Saturday, 18 June 2016

Echoes of Karachi

Weeks, then months passed. Karachi kept calling out my name to listen to her tales of bygones. But although I had started the blog with the intention of sharing the echoes of the city and my time from the exploration of Karachi, I couldn't keep up, because well, life happened!
I moved on, busy building other dreams, but my loyal friend Karachi stayed, waiting for me to return once again to trail my fingers over the rough yellow brick walls blackened with smog, to gaze at the carved decaying balconies in the early hours of the morning when the city is yet to wake up, to listen to its woeful stories again. 

Going down the memory lane, I struggled to find images buried deep within the dark confines of the mind. The struggle was futile. Time had erased what the eyes witnessed once, when my mornings were spent exploring parts of Karachi where few women venture. Disappointed, I made one last effort to retrieve any lingering silhouettes of long forgotten structures of what is now just dilapidated brick and mortar, and I heard a voice: "What you are looking for is not for the mind to remember, but for the heart to hold it close to its bosom and cherish forever."

There it was! Like an old classic played when I opened up my heart to share it with the world. Images of the long forgotten tales embedded in arches, courtyards, jharokas, winding spiral staircases. My heart fluttered at the first glimpse of 'Duarte Mansion' standing silently almost oblivious to the passersby. I tried to recall my weak resolution to convert the tone of this blog into a professional crisp one; but how could I? This, had always been a labour of love. It had sentiments, nostalgia, endless afternoons spent on foot in the winding lanes of old parts of the city. How could I detach myself and create something that was not true to its essence? 

Once again, I embraced the passion I had for my heritage. Karachi was calling out my name, and all those passionate about the city, and those who take a few minutes out of their time to read this, deserved the very core of the initiative to be shared honestly. They deserved to know how it all started with a little girl who spent day after day for years looking out of the car window at the old balconies in Saddar, her nose pressed against the cool glass. It was the usual route every single day back from school, one that gave her the immense delight of a glimpse of Empress market itself. Years later, her passion grew but not without a sense of frustration at the deteriorating conditions of the heritage that the city seemed to have grown oblivious to. Many a times she would visualize herself floating from room to room of an abandoned yellow brick building, the sound of poetry and music emanating from what once was majestic, full of life. 
She wanted to discover more, to immerse herself in finding out what the old structures once held within them - broken promises, signs of life, birth, death, laughter, rituals...
She vowed to start again, exactly from where she left off. Karachi was never to be abandoned again.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Reimagining Pakistan - The Evolution

It seems like only yesterday when an idea took shape in the sleek basement office of SEED and turned into a movement that continues to draw in more and more people from every sector. Reimagining Karachi to Reimagining Pakistan - a journey that was intertwined with countless experiences and memories. A journey that is going on full throttle and brings with it a promise to save the nation's heritage. Setting a new trend in this regard is an uphill task, but one that along with the challenges also brings with it a great sense of pride and elation.

The story of Reimagining Karachi evolving into Reimagining Pakistan is as interesting and intriguing for us as for others who are part of it in some way or the other. While our heart bled at the current status and dilapidation of architectural heritage across the country, the project basically initiated from Karachi, a city that is widely known as a commercial hub. Just today at the office, this scribe/blogger was rambling on about Karachi also being a walled city once, and the invasion by the British through Manora Fort. It is unfortunate that not much attention is given to these significant structures and sites that mark our history.

From there, it was an ambitious but extremely fulfilling road to other parts of the country. A collaboration with Walled City of Lahore Authority in this regard was another major step, bridging gaps between the two provinces as is the intention with the rest of the provinces. One must understand that strengthening ties with our past helps create a nation that understands its roots which is imperative for progress from a lot of perspectives. Retaining character of heritage sites, preserving and restoring them and creating an environment where our future generations not only take pride in them but also continues with these efforts. 

It is important to understand that a large part of our architectural heritage is still unlisted and is being demolished rapidly. It would be best to save it from demolition but until that can be done, the least that we intend to do is to document them. It is a sad fact that we do not realize that Pakistan has numerous heritage sites that have the potential of drawing global attention. A number of towns here can be declared and turned into entire heritage sites. Shikarpur for instance can be restored and worked upon the way Toledo, a small town in Spain has been preserved and draws in large crowds of tourists.

Reimagining Pakistan continues to work for the preservation and promotion of the heritage of Pakistan. Join us in this journey! 

