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Some mentionable mansions

December 07, 2009


THEY are like jilted lovers, victims of unrequited love. Those who made them with great affection and kept them close to their hearts are no more. So they are aging not like fine wine or a rugged pair of jeans, but like forlorn entities banished into nothingness. In case you find yourself bewildered what this intro is alluding to, visiting four buildings on Inverarity Road — the Jehangir Kothari Mansion, the Krishna Mansion, the Duarte Mansion and Isa Bhai Trust Building - will suffice. The negligence with which these lovely structures are treated is saddening, if not criminal.

Karachiites or non-Karachiites, who would not be aware of Zainab Market, a bazaar that defies class disparities? Let us keep the discussion on fancy T-shirts and cheap slacks for some other time. Hop across Zainab Market and you will be facing a grand work of construction, the Jehangir Kothari Mansion. The same building on whose ground floor there are known tailoring shops and carpet stores. Who has the time to crane their neck to look up and appreciate the delicate carvings and noteworthy symmetry of the structure? It is a building made before partition by stonemasons with such adroitness that it will take you by surprise (a pleasant one, mind you) with its well thought-out proportions and architectural features. The balconies, the pillars, the openings, the spiral staircases at its rear ... all are worth looking at. If this writer is not incorrect, a scene from an aesthetically shot music video (Khamaj by Fuzon) was also recorded in one of the spacious rooms of this mansion. A little bit of care (and love) can easily make the Jehangir Kothari Mansion a visual treat representing the days when even stones were given due respect.

Architect Noman Ahmed says “This particular building is inspired by Gothic style. However, some of its features are indigenised (old Karachi style) because of the subsequent additions made to it. It was built in1934, and since in those days a lot of construction was taking place in the city, the mansion's overall profile also has architectural characteristics that were in vogue at the time. It's located in the corner of the road therefore it has features related to that aspect as well. As far as its current condition goes, make no mistake it needs to be restored.”

The next building, the Krishna Mansion, despite being pretty and well-made, is a tad nondescript. Reason a variety of dazzling signboards (not to mention a famous restaurant) highlighting the stores that it houses obscure its graceful stonework. Climbing the stairs from the side where there is a dug-out plot between the Jehangir Kothari Mansion and the Krishna Mansion will take you many years back.

Noman Ahmed says “It's a composite style edifice. I think it was constructed in the 1930s and has many good architectural attributes, including images from Hindu mythology. Its wooden frames and a few other elements have tremendous art value; having said that it has major maintenance issues.”

A couple of blocks ahead of the Krishna Mansion, there is the Duarte Mansion, and here comes the tragic part of this short journey. You can, without a jot of doubt, make out that in its heyday the structure must have been great to feast your eyes on. Not anymore. The building is in a deserted state, with gaping holes in its windows and layers of dust and dirt on its walls painting a picture of Eliot's wasteland. Locals say sometime back construction of sorts began from inside, but for inexplicable reasons never carried on. Those who know old Karachi like the back of their hand will tell you the Duarte Mansion has a fair amount of history that is akin to the city.

Yasmeen Lari, in her well-researched book Karachi, During the Raj, has printed an old photo of this building whose caption reads “A testimony to the prosperity of the Goan community.” So it also symbolises, or symbolised, communal harmony.

Noman Ahmed says “The mansion has been in a poor state for a long time, and now what's left of it is only the façade. It can be reconstructed by retaining the front portion and new features can be introduced into its interior, hollowed space. If it remains like this, it won't survive.”

Last but not least there is Isa Bhai Trust Building. In spite of the hubbub caused by motorcycle mechanics and their clients and the insolence with which public transport buses, rickshaws and private vehicles hurtle from different sides of the main road, you cannot miss 'AD 1919' inscribed on top of the building's arched entrance. Having rather thin windows and a stuffy atmosphere all around, it may not appear as breathtaking as two of the aforementioned mansions, but with a concerted cleaning-up effort can well turn out to be something to marvel at.