It stuns many to know that the thriving, vibrant, urban metropolis we lovingly call Karachi and which is home to more than 15 million people, was once nothing more than an obscure fishing village with a population of merely 10,000.
Krokola or Debal?
Needless to say, any history of Karachi prior to the 19th century is brief. It is said that the city called Krokola, from which one of Alexander the Great`s admirals sailed at the end of his conquests, was the same as Karachi. When Muhammad bin Qasim came to India in the year 712 he captured the city of Debul. It has been said that Debal was the ancestral village of present day Karachi. However, there is scant evidence to either prove or disprove this theory. Thus, historically, this coastal area had no significance from the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation until the end of the 18th century.
Kolachi jo Goth
The present city started life as a fishing settlement when a Balochi fisherwoman called Mai Kolachi settled here and started a family. The original name `Kolachi` also survives in the name of a well-known Karachi locality named “Mai Kolachi.”
It was in 1772 that the village Kolachi-jo-Goth was changed from a fishing village to a trading post when it was selected as a port for trade with Muscat and Bahrain. In the following years a fort was built and cannons brought in from Muscat were mounted on it. The fort had two doorways, one facing the sea called the Khara Dar or Brackish Gate and one facing the River Lyari called the Meetha Dar or Sweet Gate. Currently, the site of those gates corresponds to the location of the neighbourhoods of Kharadar and Meethadar.
This city was merely an access to the Arabian Sea and even though it had no strategic importance it remained in the middle of tug of war between the Governors of Kalat and the Mirs of Hyderabad. In 1795 the city passed from the Khan of Kalat to the rulers of Sindh.
Karachi under the British Raj
Perhaps the seed of Karachi`s industrial importance was sowed when East India Company got permission to establish a factory here in 1800. It was a Company agent, Nathan Crow, who landed in Karachi on March 2, 1800, but by the end of October the Mirs, suspecting ulterior motives, ordered the factory to be closed down.
However, this vitality of Karachi as natural harbour and port for the produce of the Indus basin had been recognised by the British, after sending a couple of exploratory missions to the area. Consequently, they conquered it on February 3, 1839. Three years later, it was annexed into British India as a district. After this there was no looking back and the city set off to become a bustling port city.
Karachi was divided into two major poles. The `black` town to accommodate the burgeoning Indian mercantile population, and the `white` town in the southeast. When the First Indian War for Independence broke out in 1857, the 21st Native Infantry stationed in Karachi declared allegiance to the rebellion and joined the cause of the War on September 10, 1857. The uprising though, was defeated by the British who were able to quickly reassert their control over Karachi.
Karachi was known as Kurrachee Scinde (i.e. Karachi, Sindh) during the early British colonial rule. Soon, there mushroomed churches, mosques, paved streets and commercial centres and, of course, the dynamic harbour. The Britsih were sure to leave their indelible mark in the form of magnificent buildings built in classical British colonial style — a stark contrast to the `Mughal Gothic` style of Lahore. Many of these old buildings have been fortunate to withstand the ravages of time and still stand steadfast today.
A railroad connected Karachi to the rest of British India in the 1880s and its population multiplied. South Asia`s first tramway system was also laid down in 1900 in Karachi. In 1911 when the capital was shifted to Delhi, Karachi became closer to being a Gateway to India. Karachi was declared the capital of the newly formed Sindh province in 1936, chosen over the traditional capital of Hyderabad.
Karachi in Pakistan
In 1947, Karachi was made the capital of the new nation of Pakistan and its population of 400,000 people grew even faster. Although the capital later moved to Rawalpindi and then Islamabad, Karachi remains the economic centre as well as the financial and commercial capital of Pakistan and generates 60 per cent of the total national revenue. It is Pakistan`s hub of banking, industry, and trade. It boasts of being the nurturer of education, entertainment, arts, fashion, advertising, publishing, software development and medical research.
For quite some time, Karachi was dubbed `the city of lights` and hailed as an economic role model for a developing country. Sadly, sectarian violence disrupted this throbbing, vibrant city in 1990s and resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent lives.
Today, Karachi is the largest city in Pakistan; the world`s second largest `city proper` behind Mumbai in terms of population; the twentieth largest city of the world in terms of metropolitan population; the world`s third largest megacity.
The city is a tastefully colourful tapestry of rich history, vivid culture, throbbing entertainment and dynamic economy. It is the city where people come to make their fortunes, to better their lifestyles; to reach for the stars. It hosts the largest middle class stratum of the country.
Admittedly, it is pollution-ridden, congested and struck with the menace of load-shedding, yet for me, and 15 million more people, this is home. Anybody who has lived here once can`t help but reiterate Charles Napier`s words said as an ode to Karachi “Would that I could come again to see you in your grandeur!”