THE character of Karachi lies in the topsy turvy atmosphere, in the surplus of cultural and social diversity and in the clear transition from colonial to modern architectural styles.

Over the past decade the law and order has improved but an air of chaos still blows in the city. Walking outside still seems like an alien concept because of the perceptions passed down to us from our elders which is why — us — the inhabitants have limited.

Society at least allows men to walk outside and it’s a choice if not anything else but walking outside as a woman catches many eyes hence making it difficult for us to even think of a stroll.

But what if I told you it was easy? Even for a woman!

Old Karachi is brimming with structures and spaces from the pre-Partition era that we manage to overlook in our daily lives. We pass by these structures in our commutes or even live in one of those old buildings, yet we fail to really see them, to notice the intricacies that the craftsmen built centuries ago.

As a result of an immense curiosity I found myself in the old town exploring my way through Burnes Road, Light House, M. A. Jinnah Road and Pakistan Chowk. I wanted to experience myself how ‘unsafe’ the city is, wanted to witness our heritage.

I went around exploring again but this time with a few women. We were scared at first but felt safer as the day passed. At 5pm the golden rays of the sun struck through everything on M. A. Jinnah Road, from the southwest turning every standing building to gold — from Merewether Tower to Taj Complex gleaming through my favourite Denso Hall, Jehangir Kothari and KMC buildings.

I got a taste of what it was like to walk in my own city, a taste of being somewhere other than malls and restaurants, since then I have visited the old town regularly.

You get accustomed to the congested traffic and noise pollution and gradually you start to notice the architectural beauty that’s on both sides of the streets.

Old town is a mix of different architectural styles like Gothic, Venetian and Mughal. On one hand you will see the public buildings designed by the British which represent their prestige and grandeur, on the other hand, you will see residences and office buildings that were made by affluent Muslims and non-Muslims to match the trends. More architectural secrets lay in the arteries of the main streets, Botal Gali, Paper Market, Jodia Bazaar, Kharadar and Mithadar are just a few examples. All these treasures lay there waiting to be abandoned as the structures weaken.

Saba Akber

Karachi

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2019

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