<%-- Page Title--%> Impressions <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 156 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

May 28, 2004

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Karachi Revisited

Fayza Haq

“What 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 Clifton.

Two 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.

The 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."

The 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 country.

Yes, 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.



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