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History in pieces

January 09, 2019


A VIEW of the Landhi railway station tucked away in a far corner of Karachi.—White Star
A VIEW of the Landhi railway station tucked away in a far corner of Karachi.—White Star

KARACHI: Where is Josh Malihabadi Road in Karachi? Where did Ghulam Farid Sabri and Maqbool Sabri live, and where still members of their family, including Amjad Sabri’s children, live? The answer to the first question is FB Area. The answer to the second question: Liaquatabad. No, both areas have nothing to do with the old town that we see and hear about often in the news for reasons that lovers of Karachi’s history and heritage seem to focus on.

Yes, Karachi’s Saddar area is its oldest. Yes, it needs to be conserved (though one feels that with the kind of population boom that we have had in the last two decades or so, it is a Herculean task). That being said, while homing in on the older parts of the metropolis, we tend to overlook those vicinities which developed (or filled up with people) after Partition in quick succession. These became neighbourhoods that later on, to a reasonable degree, came to define the city’s cultural ethos.

Liaquatabad, which was formerly known as Lalukhet, has a rich post-independence history –– the word post and history sound a trifle oxymoronic, though. It was named after the first prime minister of the country, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan. It came into national prominence when a language riot broke out here in 1969 which had left-leaning political parties and student federation at the time view it with a sympathetic lens. Those who were with the National Student Federation (NSF) in those days would vouch for it.

While Karachi’s old city areas are often in the news, post-Partition localities don’t get the same attention

Does Liaquatabad ever merit a mention in our elaborate theses, published in magazines or presented at moots? If it does, it does not resonate the way it should.

Liaquatabad has housed artists such as Ghulam Farid and Maqbool Sabri, the qawwal legends whose work is still being used and reworked by contemporary artists. It is also the locality where Firdaus cinema exists. There was a time when Firdaus used to be one of the city’s most-visited single-screen cinemas.

FB Area, like the former Lalukhet, boasts of a vibrant culture. There are venues such as Saadaat-i-Amroha that have hosted many a memorable mushaira and session with literary giants. Some of the classic mushairas in Pakistan have taken place at Saadaat-i-Amroha, especially in the 1990s, in which poets such as Fahmida Riaz, Ahmed Faraz, Jaun Elia from Pakistan and Bashir Badr and Nawaz Deobandi from India took part. One of the most candid chitchats with Jaun Elia, too, was witnessed at this venue.

Then there is Orangi Town, a post-Partition neighbourhood that the great social reformist Akhtar Hameed Khan chose to work in for the welfare of its residents. How many of Karachi’s history buffs have given it a thought that a road, street or park be named after him?

Also, Landhi has a pretty little stone-made railway station. These days its view is blocked by the abadis that have mushroomed around it in a few years. Do we care? Does it cross our mind that we should preserve the station’s historic value because it’s located at the opposite end of the old city?

Mind you, these and their adjoining mohallas are the zones from where talents in fields as varied as sport and art come through. They are middle-class localities, devoid of uppity frills, and they will actually shape the future history (not in the sci-fi sense) of Karachi. The cricketers and some of the artists that Karachi has produced over the years signify a delightful socio-cultural departure from the city’s colonial past.

It would be of little use, if not ‘none’ at all, if we’re to spend our energies (and money) on a particular part of the town that a majority of those who live in Karachi don’t have the faintest notion about. Piecemeal examination cannot do any good to history buffs. History requires a holistic approach to be understood … and acknowledged.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2019