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EXCERPT: `The mushroom city`

November 08, 2008

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The personal impressions left by some of the early Europeans of the people they met in Karachi are interesting to read. There is that classic picture of the 'money-seeking Hindu who goes about all eyes and with his fingers supple as his conscience, robbing everybody by subtility as the Balochi does by force.'
The Sindhi is painted 'strong, handsome and indolent from the combined effect of heat and slavery'... The Balochi 'through fierce and habituated to acquire property by violence is shrewd'... These are a few of the impressions the writer of the Administration of Sir Charles Napier got of the people he had conquered.
 
Capt Harte writes in 1840, 'The Hindu merchants who contribute so much to the prosperity of the town, were of the same tribe, as intelligent, hardworking men found in India — attentive to trifling as to large gain, correct in their dealings and enterprising in their speculation'. He then mentions how they have wide-spread business agencies and firms all over the continent 'and by spreading their wealth they hold threat of emigration to more friendly states'.
 
As their business usually brought revenue for the Ameers and Nawabs, they were tolerated and even pleased by the Ameers. Remember, no tax was levied on the Hindu merchants of 'Karachi-jo-ghote'.
 
Capt Harte was struck by the bigotry of the Mohammedan Syeds who seemed most discontented and the lower they were in social strata the more over-bearing did they seem to him. However, the Karachi boatmen were an exception to this. He writes, 'They far exceed their brethren in India in boldness and skill in their vocation'.
 
Burton tell us most of the funniest things about Karachi and the Karachiites. Here are a few specimens from his Sind Revisited.
 
The Hindu mind is methodical but the Muslim, generally speaking, is notably deficient in powers of mastering the exact sciences. The Sindhi Hindu is a parsimonious, lean, half naked wretch, with lacs at his command, yet he will live on coarse bread and sugar arrak, while a Moslem, with a few thousand would be faring sumptuously and emptying his purse upon silks and satins, horses and dances... nor is the Hindu's thriftiness despicable... it goes hand in hand with indefatigable industry and no sooner is he established in business than he extends a helping hand to his relatives and their
relatives.
 
Then comes the passage about the Rulers of Sindhi being surrounded by a host of civil officers, revenue collectors, secretaries and scribes, all of the same persuasion, all playing up one against another and all equally determined to aggrandize themselves, their families, their race, no matter by what means.
 
Burton has these remarks to make about the Parsis who 'infinitely prefer European preparations, specially the strong and the sweet — as Curralla and noyan, some of these Parsis traded in these when we first took the country and made considerable sums of money'. He describes the Parsee stores 'full of pickles, pale-ale soda-water etc.'
De Verteuil leaves a characteristic pen-picture of European and Anglo-Indian Society in more recent times. In his Fifty Wasted Years he writes
 
'Karachi is a city of some quarter million inhabitants. The European population, as Shamdas had so well classified, consisted of the 'First Class Sahibs' and the 'Second Class Sahibs.' The second class sahibs were the people like the manager of a retail shop, engine driver and S. & T. sergeants.'
 
The rank and file of the army were just 'Ghora Sahibs.' Again first class Sahibdom had its own sub-divisions, the main distinction being that whilst everybody belonged to the mixed club, the Gymkhana, not all necessarily were admitted to the Men's Club.
 
The Commissioner in Sind was the titular head of Society, then came the Brigadier General Commanding the Station, followed by Civilians, military and 'Boxwallas' (merchants and Bankers) in a complicated local order of precedence. There was a fair number of men from good schools, a large number from nondescript schools. There seems to have been some subterranean social war between the heaven-born, as the Indian Civil servants were called, and the military, whilst both of them united to look down upon the 'Boxwallah'... and nearly all were united in their contempt for the 'natives.'
 
These are but the impressions of those that are no more. It will be more interesting if we make a scientific study of the figures presented by the Census Reports and see for ourselves what the population of Karachi is, how it has grown, of whom it is composed, how it is occupied and to what extent it is progressing.
 
