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Hit parade

October 18, 2009

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Karachi and its seaside are like a profound Ghalib couplet they have their individual identity, but together they forge a formidable existence. Both have all but become one. The city, like its sea, is an unfathomable ocean that contains many treasures - undiscovered or lost.

In the second decade of the 20th century, Karachi was a quaint little town. There was no hubbub associated with modern-day metropolises. However, those who ran the city constantly tried to develop means and ways to come up with recreational opportunities for citizens.

The sea was always there, but there wasn't exactly a vantage point for Karachiites to view the harbour from. It was perhaps in 1917 when a plan was chalked out by the then Karachi Municipality's chief engineer, Measham Lea, and his associates. They thought it would be a good idea to build a promenade and terrace from where people could not only have a clearer look of the choppy waters or receding waves for that matter, but also relax and unwind.

Now here comes the interesting part. Imagine in this day and age if someone from a civic department gets in touch with a person whose property is located where the municipality wants to construct a recreational spot for city dwellers how would s/he react? Chances are the official will be snubbed. Reason being it takes a person with a heart of gold, like Jehangir Kothari, to acknowledge the worth of such a project in immaterial terms.

Jehangir Kothari's palatial residence existed where the municipality wanted to construct a promenade. Upon hearing the concept, Mr Kothari gifted his precious piece of land (approx 12,000 square yards) for the purpose and donated a hefty amount to the project. The authorities were overwhelmed by the gesture, and as a result named the promenade The Jehangir Kothari Parade.

The parade, designed by H.B. Hoare, and built between 1919 and 1921, is a single-storey rectangular pavilion. A five-arched structure clearly indicates it doesn't adhere to the 21st century architectural sensibility. Jodhpur stone is used in the carved balustrading of the pathway that extends, or once extended, to the pier. Gizri stone is also used in the making of the pavilion.

Even if you are a frequent visitor to the place, you won't dispute that it's a sight for sore eyes. From here you can enjoy nature's munificence no end. The great expanse of the Bagh-i-Ibn-i-Qasim (formerly Rupchand Bilaram Park), the gusty wind, the whiff of seawater and yes, even the apartment buildings that have sprung up in big numbers of late... all take you away from the cosmopolitan potpourri that Karachi has turned into.

Among this historical group of monuments, there is a bandstand that is as prominent as any other site in the Clifton area. A Parsi philanthropist Kavasji Katrak's generosity made its construction possible. It was the last one of this bunch of stone structures to be built. Its marked feature is the impressive, unmissable cupola, and its four corners of the podium are highlighted by good-looking pillars.

No less important is Lady Lloyd Pier. If you begin walking on it, you'll notice a plaque on its left side that reads “Lady Lloyd Pier. Inspired by Her Excellency the Hon Lady Lloyd this promenade was constructed at a cost of Rs300,000 and donated to the public of Karachi by Jehangir Kothari, OBE, to whose generosity and public spirit this gift is due.”

Lady Lloyd was the better half of the Governor of Bombay, George Ambrose Lloyd. According to a historical account, when Lady Lloyd first visited the seaside, she was enchanted by its picturesque quality. She wanted to stroll all the way to the sea. Hence...

It'd be interesting to mention that George Ambrose Lloyd's main activities as governor were to reclaim land for housing in the Back Bay area of Bombay and build the Sukkur Barrage. Both schemes were funded by loans raised in India, and not in England. Lloyd completed his term as governor in 1922.

What now? It's 2009, the first decade of the 21st century. How's Mr Kothari and Mr Katrak's gesture being reciprocated?

Architect Noman Ahmed says “Owing to maintenance issues Lady Lloyd Pier's foundation pedestals are weakening by the day. If you don't take proper care of the stonework, it will lose its original position and start to displace. There have been instances in which salt content of water damaged the stone that's used in the construction of these beautiful monuments. My understanding is that not sufficient attention is being given to these important structures.

“Another issue pertains to vandalism. People who visit the Jehangir Kothari Parade tend to treat it roughly. They use the parade as if they're in a playground. Consequently, you see damaged balustrading and chipped walls. Also, when some of them use the walkway they don't realise its significance. There are people who think the place is a spittoon. It's a sorry state,” says Noman Ahmed.

It is indeed. No wonder we don't produce gems like Mr Kothari anymore.

mohammad.salman@dawn.com