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The past is another story...

December 22, 2008

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Born and bred in Karachi, I have seen it grow from a small city into a chaotic metropolis that has swollen out of all proportions. However, despite the citys multifarious problems, including its failures in areas of planning, adherence to building bye-laws, with incomplete projects dotting the skyline and a total disregard for landscaping, there are a number of grand, public-use buildings that were built in the colonial era and are, to this day, an important and attractive feature of the city.
In those days Karachi had gravel-paved streets with a proper drainage system, and trams and horse-drawn trolleys transported people through clean streets.
My memories of the Khaliqdina Hall and Library go back to my childhood days when the charismatic religious scholar Allama Rasheed Turabi would address Majalis there during the ten days of Moharram. My sister and I would sit in the (segregated) area for women on an adjacent plot. The Halls ionic portico, set over a high podium and topped by a triangular pediment displaying the name and date of construction of the building, seemed an appropriate venue for the mesmerist sermons.
The Khaliqdina Hall was the first public building built by local Muslim philanthropists for the literary and leisurely pursuits of the native population. We must recall that white and black quarters divided the city into distinct parts during the Colonial period. The natives lived in the Old Town — the north-western part Serai Road, Napier Road and Bunder Road, while the goras lived in the southeast the Civil Lines Quarter, Frere Hall, Sindh Club and Governor House. In addition, Saddar was used by the European population for shopping and recreation.
Khaliqdina Hall was built in 1906 at a cost of Rs33,000, including a generous donation of Rs18,000 made by  Ghulam Hussain Khaliqdina. This donation thus immortalised his name on the buildings pediment. The rest of the funding was provided by the Karachi Municipal Corporation. The main hall is 95 ft in length and 45 ft wide, and is capable of seating approximately 600 persons. A 10 ft wide veranda runs around the sides of the hall.
The place assumed historical importance when it was chosen as the venue for the trial of Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, leader of the Khilafat Movement.
From July 8 to 10, 1921, the Khilafat Conference, held in Karachi, passed a resolution declaring it unlawful for Muslims to serve in the British army 'or help or acquiesce in their recruitment' and stated that if the British Government, directly or indirectly, openly or secretly, fought the Angora Government (the Turkish National Government), the Muslims of India would start a civil disobedience movement. 
Maulana Mohammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali, famously known as the Jauhar brothers, made fiery speeches which led to their arrest. They were charged with incitement against the British Government. The trial of Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, in which he defended himself, became known as the 'Trial of sedition'. This building consequently became a symbol of the Muslim struggle during the Khilafat Movement and the movement for independence.
The building, like several other historical buildings in Karachi, was totally neglected for years — becoming a victim of time and termites, ennui and apathy. Fortunately, in 2002 it was restored by the defunct Karachi Metropolitan Corporation at a cost of Rs15 million. It is now protected by the Sindh Cultural Heritage Protection Act.
On the same road, i.e. Bunder Road, (now M A Jinnah Road), which is today one of the busiest arteries of the city, is located one of the finest examples of Colonial-era architecture — The Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) Building — a landmark building of the city.
This imposing building makes use of Jodhpur red sandstone and yellow Gizri sandstone. While an abundant supply of Gizri stone was quarried from the nearby Gizri hills, red sandstone was brought from Jodhpur, Rajasthan. The hue of the stone had attracted many British architects of those times. Jaipur became known as the Pink city of India due to the several buildings constructed there in the Anglo-Moghul style with the Jodhpur red sandstone.
The architecture of the KMC Building is also Anglo-Moghul, and its architect was James SC Wynnes. He used the Jodhpur stone on the front and sides but, in order to reduce costs, Gizri stone was used in the rest of the building.
The foundation stone of the building was laid on another site in 1895. Construction, however, was started on the present site later, and completed in 1930, followed by the buildings inauguration in 1932. The building is three stories high of which the central part is the magnificent clock tower, with its Moorish dome. The clock tower was made especially to commemorate the visit of King George V to India.
