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The untold tales of Lyari

Published May 07, 2012 04:02pm


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Lyari in the early 20th century. – File photo
Lyari in the early 20th century. – File photo

Gang wars, poverty, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), football and, maybe, boxing are the notions usually associated with Lyari, one of Karachi’s oldest neighbourhoods. There is, however, more to Lyari than these stereotypes.

Historically, the inhabitants of Lyari were among the first settlers Karachi.

In her book “The Dual City: Karachi During the Raj,” renowned architect Yasmeen Lari writes: “By 1890 the population of Lyari had already reached 24,600.” These figures are indicative of Lyari’s high population rates even before the notion of partition emerged. Even today, the area remains among the most densely populated, with the highest ratio of inhabitants-per-square-kilometre.

Some of the most popular names to have been associated with Lyari include Hussain Shah (Olympic boxer), Umar Baloch, Ghulam Abbas and Ustaad Qasim (footballers), Waja Ghulam Muhammad Noor ud Din (educationist), Syed Sajjad Ali Shah (former Chief Justice), Waja Khair Mohammad Nadvi (scholar who translated Quran into Balochi language) and Sikandar Baloch (former Mr Pakistan in body building).

Lyari’s history, however, goes beyond these names.

Quaid-e-Azam and Lyari In 1948, during the days of his illness, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was travelling near Lyari, when his car came to a sudden halt in the area. The inhabitants were quick to offer their services to the country’s founder. In those early post-partition days, Lyari was home to a sizable immigrant population, which was welcomed by the old settlers of the area despite their own financial woes. Later that year, when Jinnah lost his life to prolonged illness, it was one of Lyari’s oldest sons Noor Mohammad Baloch, who performed his burial, as well as that of the country’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan.

After Jiinah’s death, government officials got in touch with Zulekha Bibi, who was in charge of Marwari Grave Yard to prepare for the burials. Zulekha instructed Baloch and others to finalise and carry out the services.

A certificate showing appreciation for the services of Zulekha Bibi – a resident of Lyari overlooked arrangements for the burial of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan. – Photo courtesy Ayoub Baloch

The literary Lyari Apart from being home to sports greats, Lyari has also attracted one of the biggest names of Pakistan’s literary world. For Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Lyari was like a passion. In the early 1970s, Faiz frequented the Abdullah Haroon College, where he taught and served as principal (1972-73).

“We were very fortunate to have Faiz sahib at the college,” says Zafar Ali Zafar – a Balochi and Urdu poet from Lyari.

“He (Faiz) would travel from the Nursery area (in Karachi) to Lyari to offer his services because it was very close to his heart,” recalls Zafar.

Zafar says Faiz inspired him and his poetry. “He even selected a poem for me to recite at a Radio Pakistan mushaira (poetic symposium).”

Decades after Faiz’s death, Lyari still maintains a literary aura.

“The Abbas Ali Zehmi Academy remains an active hub for literary dialogue, with Ghani Naqsh and Hassan Ali Hassan among the most active poets.”

Muhammad Baig Baloch is another literary figure from Lyari. “He has written several books in Urdu, English, Sindhi and Persian in addition to translating major literary works into Balochi language.”

Lyari has also been central to the region’s politics. The Madressah Mazhar ul Uloom played a pivotal role in anti-British movements (including the Khilafat Movement) in the pre-partition era. Lyari-based Qadir Bux Rind Baloch (alias Kadu Makrani), an anti-British freedom-fighter met his death in the Chakiwara area in 1887, when he was hanged.

In the days of the martial law imposed by Ayub Khan, members of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) would meet at Lyari’s Kakri ground.

From Lyari to Australia Lyari is commonly known for its passion for camel-cart racing. The area, however, was once the centre of camel trade to countries as distant as Australia.

Traders Dost Muhammad Brohi and Jorak introduced the camels of Balochistan and Afghanistan to Australia, via steam ships in the 1890s

Camel trade took Brohi, a Baloch born in 1870, to Australia in 1883, but it was his love for British girl Annie that made him settle down in the country and marry her in 1896.

Brohi, however, remained unsettled in the Australian lifestyle and after several brawls, his wife’s brothers killed Brohi in 1909.

