is the landmark that you can remember?" asked Rehana
Alam, a regular travelogue columnist for Dawn. Rehana was
driving me along Karachi city in mid May, when I was staying
with her for over a week, having come from Dhaka, the night
before. Things had changed enormously since I had left Karachi
26 years ago. The UBL house at Clifton was no longer the
beautiful dream of bougainvillea covered tiled top modern
construction that made you stand and stare. This was not
only because the original owners had left but because the
residential and commercial areas saw such vast changes.
Karachi, the city which boasts of being the place where
Alexander the Great made his sacrifices of bulls to the
god Poseidon, on his march and victory over the Middle East
and Asia, was something modern indeed. The Moghuls and the
British, like Earl Minto and Lord Napier, had a lot to do
with this urban progress before partition, but later the
Pakistanis themselves poured in their effort and imagination
to make the metropolis the wonder that it is today. In the
last two decades and a half, the architects and residents
of Karachi have transformed the city into one that can boast
of homes in Clifton, Gizri Road and Defence Housing Authority
that have high walls of brick, stone and cement facings
with double storied houses that look almost like ducal palaces.
They have facades of metal and stone, ornate gates, glass
walls, vast verandahs, Grecian columns, gardens with fountains,
pools and picturesque bridges with pillars and patios to
complete the Anglo-Pakistani structures. There are the tall
residential flats which look out to the sea nearby, as at
and a half decades back Karachi might have looked like civilisation
in a semi-desert. Yet now, there are trees and flowering
bushes, like eucalyptus, gulmohars, frangipanis, mango and
wild fig along with the normal palm, pearly jasmine, yellow
laburnum, and the multicoloured bougainvillea, apart from
the money-plant creepers. There are also the manicured lawns,
swings and cane and white painted fancy garden benches.
One can even hear the nightingales calling, along with the
streams of Shamshad Begum songs on the radio, located in
the servant quarters, in the morning and evening, one feels
that indeed this is a haven. When I pass the Kothari Parade
with its domb, slender pillars and steps in muted salmon
pink colour, I realise that the waters have receded and
trimmed bushes, trees and near white whitewashed houses
have taken the place of where the frothing sea waves would
lash at the feet of the camels which one could ride, decades
back. I read in the "Dawn" of how some of the
stones of the famous edifice, Kothari Parade have been stolen
but they were not apparent from the distance.
shopping areas like Zaibunissa Street, Bunder Road and near
the Palace Cinema, where Avari Tower is located, and where
I went two days of my reaching Karachi, has changed too.
As coming to Drigh Road (Shaharai-Faisal) initially, coming
from the airport, long after midnight, one realises that
the tall buildings with lights winking from them speak of
ease and plenty. Many of the shops like the "Kashmir
Art Emporium," "Sanaullah" and "Cholanis"
are there. But many old ones are missing, being replaced
by new ones. At times old buildings, dating from the British
period, along the shopping area, appear closed off, saying
goodbye to old times. The Goan colonies behind the shopping
arcade at the Zaibunissa Street and the old churches and
the cathedral are there but they do not stand out as they
did decades back. The city has become a conglomeration of
the post 1971 and the structures that I had seen since my
childhood and youth in Karachi. There are the bazaars too
such as the Bhori Bazaar that sells ribbons, laces, clothing
and other trinkets. Bookstalls such as the Pak American
Books stall and Tidbits (on Frere Street or Daud Pota Road).
Empress Market, the historic British colonial building,
selling fruit, vegetable and grains like wheat and maize
have somehow been preserved despite the onslaught of modernisation.
There are of course many more hotels and cinema halls than
what had been there before, like Bambino and Rio of the
70s, just as there are numerous snacking places and areas
where the young could have fun and frivolity despite the
apparently strict Islamic regime, where men tended to wear
"awami suits" (long, loose shirts worn with shalwar)
and women were draped in modest "shalwar-kameez and
dupatta" and even "chadar."
art scene has grown too and in place of Gulgee, the father,
one found young Amin Gulgee, from overseas, being lionized.
Names like Ali Imam, who had died recently, were revered.
The "Indus Valley School" and The Karachi School
of Art" has grown. Mansur Rahi, Jamil Naqsh and Athar
Jamal reign with confidence and Sadequam and Chughtan are
for mostly the well-to do collectors. PACC (Pakistan American
Cultural Centre), British Council, Alliance Francaise and
the Goethe Institut help with the cultural growth of the
the horse carts with the brass lamps, the donkey carts and
the camels are still there but they rub shoulders with the
flamboyantly painted and decorated buses, and the flux of
imported cars and yellow taxis. The new lamps blend well
with the old ones.