In the Census of the India Report for the year 1901, Enthoven remarks
'Since 1872 Karachi has increased from 56,753 to 116,663 — that is to say that it has more than doubled, owing doubtless to the advent of the North Western Railway and the consequent development of the port. Of the 53,900 immigrants the Balochi is responsible for a large share. These come from the Mekran and reside in the Trans Liari Section of the City. Cutch and Baluchistan send half of the immigrants between them.
 
In 1901 the mean density of population per square mile is shown for Karachi to be 35; the figures for 1891, 1881 and 1872 were respectively as follows 33, 28, 26. The net variation in the density figure between 1872 and 1901 works out to plus nine. In the report submitted by Mead and Macgregor for the Census year 1911, Karachi received the following comment
 
'Karachi fifth in 1901 and fourth now, has increased 30 per cent in spite of the plague
which has claimed nearly 25,000 victims'. It is rather strange to read that 'there are 39 industrial enterprises in the city' and in these the compilers have put the Port Trust and the Tramway Company.
 
The balance of 4,000 men are employed in salt works, furniture, coach building, thread factories and bone mills.
 
The phenomenal growth of the city at the second step is again noticed and the reasons ascribed are the City acting as the main outlet of the Punjab and the growth of ocean-borne trade.
 
In 1911, 49 per cent of the population is Muhammedan and 43 per cent Hindu. Its density is shown as 2,139 per square mile or three to the acre, but the city limits are unusually extensive, enclosing a space nearly three times the size of the Bombay Island'.
 
The remarks in Sorley's Cities of the Bombay Presidency Census of India 1931 Vol IX are worth reproducing as they make us realise the difficulties of Census officers and also the size and shape of Karachi.
 
'Karachi is a most irregularly shaped city which appears to be continually undergoing changes of area.' The reclamation of waste lands is responsible for this state of affairs, as also the extensions of colonies and the acquisition of lands. As Sedgwick puts it in his 1921 report, 'Karachi is a mushroom city, ever expanding over a tract of sand, its edges submerged for extensive distances to different depths at different stages of the tide. There is a complicated cantonment boundary in the heart of the municipal area (much of it has been now handed over)... a second smaller cantonment at Manora, several outlying places as Bhaba and Bhit, of undefined extent and only partially under municipal control, and numerous distant patches of irregular shape and size like the municipal quarries.'
The mushroom city has grown with such vigour and strength that its growth has been termed phenomenal.
 
The percentile rise from 1881 to 1931 was noticed as 261 per cent for the Municipal Area and 262.2 per cent for the whole city of Karachi. These figures are so striking that they might be considered abnormal.
 
Karachi did not stop growing. H.T. Lambrick's report for the Census of 1941 repeats the same story; in fact, it again created another record which was considered the most
notable phenomenon of this Census. It amounted to 65 per cent which is equal to the highest decennial rate ever recorded since the decade 1881-91.
 
The 1941 figure showed 359,492 souls living in the Municipal limits and a total of 386,695 in the City, Cantonment and suburbs of Karachi. There figures are now absolutely out of date. Within the last six years the population seems to have doubled while the number of houses remained unchanged.
 
The persistence in the growth of the population of Karachi has no doubt geographic, economic, political and communal reasons.
 
1. Its geographic position of importance turning it into a focal point of air passage, centre of cotton-wheat trade and one of the busiest sea ports, has attracted many people to come and settle in Karachi.
 
2. The economic benefit accrued from the aforementioned reason has been further augmented by the salubrious climate of the port.
 
3. After the separation of Sind, Karachi became the centre of political activities and hence more people immigrated into it.
 
4. Growth of cement and salt industries, introduction of organised fishing industry, installation of many ship repairing firms and other minor manufacturing centres have all
contributed to the increase of the population of the City.
 
5. Karachi is the centre of university education. With the opening of medical and other colleges more people flocked to the centre.
 