Annie was then invited by the Brohi family to visit Karachi. Upon her arrival, Anne was murdered by Brohi’s brothers, who accused her for their brother’s death.

In 1993, Brohi and Annie’s granddaughter Jane Garnand landed in Karachi, in search of Annie’s grave, which she later found in the Clifton area.

Education on the streets Lyari boasts a distinctive record of school systems, such as the ARM and Kiran Hasht Chowk and Baghdadi areas are, in particular, the hub of education. Here, local non-government organisations have been operating “street schools” for students of primary and secondary classes.

The educated youth of the area have launched the “Lyari Naujawan Tehrik” against the prevalence of drugs and crimes in the area. The movement came under threat from the drug mafia but also brought in other NGOs, which set up schools for informal education.

Despite the odds, street schools in Lyari offer hope to the people of Lyari, as they discourage the youth from falling prey to the gang wars.

“Financial problems are real ailment of Lyari, “according to M.Y Baloch a concerned local.

“Political parties have failed to meet our needs and even the ruling party made empty pledges, said Baloch.”

Lyari, can be called a mini-Pakistan, with colours of culture, sports, and traditions. The Lyari River was clean and a healthy habitat for fish, before the 1970s. It has now turned into a dirty stream. The sea breeze from Lyari cooled the other parts of Karachi, which has now been blocked by the Lyari Expressway.

Locals believe their miseries can be dealt with, if the government is sincere.

“The people of Lyari need love not force,” insists Zafar, as he recalls a Balochi proverb: “Hoo’n Go’n Hoo’na Shodag Nabet – you can’t wash blood with blood.”


