KARACHI: The 134th birth anniversary of Jamshed Nusserwanjee Mehta (born on Jan 7, 1886), the first mayor of Karachi, was celebrated by the Karachi Theosophical Society at the Jamshed Memorial Hall on Sunday.
Dr Prof Dr Riaz Shaikh, dean, Faculty of Social Sciences and Education Department at Szabist, said that Nusserwanjee took ownership of Karachi. “He is the person who built Karachi and in doing good work here he didn’t restrict himself to just this city. He worked for the development of the entire province of Sindh. In fact, he was the bridge between Sindh and Karachi. He was also the one behind the construction of the Sukkur Barrage,” he said.
About Nusserwanjee’s Karachi, Dr Shaikh said that he had turned it into a cosmopolitan city. “The city planned by him had cinema theatres, educational and health institutes. It was a secular city, a multiethnic city. We should restore the original colour of this city. We should also highlight the Parsi contribution here. It is sad how after him we have turned Karachi into a concrete jungle,” he said.
‘He worked for the development of not only Karachi, but the entire province of Sindh’
Architect Shahid Abdullah spoke about the relocation of the old Nusserwanjee Building from Kharadar to Clifton. He said that while they were planning the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, they were also planning its design. He said they had spoken about how well-known art schools were also housed in warehouses in the world. “Looking at warehouses here, I came about this 94 or 95 year-old building in Kharadar that was about to be pulled down. It had three to four storeys and it had housed Nusserwanjee’s offices. On asking if it was for sale, I was informed that only the land it was built on was available. I thought about how this building must have been built by Nusserwanjee and perhaps God had wanted me to stumble upon it,” he said.
Relocating the entire building
Abdullah narrated how he then came back to the IVS founders to convince them to think about relocating the entire building, brick by brick, to Clifton. “Although some thought that I must be out of my mind, most also fell in love with my idea. We made drawings and marked each and every stone. There were 27,000 stones to be saved and while doing that we lost only five in dismantling the building. Five years later, the same building was up in Clifton. The day we finished it was exactly 100 years from the time it was first built,” he said.
Conservationist architect Marvi Mazhar spoke about the cultural and heritage importance of the Jamshed Memorial Hall. “Spaces that have cultural and historical significance in the urban landscape often fall prey to changes as cities grow,” she said while coming to the Jamshed Memorial Hall and its surrounding building with houses, schools and a library. She said it would be nice to also have a small-scale museum there.
Dr Masuma Hasan, chairperson, Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, reflected on the life of Jamshed Nusserwanjee.
She said that he belonged to a well-to-do family and was very influential in trade and commerce having salt and tile factories and a flour shop and yet he was full of humility. “There were many facets to his personality. He had entered politics but then he left and worked and struggled for the separation of Sindh around the time of partition. After parting ways with politics, he dedicated his life to working for the betterment of the people of the province,” she said, adding that there is still no comprehensive biography of Nusserwanjee and that some scholar should take on this work.
Betterment of animals
Writer and researcher Akhtar Baloch spoke about Nusserwanjee as a philanthropist. “He was not alone in giving to Karachi, he would also find wealthy people who were about to pass on and convince them to give to Karachi,” he said. “He not only worked for the betterment of people but animals as well. There is a well-known incident of him bringing an injured donkey to the animal hospital on M.A. Jinnah Road here for treatment. He also paid the owner of the donkey so that he wouldn’t have to drag the poor animal for work while it was recuperating,” he shared.
“During the Hindu-Muslim riots here during the time of partition, Nusserwanjee would tell the mobs to shoot at him first, and that is how they would just give up the fight and disperse,” he said.
Earlier, Hamid Mayet, honorary general secretary of the Theosophical Society, said that it was befitting to be remembering Jamshed Nusserwanjee, also known as the ‘Maker of Modern Karachi’, at the hall named after him. “Nusserwanjee’s contribution to the city of Karachi was tremendous. He looked after the welfare of not just the people but of animals also,” he said, while recalling how Karachi’s roads used to be washed twice a day when Nusserwanjee was mayor. “Today if he sees Karachi, he will ask ‘what have you done to my city?’”
Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2020