Mohatta family scion goes down memory lane

Published February 15, 2024
Satvik Mohatta, his wife Andrea Roeder-Mohatta and children — Maya, Avik and Tara Mohatta — admire a historic photograph of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah during their maiden visit to the Mohatta Palace Museum.—Tahir Jamal / White Star
Satvik Mohatta, his wife Andrea Roeder-Mohatta and children — Maya, Avik and Tara Mohatta — admire a historic photograph of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah during their maiden visit to the Mohatta Palace Museum.—Tahir Jamal / White Star

KARACHI: Satvik Mohatta, the great-grandson of Rao Bahadur Shiv Rattan Mohatta, gave a gratitude-filled and heartfelt talk on Wednesday evening at the Mohatta Palace Museum as he went down memory lane to tell an attentive audience about his family.

The iconic building was built by Shiv Rattan Mohatta, who was a friend of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. After partition, the government of Pakistan used Mohatta Palace for offices of the ministry of foreign affairs till the shifting of the capital to Islamabad. Then they gave it to Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah in lieu of her brother’s residence in India.

Mr Mohatta said it’s a privilege for him to be in Pakistan, to reconnect with the roots, with the land of his ancestors. He’s the first member of the Mohatta family to come to Pakistan after partition.

With the help of an image of the palace, Mr Mohatta shed light on what the structure means to him.

“The picture that you’re seeing was all that we got to see when we were growing up. My grandfather had this in our house in Bombay (now Mumbai). This was his first home, a place he always cherished and remembered. In my childhood I used to sleep with my dada and dadi. We used to ask our dada to tell us stories of Karachi. I still remember he’d pause, smile and say, woh din thay (‘those were the days’).

He’d speak about the splendour, lifestyle, food, utensils, furniture, polo fields, vintage cars, etc. As a child I used to think that we’re living in a five-room house and he’s talking about a palace. There was no internet at the time and all we had was this photograph. I’ve been hearing stories of Mohatta Palace since then, that’s why it’s great coming here and hard to put into words.”

Next up he showed a picture of his extended family taken at the palace. He said 10 people used to live here and the extended family used to visit on various occasions. After talking about his great-grandfather and his brother he said, “We are originally from Bikaner. We established our business and came to Karachi where we spent a lot of time.”

He then spoke on Shri Rao Bahadur Shiv Rattan Mohatta who was conferred the title of Rao Bahadur by the government for his exemplary service for people’s welfare. “It was his dream to build a palatial home which he was able to accomplish in the 1930s after getting in touch with the architect [Ahmed Hussein] Agha sahib. I believe it took Rs700,000 (0.7 million) to build. Unfortunately I never met him. He passed away before I was born.”

He mentioned his great grandmother Saraswati Mohatta who was of philanthropic nature.

“My grandfather was the one who brought the palace to life. He carried memories of the palace when he went back to India. He used to tell stories to us. My grandmother was very philanthropic, too. She helped establish the Rajasthani Mahila Mandal, a welfare organisation for women. She used to spoil me. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. My mother lives with my younger brother in Bombay. My mother continues to do the work for the Rajasthani Mahila Mandal. Wherever we are today is because of the upbringing that we got.

“For me, my father really meant a lot. He was someone I always looked up to. Unfortunately he passed away 15 months ago. It was his dream to visit Mohatta Palace. In fact, he wanted to come before Covid, but then Covid happened and he couldn’t make it. For me, to fulfil his wish, I can’t tell you the emotions I’m going through. He had actually done an interview for a channel in which he had talked about the palace.” [The interview was later run on the large screen.]

Mr Mohatta said he’s been told that the palace in the past was visited by a lot of dignitaries including Mr Jinnah, Mr Gandhi and Mr Nehru. “I’ve heard that Gandhi ji stayed here for 15 days. The reason that the palace became famous at the time was that there was a seaplane service in Karachi which could quickly take passengers to Europe. So you came to Karachi, stayed her for a couple of days and then availed the seaplane [facility].”

He said he’s learnt that Karachi is famous for its food. “We had a caretaker who moved with us to India. He used to make this bread pudding loved by all the dignitaries. He never shared the recipe. We used to say to him we need Karachi’s bread pudding. One of the dignitaries was Shri Umaid Singh from Jodhpur. He liked the palace. He requested my grandfather to construct something similar to it in Jodhpur. That’s how Umaid Bhavan came into existence. I noticed there’s an underground swimming pool here and there’s a similar underground swimming pool in Jodhpur.”

This led him to talk about the Mohatta Cloth Market in Bombay. “There was a talk that we’d get Jinnah House in Bombay but it never materialised. Jinnah House still exists but it’s not well maintained.”

Finally, he showed a painting of the same picture that he began his presentation with which is now in his London home.

In the end, he profusely thanked his hosts for inviting him.

After the speech, Hameed Haroon invited Satvik Mohatta’s wife and three children on stage and presented them with a memento.

Renowned Marwari vocalist Mai Dhai also performed.

The talk was part of the distinguished lecture series commemorating 25 years of the museum.

Earlier, Satvik Mohatta, his wife and three children, went to see the Mohatta Palace Museum. It was an emotional experience for him. He lauded the efforts of those who are looking after the palace for keeping it in an excellent condition.

He had also mentioned in his speech later in the evening that compared to the museum, Jinnah House in Mumbai is not well maintained.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2024

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