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Comments (18) Closed

Dr Rahman May 07, 2012 06:36pm
Thank you Suhail for depicting nice and brief history of Lyari. There is no place like Lyari. The history of Lyari is very rich with all aspects of life. It saddens me to note the present circumstances prevailing in Lyari. The good courageous folks of Lyari will never give up and at the end of the day the peace will prevail and Lyari once again with thrive with original inhabitants and/or with immigrants living in harmony.
fieca May 07, 2012 05:31pm
So he was 113 year old when he settled and married in Australia? "Camel trade took Brohi, a Baloch born in 1870, to Australia in 1983, but it was his love for British girl Annie that made him settle down in the country and marry her in 1986"
Patriot Pakistani May 08, 2012 11:01pm
lyari is heart of Karachi(Kolachi),its position on the sea front is an affront to Neo Colonials and they want to evict them from sea front so that they have uncontested occupation of Sindh's port and harbour which would be a nice gift that Peoples Party is trying to offer them.Killing of indiginous people is a premeditated conspiracy to make Karachi part of their Province that is understood but that Peoples Party is playing this heinous role is difficult to understand.Peoples Party is killing its voters and votes in Karachi which is very shameful act on late Z A Bhutto's party.This is not new Peoples Party but no Peoples Party
Prof. Naela Quadri May 08, 2012 09:25am
Nice effort Suhail Yousuf, Lyari is getting punishments because we are Balochs and basic structure and philoshphy of estabalishment is anti-Baloch from the beginning, we are always dealt as occupied country by the Pakistan'sthe neo- coloneal regime. Lyari is not a settlement it is the indigenous population of Kolachi (Karachi) that was an itegral part of the Country of Balochistan before British occupation. Lyari was deceived by PPP for such a long time but with the maturity of Baloch rights movement Lyari has become an active part of it and that is a threat for PPPs socalled leaders who are facing hatred by the Balochs every where. So Lyari do not need any one's love or sympathies, Balochs know how to live and how to defend our lands and people. Thanks for your efforts to write about our beloved historical Lyari, please include in the list of great persons of Lyari Professor Saba Dashtyari Baloch, an intellectual, teacher writer of more than ten books. Professor Naela Quadri Baloch
sheba May 07, 2012 08:42pm
great information, opens your eyes, what we have been and as a nation how are rulers are converting us into killing and hating machines.
Abdul Shakoor Bhatti May 07, 2012 08:52pm
It is certainly true that Lyari's people are peace loving and welcoming in nature. I've many friends live in Lyari and all are very supportive and cooperative. They never believe in agitation, hostility, clash, upheaval, chaos, mayhem, anarchy and lawlessness. But at this moment some drug Mafiosi forcefully entered into this area and made the life of innocent people miserable. They are very simple people and enjoy their happy moments by dancing, drumming and playing different games. I don't know why the government in power turned a blind eyes on these people and instead of catching these drug mafia's people, they arrest innocent, naive and harmless people. I'd like to request higher officials please look into Lyari's matters sincerely and try to provide relieve to those who are in a very poor condition.
Sajjad May 09, 2012 02:24am
And how is this Express Way exactly stopping it??
shahid May 08, 2012 02:15am
Obviously a typo, use common sense (not very common unfortunately).
Danny May 08, 2012 02:34am
" Lyari cooled the other parts of Karachi, which has now been blocked by the Lyari Expressway" What kind of illogical statement is this? and you are suppose to be writing an article for Dawn news?
Tauqeer Manzoor May 08, 2012 06:09pm
Sea breeze cooled other parts of Karachi. What is wrong in that?
Saram May 08, 2012 05:59am
Camel trade took Brohi, a Baloch born in 1870, to Australia in 1883, but it was his love for British girl Annie that made him settle down in the country and marry her in 1986. TYPO ERROR. I think you mean 1896
Syed Ahsan PE May 08, 2012 05:33pm
Lyari Expressway is only open in one direction. Wait till the other direction opens up. This writer doesn't know any thing about traffic congestion. Mustafa Kamal did a great job in giving relief to Karachites about traffic congestion. Ignorant writers like these are in hindrance to projects like Lyari Expressway.
Dr.Kalmati May 08, 2012 01:01pm
There is always a good side of every human being, which is true of people of lyari, you cnly have to seek for it to find it.
Ahmed May 08, 2012 08:12am
I was born in UAE and first trip ever to pakistan was after 28 years, and Lyari was my destination to meet my in laws, i was amazed to see the bright eyes of youngsters in torn dresses and without slippers but struggling and working to meet the ends meet. Irrespective of what i heard that the area is not safe and dangerous but was never troubled by anyone even we used to walk alone in the alleys at night. People are friendly and are willing to help in any situations.
Suleman Abdullah May 10, 2012 12:12pm
Thanks Mr. Suhail Yusuf, but informations are very short there is a long history of Lyari’s status.
Soul Lyari May 11, 2012 10:20am
Great information but still needs further research. For example most of historic buildings in Karachi were built by people from Lyari as construction workers, these include Express market, Khaliq dina Hall, Denso Hall (Karachi's first Library), NJV School (first assembly buidling of Sindh) etc. Currently youth of Lyari are facing unemployment problem which is forcing them to take arms. PPP government did not fulfill its promises with people of Lyari. More than 30 innocent people were killed in recent trouble but as usual no compensations were announced for these victims and even non of PPP leader as courage to visit the area. During this operation more than one million people were were without electricity and facing food shortage for more than a week. If PPP government still believe it will rule Lyari by force and can control area through police action, must be mistaken. If PPP still believe it will remain in power without support of people, I do not think so. This is last chance and fortunately last year year of their rule in Pakistan. Good-bye Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) forever. A soul Lyari
babar baloch May 11, 2012 04:09pm
It will be a Great job if you add some more intellectual persons of Lyari
Zafar Rind May 13, 2012 07:08am
No body commented on Annie's husbands name, you all mentioned all the dates. Annie's husbands name was Tagh Mahomed NOT Dost Muhammad. He was killed on the 10th January 1896 in the gold mining town of Coolgardie, Western Australia. I visited his grave numerous times and read Fatiha and took photo's of his grave. In 1883 my grandfather Ghulam Badoola Rind travelled with him on the same camel ship and arrived in Port Augusta, South Australia. Then in 1896 they travelled to Coolgardie, Western Australia. My grandfather married a Muslim Indigenous (Aboriginal) Australian. The children of Ghulam Badoola Rind, his great grand children and great great grandchildren are still living in Australia, particularly Western Australia. We are still CLOSELY connected to Lyari. Our houses and our area is Omer Lane, generations of our family have been living in Omer Lane Lyari for over 200 years. As well as generations of our family have been living in Australia for 130 years. I AM PROUD TO BE A LYARITE BALOCH!