Police scrape off plaster to uncover colonial era sandstone post in Karachi

Published May 10, 2022
ARCHITECT Yasmeen Lari speaks to DIG South Sharjeel Kharal outside the police post. (Left) The clay tile retrieved from one of the walls of the structure.—Photos by Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
ARCHITECT Yasmeen Lari speaks to DIG South Sharjeel Kharal outside the police post. (Left) The clay tile retrieved from one of the walls of the structure.—Photos by Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: Kharadar Chowk has an interesting history, which the old police post there is also a part of. Built sometime in the early 20th Century, in 1905 or 1907, this 24’x36’ sandstone structure with the sloping dark green wooden roof covering just 65 square yards can also be spotted in a 1926 British map.

Years of neglect and wrong decisions regarding its upkeep have resulted in its recent state of ruin. But it is going to see better days; it so seems now thanks to its having caught the attention of the DIG South Sharjeel Kharal.

“Having always been interested in heritage and preservation of heritage, I want to also protect police heritage, of which there is plenty and just in Karachi but the rest of Sindh as well, especially in Hyderabad, Dadu, Jacobabad, Sanghar, Khairpur, etc,” said DIG Kharal.

“This little building from colonial times had been lying abandoned for some 20 years now. And before that, it had grown new walls in its little verandah thanks to some unimaginative minds. Someone had also given it a cement floor despite its beautiful original stone flooring while also covering its stone walls with plaster and paint,” he pointed out.

A clay tile retrieved from the structure shows the date as 1871

All of that has now been scraped off on the orders of architect and renovation & restoration expert Yasmeen Lari. “It was Zulm (act of cruelty),” she said while talking about the damage done to the little structure previously in the name of beautification. “Building new walls, laying a new floor and covering the sandstone with plaster and paint was a very cruel thing to do to a historic piece of architecture,” she added.

A clay tile with inscribed date of ‘1871’ from one of the walls of the structure indicated that that post may even be older than perceived.

“Just look at it. It may be small but it has character,” she said. Then turning to one of the police officials, working with the preservation experts, she said: “We need to get the entire structure washed before proceeding with the restoration work.”

DIG Kharal shared: “We have no external funding for all this work so we have pulled in our own police masons and engineers. They have all become experts themselves now thanks to the technical guidance from Ms Lari.

“Our department has not as yet turned its attention to protecting our heritage. No one till now has even thought about diverting budget to this. And there are so many police buildings to restore. I wish we could pick one building a year. Just nearby there is a traffic police post as well and the police staff quarters in Kharadar to work on, too,” he said.

Yasmeen Lari told Dawn that she was collaborating with government agencies on projects like this one for public good. “It’s a collaboration between government agencies and civil society,” she said.

“I’m glad that I have found willing partners all around like DIG Kharal, former Karachi commissioner Iftikhar Shalwani, Deputy Commissioner South Irshad Sodhar and the Chief Secretary Mumtaz Ali Shah. Together we developed and are developing clean and open spaces in neighbourhoods where we are also adding some greenery. Even a little bit of greenery lifts the place. We did the same for our ‘Denso Hall Rahguzar Project’ where the area shopkeepers have taken over the upkeep of the site. And this work in Kharadar is also a part of the ‘Rahguzar’ trail,” she said.

“We have been meeting with communities bringing women there to the fore. Maybe we can grow a herbs garden for them in one of the lanes here. Maybe we can also form clubs to take care of such areas after developing them because the city has become more inclusive and its people are ready to take the initiative. We just need to mobilise them,” Ms Lari shared.

“Things are improving this way. Sadly, Karachi has become hostage to many qabza groups run by influential people. But slowly and surely we are also building our own public good qabza group,” she joked.

Published in Dawn,May 10th, 2022

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