William Shakespeare was, as the cliché goes, a genius. This doesn’t mean that whatever he wrote in his plays and sonnets couldn’t be disagreed with. The nauseatingly oft-repeated line from that heart-wrenching romantic play Romeo and Juliet ‘what’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ is utterly misleading. Most of the time, the name says it all, even if it’s not allowed to say it all.
What’s Britto? The correct question would be: who’s Britto? For starters, Britto is a long stretch of road that begins from one corner of M.A. Jinnah Road (formerly Bunder Road), intersecting Soldier Bazaar Market and Bahadur Yar Jang Road, leading to the place where D’Souza Road crosses its trajectory. In simple words, it’s a patch of the old Garden East area which has undergone countless changes with the advent of multi-storey apartment life in Karachi and very few vestiges from yesteryear remain. Still, only because of the very names of these roads that the entire neighbourhood exudes an atmosphere which is unmatched. By the way, roads and streets here were named after prominent Goan Christians who contributed a great deal to the cityscape of Karachi, not to mention cultural landscape. Britto and D’Souza were two of them. Pakistanis in the 21st century don’t seem to care too much about it. What a pity!
It won’t be a bad idea to begin exploring Britto Road from that corner of M.A. Jinnah Road which makes a plus sign (sort of) to cut into four directions: Guru Mandir (straight), Saeed Manzil (if you backpedal), Shahrah-i-Iraq (parallel to the Quaid-i-Azam’s mausoleum) and Britto Road (opposite it).
Once you hit Britto Road, you’ll be amazed at the number of schools that stand on both sides of this reasonably wide thoroughfare. New constructions have overwhelmed the very few residences which refuse to give up to time’s tyrannies. It is not very difficult, however, to spot those houses which don’t commensurate with the contemporary sense of structural design.
In the beginning of the journey, on your left, almost neighbouring a school belonging to a local community, there’s a big stone-made house. It is an enchanting piece of architecture whose value amplifies when you look around and see some unimaginative works of construction. The house has a porch with ionic (or so they seem) columns. The stone used in the building is still robust and has a bit of lustre to it. At a distance, in the same lane there’s another oldie. It neither has elaborate architectural characteristics nor has it been kept clean. A pre-independence piece nonetheless. The next house has big quadrangular balconies with relatively thin balustrades. There have been additions to this building, so let’s not discuss it.
Keep moving straight. Don’t miss out on what exists on the right of the road. There are a couple of exceedingly attractive, large bungalows with nice features. One has been painted white and is in an unblemished condition. It’s definitely not a modern-day bungalow, though the ultra white paint on it suggests so, and mars its authenticity a great deal. To boot, it’s used as a school.
Be careful of the schoolchildren who dash in and out of their institutions to fetch a bun-kebab or gola-ganda. This might distract you from your goal. Reach the signal which cuts Soldier Bazaar Market and stretches to Bahadur Yar Jung Road. Ignore. Keep your mission straight as an arrow, for Britto Road might not have much in store for you in terms of pre-partition works of art till it embraces D’Souza Road (except for one residence bathed in green on whose facade 1947 is written). When you come to the intersection of Britto and D’Souza roads, turn left. A 75-year-old work of history awaits you: St Lawrence’s Convent Girls’ School.
St Lawrence’s School from the outside doesn’t look like a structure built in 1936. It has a present-day feel to it. You enter the premises and the stone on its outer walls and the well-kept grotto will give away its age. The convent was established in 1932 and the school in 1936. Ever since it underwent many an alteration and thanks to its current caretakers, the school is now in a condition where it can safely revisit its past.
Architect Arif Hasan says: “This area was laid out at the time when Miriam’s Plan was made in the second decade of the 20th century. Gandhi Garden and Soldier Bazaar had already been developed. What lay in between them was developed as a consequence of Miriam’s Plan. There were two kinds of houses here: one, in which cement technology was used, and two, made of stone – lime was also used in their construction.”
“St Lawrence’s is a simple, austere building. Additions were made to its original form, as was also the case later on.”
Britto, D’Souza… sounds like a couple of cherished memories! See, it’s all in a name.