6. One of the great attractions of Karachi is that it is the capital of a surplus province Awhich enjoys security and safety. Of late this has gone a long way towards attracting people into Karachi. It is believed that in this decennial the 1941 figure of 386,656 must be practically doubled. With the prospects of Karachi becoming the Headquarters of the Pakistan Government the fears are quite justifiable.
 
7. The Hindus are conspicuously leaving the mofussils and concentrating for safety and profit in Karachi. While this growth of figure looks very reassuring there is a very important aspect of study which the tables are apt to make us forget. Though Karachi has unlimited scope for expansion its building plan has been far too slow to meet with the terrific on-rush of population.
 
The 1921 figures showing the existence of the most atrocious kinds of slums were presented by Mr Jamshed and Mr Mirams and the case of acquiring more land in the centre and heart of the city was strongly pressed.
 
The demand for the acquisition of the Artillery Maidan and other Cantonment areas 'which are heading into Municipal lands' has succeeded to some extent, no doubt, yet the rapidity of growth in population has outdistanced building plans.          
 
The very fact that there are 3,215 applications for accommodation pending with the Rent Controller makes us realise the gravity of the situation. But the seriousness of the situation cannot be gauged from that alone.
 
A walk around the Lyari Quarters and a look at the hutments which house on an average more human souls than anywhere else in Karachi will convince us that in spite of our chawls, colonies and communal camps, much remains to be done.
 
Walking through the streets of Karachi, and pondering over the growth of the city, we realise that the share given by the communities cannot be computed on percentile basis.
 
However, all have given their share in the making and building up of this clean healthy city. Comparisons are odious, but it would not be out of place to mention briefly some of the characteristics and contributions of each of the various communities of Karachi.
 
The Christians
 
There are in all 17,466 Christians in Karachi (1941 Census) of these nearly 13,000 are Roman Catholic, mostly of Portuguese extraction and commonly known as the 'Goans'. The balance of four thousand odd is made up of Europeans of different nationalities, the majority of them being Britishers — English, Scottish and Irish. It would not be exaggerating the fact to say that Karachi in its present shape and stage of development is largely the product of British enterprise.
 
No doubt they were the con-querors, no doubt they possessed power, yet it shall always be to their glory that they knew how to use their power for the benefit of the conquered and it is to their credit that they converted the fishermen's village into a centre of civilisation and culture besides being just a 'marke-place twith dirty mud walls and mud roofs'.
 
The British in Karachi may be divided into three main divisions the officials, the military personnel and the businessmen. To the civilians goes the credit of laying down schemes for the justice and security of administration.
 
The civilians as commissioners, collectors or chairmen of the Port Trust or the Municipality or as members of the P.W.D. or as luminaries of the Bench have made their contribution. The development of the harbour and railways, the sanitation of the city, the laying down of watersupply mains, the inaugurating of the police department, all these greatly depended upon the British Civilians.
 
The Cantonment limits of Karachi have always been hedged in and to a great extent cramped, delayed and distorted the growth of Karachi. Yet it must be said to the credit of the Cantonment authorities that very often they have supplied the best brains for planning the growth of Karachi.
 
Karachi is first and foremost a business centre, a busy market place, and here the natural genius of the 'Race of Shopkeepers' has come out most creditably.
 
The 'Boxwallahs' did not just open shops and restaurants and hotels (we do not have even the remnants of Messrs. Hoare, and Whiteway Laidlow). The old shop of Hoares is now used by Haydn the 'musicwallah' a very ancient enterprise of the Indian Christians, and Whiteway Laidlow's fascinating shop used to stand on the spot where we now have the Karachi Electric Supply Company (corner of Elphinstone Street). Ziginspeck's Cafe afterwards taken up by Cumpers still has the same old name no doubt, (Cafe Grand) but all have left. Nedo and Marder, the hotel keepers have also gone.
 
The only European shop remaining on the Elphinstone Street is that of the Chemist, 'Bliss & Co.'. The real genius of the British businessman is to be seen on the Bunder and McLeod Roads particularly the McLeod Road. There we still find the long line of British banks and bankers, shipping agents, grain merchants, brokers, manufacturers, representatives, agents for 'everything on earth'.
 