Living in the old part of the city until I was four years old — not too far from this building — I still recall the KMC clocks chimes that marked the hour. The chimes then remained silent for many years. In the year 2007, however, the City District Government of Karachi celebrated the 75th anniversary of the building and a massive renovation project was carried out which included repair of the clock. It is heart-warming to note that the clock is still working, but ironic that time has such little value for our people.
The Swaminarayan Temple (Mandir) is situated right opposite the KMC Building, in a large estate or compound with a fine residential plan. It houses hundreds of homes belonging to the Hindu community. Approximately 5,000 people, belonging mostly to the Sindhi, Rajput and Gujarati communities, reside here.
The Swaminarayan Temple was built during the British Raj in 1849, and celebrated its 150th anniversary somewhat belatedly in April 2004. Apparently, the original images of Shri Swaminarayan were taken to India during the tumultuous period of the Partition, when the protected compound was also used to provide refuge to Hindu families.
Architectural design, religious symbolism and imagination jointly play an important role in the distinctive characteristics of the Temple. The Swaminarayan Temple is designed in the North Indian style (this is different from the South Indian style, but the inspiration for both styles come from the shape of a mountain, leading from a broad base to a single point where all lines converge). The tower of the Temple bulges in the middle. This tower is a massive stone structure known as the shikhara with a most attractive, sculptural quality to it.
Similar to all Hindu temples, the highest point of the superstructure of the Swaminarayan Temple is also located directly above the garbhagriha or the inner sanctum altar. There is a wide passage all around this sanctum with a black-and-white patterned floor, being an array of configurations of squares in arithmetic progression — the mandala.
The Swaminarayan Jayanti, Ram Navmi, Janam Ashtmi, Dasshera, Diwali and Holi festivals are celebrated within these premises. There is also a Gurdwara of Guru Nanak for the Sikh community right at the foot of the raised Temple. Sikhs and Hindus attend both places of worship and participate in each others religious celebrations in a friction-free, communal spirit worthy of emulation.
During Diwali in October this year, sitting on the old stone bench at the edge of the Temple, I recalled my childhood, when we lived not too far from another very imposing building the D J Science College. This fine institution was built by a Hindu philanthropist, Diwan Dayaram Jethmal. The NED Engineering College and the SM Science and Law Colleges in the vicinity had made the area a hub for educational as well as political activity in the 1960s and early 1970s. However, the DJ Science College building, designed by James Strachan and constructed in the neoclassical, or Italian architectural style, stands head and shoulders above the others.
The College was opened on 17th January, 1887 by His Excellency Lord Reay, the Governor of Bombay in a bungalow in Thatai Compound, situated on M A Jinnah Road. It was later shifted to the present building in 1892. The College was by then a full-fledged institution with faculties of Arts, Sciences, Engineering and Law.
Elegant domes and arcades, with the main façade 431 ft in length and a 5 ft high plinth, gives unmatched grace and grandeur to this educational institution. The floors were laid with mosaic tiles imported from Belgium. The eight-ft wide main staircase was fitted with ornamental cast-iron work from McFarlane & Company of Glasgow. The tiles are hard to be found, but the staircase is still there in its original materials.
The original cost of construction is reported to have been Rs186,514 out of which the Government contributed Rs97,193, the balance being raised through public donations.
'The tangible and intangible cultural assets and heritage of the city have to be protected. Doing this establishes social and political continuity and gives the people of the city an identity and a pride in its history. It also helps in bridging ethnic and class differences which is a priority since most Third World cities are now multi-cultural,' writes architect Arif Hasan in Karachis development and the principles of urban planning, published in Habitat International Coalition, October 2006), an astute comment on the importance of heritage.
Karachi had prospered during the Raj as a major centre of commerce and industry, attracting several different communities such as Africans, Arabs, Jews, Zoroastrians and Catholics from Goa, to name a few.
A large number of British businessmen and Colonial administrators were also living here. However, with the influx of migrants in 1947 and later, the ever-increasing numbers, bad planning, lack of proper infrastructure and greed for land, not to mention utter indifference, the city that once had potential and promise has grown, but not lived up to the changing times and challenges. Dotted with the stately architecture of the past it has, nevertheless, failed to take pride or ownership of its rich history.