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Transcendent beauty

August 30, 2009

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Munawwar Maseeh is an unassuming, taciturn kind of a man. He is the gardener/gatekeeper at St Andrew's Church in Saddar, Karachi. He's been serving this place of worship for several years. He is even fond of the pigeons that often merrily perch themselves on the church gables like star-crossed lovers and the squirrels that scurry across the semi-verdant lawns to evade prying eyes.

Munawwar Maseeh has a 19-year-old son, Andrew Munawwar, who is a second-year commerce student at a local college. Unlike his father, he likes to converse in a relatively buoyant manner. If you happen to visit the building and bump into Andrew, he'll gladly help you get acquainted with the church premises.

“I don't know anything about architecture, but I can tell you that sometimes a piece of stone falls off this building and unnerves you. Once we were really lucky because a big chunk tumbled down and there was no one standing there. Had it fallen on someone, it would've done great damage. I feel this needs to be fixed,” says Andrew Munawwar.

It's sad, because St Andrew's Church is a paragon of beauty. You don't have to worry if you're an architecture ignoramus, because even a fleeting look at the structure will take your breath away. Grab a camera. Take its picture. Keep it for posterity to remind it of the times when indulging in stonework was a spiritual St Andrew's Church.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

exercise. Not that it isn't anymore, it's just that time is a cruel tyrant. Sometimes it changes things that need no alteration.

Not only is the exterior of the church building magnificent, once you enter the nave or the main area (which has the capacity for 400 worshippers) no matter how fidgety a character you are, you'll feel at peace with yourself. It's a soul-stirring scene. The neatly kept holy place, the well-arranged pews (on one of the benches 'US Forces 1942-1946' is written, and another reads 'Virtue Alone is Firm, Lodge Hope 331, 1842-1942'), the shimmering marble floor...are simply splendid.

There's history to take note of as well. There are inscriptions in memory of some illustrious individuals who contributed to St Andrew's Church in their own distinct way. For example, “To the Glory of God and In Loving Memory of Edward Mackenzie an Elder of This Church And for 36 Years Medical Officer Manora Who Passed Away on 5th Feb 1925.”

And if you stroll along the grassy patch around the church it's impossible to miss a decent-looking memorial to military men which has a lot of material to take note of.The foundation stone of St Andrew's Church was laid in February 1867 by commander-in-chief of the Bombay Army, Robert Napier. The architectural features of the structure are a tall spire, buttresses and Gothic-style openings. Adjacent to the octagonal porch entrance there's a 135-foot tall tower. However, experts believe the standout element of the building is the intricately carved rose window at the southern end. There's a five-light window on its opposite side, which is no less striking.

Imagine if cracks begin to appear in such a picturesque sight. It hurts.

Architect Arif Hasan says “Though I haven't been to St Andrew's in a long time, I feel such structures need constant attention.”

Mr Hasan touches upon another significant point “This piece of stonemasonry is from the 1860s, if I remember correctly, and its designer was T.G. Newnham. Now I mention his name because he and architects like James Stratchan, who contributed quite a bit to the city's structural design, were inspired by Gothic and Renaissance forms of architecture. They were responsible for the revival of classical styles. Both designers' work is pretty much identical. St Andrew's Church is a spiritual piece of construction, and the gentlemen that I've named used to resort to 'emotional play' in their designs.

“St Andrew's Church, also known as the Scotch Church, is made in the Gothic style. It has pointed arches, and a spire that will remind you of Merewether Tower. I'd like to mention an important thing about pointed arches. They're more durable than the round ones, and were introduced into the region by Arabs.”

T.G. Newnham was deputy agent of Indus Flotilla, a steamship company. He had also served as chief resident engineer of Scinde Railway. Arif Hasan's observation seems to be true. There's more of an emotional and spiritual 'feel' to Newnham's creative output more than anything else.

But Munawwar Maseeh is a little disconcerted — for a different reason. Outside one of the church gates, from where vehicular traffic turns towards a bustling electronic goods' market, there are advertising boards from under which a foul stench A monument raised in memory of the military men who

contaminates the air. While he can tend to his garden and gates, he can't do anything about the crass uncouthness with which some people make life a constant nuisance for others.

mohammad.salman@dawn.com