KARACHI is not an old city. It was just a small fishing village in the 1700s and was called Kolachi Jo Goth — named after Mai Kolachi, who is said to be a Baloch woman.
In the Sindhi language, ‘jo’ means ‘of’ and ‘goth’ means ‘village’. So ‘Kolachi Jo Goth’ literally means ‘Kolachi’s village’. Just in case you are wondering how a ‘Baloch’ woman’s village can be named in Sindhi, many Sindhi tribes, such as Jatoi, Zardari, Lashari and Magsi, whose mother tongue is now Sindhi, are descendants of some Baloch tribes who had settled in Sindh centuries ago.
Karachi turned into a small port town and the capital of Sindh only in 1840s when East India Company, or ‘Company Bahadur’, as it was called back then, took it over from Talpurs of Sindh. Today’s Karachi, a metropolis and a commercial hub awash with all kinds of money, is scoffed at by some for being nouveau-riche. But it does have a bit of history, too, though Karachi is not as old as Lahore. Some of Karachi’s neighbourhoods’ names may have hints to its past.
Here is a peep at Karachi’s history through names of its different localities:
Bhoj Mal, a merchant, can be credited with the inhabitation of Karachi’s vicinities known as Kharadar and Mithadar. As narrated by some of the old inhabitants of Karachi and recorded by Ahmed Hussain Siddiqi in his book ‘Gauhar-i-Buhaira-i-Arab’ (Karachi, 1995), some 300 years ago ship channel at Karak Bander, a small port near what is today’s Hub in Balochistan, had been blocked by natural causes. As a result, navigation and fishing was no more possible. So some merchants from Karak Bander, headed by Bhoj Mal, arrived in Karachi in 1729. They began using this small fishing village, known as Kolachi Jo Goth, for trade with Masqat and Gawadar, as it was a natural port. They built a wall around the port area and mounted it with cannons to ward off the pirates. The limits of the walled city, spreading over an area of about 35 acres, began from the port and ended somewhere near the area where some parts of Karachi’s Jodia Bazaar stand today. Some portions of that area were named Rampart Row in the British era. ‘Rampart’ is an English word and means, according to ‘Concise Oxford English Dictionary’, ‘a defensive wall of a castle or walled city’. The wall was demolished when an expansion of the city was planned later on, but the name Rampart Row remains and a portion of this area is still called by the old name. A branch of a bank in the locality is named ‘Rampart Row Branch’ or, at least, it existed a few years ago.
That walled city or the huge castle-like fortification had two gates: one on the sea front and was named Kharadar. The word ‘khara’, borrowed from Sanskrit, means ‘salty’ in Gujarati and Sindhi, as well as in Urdu and Hindi. ‘Dar’, a Persian word, means ‘door’ or ‘gate’. It was called so as the area was next to the Arabian Sea and the water from the wells dug up nearby was saline.
The other gate of the fortification built by Bhoj Mal was situated where today’s Lyari area begins and, as mentioned by Ahmed Hussain Siddiqi, it was named Mithadar. The word ‘mitha’ or ‘meetha’ means ‘sweet’ in Urdu and Hindi, as the area had comparatively sweet or potable water drawn from the wells dug there. The ‘sweetness’ might have had to do something with the Lyari River that flowed nearby, albeit it has been turned into a huge outlet for city’s sewage today. The localities built around those gates are still called Kharadar and Mithadar, though the wall and the gates are gone.
In the old quarters of the city is a market known as Juna Market. The word ‘juna’ means ‘old’ in some languages spoken by the old inhabitants of Karachi, such as Sindhi and Gujarati. It was named ‘Juna’ since second-hand or used items too were also for sale there.
The correct pronunciation is ‘sadr’, an Arabic word meaning ‘breast’, ‘chest’ or ‘the front part’. ‘Sadr’ also means ‘chief’. According to F. Steingass, the main or chief market in a cantonment was called ‘Sadr bazaar’. As this part of Karachi was near an area where a cantonment was set up by the British, the nearby bazaar was called Sadr Bazaar. With the passage of time the pronunciation changed to ‘Sadar’, as it was easier to pronounce, and was spelt as ‘Saddar’. The word ‘bazaar’ was dropped later on.
Wara and Para
In some local dialects ‘wara’ means a place of dwelling for the people of a specific trade or skill. Wara, also pronounced and spelt ‘para’, is a set of quarters or a ward of a town where people belonging to a specific caste lived. Hence, the names of some localities of Karachi, such as Nanakwara (perhaps named after the followers of Guru Nanak), Kumhaarwara (‘kumhaar’ means a potter or someone who makes earthen vessels), Ghaanchipara (Ghanchi is a community originally from Rajasthan and Gujarat), Makrani Para and Rangiwara.
Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2019