fazal Noor of the Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology shared his initial memory of regularly seeing a man with a gramophone selling records sometime in 1980. “In 1980, I got a customised canvas backpack made for myself here before travelling abroad. I also frequented Khori Garden to buy old books and magazines,” he said.
Dr Noman Ahmed then said that he also used to come to Khori Garden to buy books on architecture and the Ibne Safi detective book series.
Architect and town planner Arif Hasan said that his memories associated with Khori Garden go back 70 years from the time when he was only five. “At the time all the shopping for family weddings was done from Jodia Bazaar, which is close by. This place was also good for buying groceries. We used to come here on a tram; after completing our errands would take the tram again to get off at Lea Market,” he said.
About the changing face of the area, he said that the old buildings have new floors added and the old shops below have been turned into godowns. “My latest memories of this place are buying canvas for paintings some six to seven years ago when I liked to paint. There used to be a water trough here too,” he said.
Digging up more history on Khori Garden, Iqbal Rahman said that it used to be a place for tying caravan camels when they used to pass here. “Today, it is also known for donkey carts and hardworking Baloch labourers,” he said.
Writer Ramzan Baloch spoke about the various markets connected to the area including the dates market. “Earlier, there used to be some nice benches in the garden on which we used to rest for a while before going to the City Station to catch the local train,” he said. “Growing up I have seen the best and the worst of Khori Garden,’ he added.
Moving on then to speak about the changing profiles of stakeholders of Khori Garden, Fazal Noor said that there were 96 per cent Hindus here before Partition who were replaced by Memons migrating from Gujarat and Junagarh who opened shops on the ground floor of their living quarters. About how the area can be helped now, he said that administrators of the area should be familiar with its history. “The place is a mess now after the recent anti-encroachment drive. It looks even uglier than before due to the administration gap,” he pointed out.
Arif Hasan said that the area is close to the harbour so it had many small wholesale markets. “But as population grew there were no new markets or godowns added here so things expanded on their own rather haphazardly which also added to the congestion while disturbing communities. Those who could afford to move did do so but in the process that made their communities politically weak while the merchants and traders became stronger and encroached upon the roads and footpaths here,” he said.
But Fazal Noor said that business and trade, no matter what kind, was at the heart of Khori Garden. About what the future holds for this area, he said that they needed to understand how the new generation saw the place. “The new generation has futuristic values. They don’t just see Khori Garden and what ails it but also what can be done in the world and beyond as we are living in the space age after all. So we too should see Khori Garden through the eyes of our youth and what they think we should make it better,” he said.
Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2019