Historic dispensary and coronavirus

April 11, 2020


THE Eduljee Dinshaw Charitable Dispensary as it stands today in Saddar.—White Star
THE Eduljee Dinshaw Charitable Dispensary as it stands today in Saddar.—White Star

KARACHI: Karachiites, by and large, have braved the difficulties that accompany a lockdown with a great deal of tenacity. Yes, there have been incidents of chaos, but it’s a city which has a demographic graph bigger than many countries’. One would expect that to happen sporadically. The bubonic plague that hit Karachi in the 1890s, like any other pandemic in any part of the world, had caught the administrators of the city off guard. Fortunately, the population of the city at the time had hardly touched the 100,000 mark, so, perhaps, and it’s a conjecture, things were easy to manage.

Things were easy to manage also because at the time the city’s philanthropists had understood the importance of health and education sectors and played their part in Karachi’s growth as a responsible urban centre. There were hospitals and dispensaries, quality facilities at that, which served everyone with care in a classless manner (the British officers who called the shots in those days may have received preferential treatment). The dispensaries were special because in the 19th century the local population was more accustomed to either the hakeemi way of treatment or spiritual healing (not that it’s not in vogue today, but it has been heavily overshadowed by the allopathic system).

The most prominent pharmacy, in modern parlance, that was built in the 19th century was the Eduljee Dinshaw Charitable Dispensary. For a long time it was arguably the largest source of getting medicines for Karachiites. Located in the middle of Saddar area next to Empress Market, it was readily accessible to all citizens.

The building constructed in 1882 was designed by J. Stratchen, to which Rs5,500 were contributed by Eduljee Dinshaw, a generous man, who, it is believed, at one time owned a big swathe of land in Karachi. Bear in mind, Rs5,500 a century back was a ginormous amount. When it came to constructing health facilities at the time when the city was developing into a metropolis, the Parsi community did their bit more than most communities. One feels its efforts are under-acknowledged.

So the Sindh capital has a laudable history of taking care of those in need of medical attention. Today, as the city is in a lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak, all those who are trying their best to keep citizens hale and hearty, especially the health workers and caregivers, should be appreciated wholeheartedly.

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2020