One of the oldest members of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and probably the only remaining of the 'original' ones, is Volkart Brothers which has continued to increase and expand its trade.
 
Some of the great edifices built by European firms are conspicuous in business centres. The Forbes, Forbes & Campbell building where the Grindlay bank has its branch, is
an imposing structure of British
solidarity.
 
The ancient buildings of the Mercantile Bank and the National Bank still stand as they did years ago. But Finlay House has set a new design in efficiency, combined with simplicity.
 
The Europeans, particularly the English, are a club-going race and extremely fond of sports, we find some of the best localities occupied by their Clubs. For long these clubs and gymkhanas were exclusive and caste bound even among themselves the first class and the second class sahibs kept their distance.
 
The main residential quarters of the Europeans are around the salubrious southpart of the city, the Frere Road side particularly the new Frere Town built off Bath Island and just beyond the Clifton Crossing Bridge. The military section of the population is on Staff Lines and E.I. Lines and the Governor's residence still on the same site, though the old original house of Capt. Preedy which the first Governor of Sind, Sir Charles Napier, had purchased for Rs45,000 is unfortunately demolished and the new, austerely simple structure flew the Union Jack till July 1947.
 
The Sind Club is the 'Sanctum sanctorum' of the 'pucca sahib' and is beautifully situated and surrounded by lovely trees which tell the story of its growth and development most poetically. The Club was founded in 1876 and celebrated its 75th anniversary on August 1, 1946.
 
Some of the Founder Members were those famous luminaries of the past Sir William Merewether, K.C.S.I., C.B. (Commissioner in Sind) the first President, Major Dunsterville, and Major Marston, Capt. Anderson, Major Thoyst, Max Denso, Capt. Giles, Dr Fowler and a few others. In those days with Karachi's population estimated at half a lac, there was a good deal of space.
 
Buildings were scattered far apart. The Frere Hall, the Government House, the Trinity Church, were some of the only solid buildings. The 'Armadele' opposite Trinity Church now stands in place of the original bungalows where the Club started. In 1880 the Club leased a plot of land on the present spot. At that time the old Masonic Hall was there and the other ground was a part of Frere Hall Gardens.
 
The chambers, better known as 'dog kennels', were ready by 1882. For the building of the Club House an open competitive design was advertised for, and designs by Mr Sweton were approved of.
 
But it was found that neither the plans nor the amount allocated were adequate. Eventually Rs75,000 were sanctioned and the plans as submitted by Colonel Le Mesurier R.E., a member of the Committee, were passed and in 1883 the present Club House was completed.
 
Though there were only 226 members then, it seems amazing that so much foresight was shown in planning the buildings that even today the Club is sufficiently roomy and spacious. The Sind Club was more progressive than any other part of Karachi and they had their own electric installation fixed in 1902 'when the remainder of Karachi was lit entirely by oil lamps'.
 The early years of the 20th century seem to have been a very happy period of life, everywhere believe it or not a 'chota' cost only Rs.-/2/6. The Club expanded. The 'old ugly and unsightly' building of the Scottish Freemasons raised by Sir Charles Napier in 1845 was acquired by the Club in 1911. Thus the Club acquired the magnificent and the Scandal Point Road on one side and the Street on the other.
 
In 1915 the 'Millionaire Quarters' (meant for the entertainment of the ladies) were completed.
 
In 1921 the Club celebrated its Jubilee Ball with great éclat. From 1936 the 'Oriental Visitors' were allowed as guests.
 
During the 75 years of its existence, the Club has become a landmark of Karachi and has been honoured by the highest of officials.
The other centre of European
 
interest has been Church — the Protestant Church situated opposite the Government House, was meant to serve as a landmark for mariners approaching from a distance. The Church looks more like a battlement tower than a House of God but it holds many a sacred memory for the Protestant residents of Karachi.