Monday, 8 July 2013

The Hidden Charm of Khori Garden

My experience of Khori Garden may be limited but my interest in this dense area of Karachi is immense. Interconnected with Jodia Bazaar and comprising of shops laden with dirt cheap items, it is one of the oldest wholesale markets in Karachi. If we enter from M A Jinnah Road, we head on straight to Murad Khan Road which leads to the Garden from which the name originated. With Marriott Road on the right and Khori Road a.k.a Kitaab Gali on the left, it has plenty to offer should one venture into the exploration of the area. Jodia Bazaar of course deserves a separate blog post with its delightful combination of Spice Market, Chalia Bazaar, Crockery Market and Dry Fruit Market to name a few.
I had no idea what today's blog post will be about till I opened my picture folder and came across a lovely series of photos that we got taken for one of our Reimagining Karachi photo shoots. I will share some of them as soon as I'm done rambling about the wonderful Khori Garden. I can start with its history of course, but I decided that this particular post required more of a personal touch; so I'll start with the first visit of the area. A descent from the car onto the street right where Murad Khan Road meets M A Jinnah Road, brings one to another world. From the cool interior of the air-conditioned car, one might claim to know what Karachi looks like but that would be a very limited perception. Karachi is a city that deserves to be explored on foot. It is only then that one can truly merge oneself with the spirit of Karachi and admire the vibrancy that the denser parts of the city bring with them. Coming back to the first visit, I was greeted with the usual hustle and bustle of the infamous Bunder Road a.k.a. M A Jinnah Road. Upon entering the road leading to the Khori Garden itself, my curiosity took me straight down to the Garden. Tucked in between buildings the gate led to the grounds that surprisingly were not as poorly maintained as I had assumed. The basic structure seemed intact and there seemed to be some greenery after all. It was the fact that the buildings seemed to have propped up all around it, disrupting the scale and pushing the Garden into obscurity that it seems to serve no accessibility or relaxation purpose for the community there.
Once outside, I looked around at the cluster of buildings. A number of balconies had remnants of scriptures from the bygone days, peering through the colourful array of cloth canopies that were tied haphazardly to cover the lane in order to protect the passersby from the scorching heat and the sun rays. A lane turned towards the infamous Kitaab Gali - the booklovers' paradise. A few wheelbarrows laden with a variety of books were the first to catch my eye. Of course they couldn't compete with the piles of books outside the shops that had everything from management books to old copies of bestseller fiction. The buildings across the shops again were mostly hidden by the cloth canopies, a regular feature in such small bazaars.
The encroachments, though causing even more congestion in the already narrow lanes, carried all sorts of wares, from plastic goods to household items and some ambiguous brands of fragrant toiletries. Walking past them I turned turned into Marriott Road, another favourite of mine despite the same issues that the whole area faced - encroachments, loading and unloading of mini pick-up trucks, mismanagement. Yet the whole of Marriott Road oozes a certain charm, with its lovely period buildings and its hidden potential of being able to one day, being turned into a pedestrianized cultural precinct. Marriott Road also boasts of a landmark building - Denso Hall. Although it is only the rear of the building that falls on this road, it is still part of it and gives it a unique identity. 
My first visit was followed by many more, and each time I was able to isolate the area from the noise and congestion and see it in its true nature - a cluster of charming old buildings, crying out silent woes of misfortune and negligence.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

'Ye Hai Mera Karachi' - A Visit to Frere Hall

Haan! Ye Hai Mera Karachi!!!
Today I saw Karachi through someone else's eyes. There was curiosity, some subdued eagerness too, yet there was so much that said "I don't really know Karachi. I haven't seen what you claim there is. But I would like to see it through your eyes".
I meet all sorts of people everyday; indifferent, knowledgeable, arrogant, dreamers, doers, talkers and many more. However, there is one category that I truly value; those who are passionate about a cause. It would be unfair to say that it's a rare breed. If anything we have more of that crazy bunch now than ever before. I see youngsters today trying to find a direction and once they feel strongly about a certain cause, they become motivated, full of energy. I recall tragic incidents like the earthquake that hit Pakistan in 2005 and my heart fills with sorrow and grief, but then I remember how those who were unaffected united to help their brothers and sisters, regardless of class, caste or age.
I remember the floods that strike the rural areas year after year and I feel helpless for those who lose their lives, their families, their homes and their livelihoods. And then I remember the nation united again, perhaps not with the same vigour as before, but still together nevertheless. I still see many who are putting in time, energy and effort and working as individuals and also as organizations for flood affected victims.
It gives me hope! It gives me the desire to stride in the right direction! 
Coming back to what is there to see in Karachi, as is the common question posed to me often by those around me; well, there is just one answer to that - plenty! And that does not include the beach. Of course the beach is one of the first places that comes to our mind when we think of sites to see in Karachi. But there is so much more. 
Reimagining Karachi does not just intend to enable people to admire the architectural heritage; it intends to make them see first. Admiration comes after that and then the realization follows. We have beauty scattered all around us, what we call the finer things. There is art, architecture, culture, diversity, and it's for everyone. There have been several noticeable changes in the past decade. A trend of utilizing vast areas of dead space as parks and green patches is a welcome change from the drab look that we remember. Several malls have emerged providing the Karachiites loads of shopping opportunities and a place to 'hang out'. But if we are adventurous enough and curious to explore the city, there are so many beautiful, hidden gems that we overlook or are not aware of. Let's explore one place at a time. See these places through Reimagining Karachi's eyes, be part of our journey and you will discover a whole new side to Karachi.

Frere Hall
One of the most beautiful piece of architectural heritage in Karachi is Frere Hall. Not only is it an important landmark but also serves as a lovely recreation spot. Built in Venetian Gothic style, Frere Hall is surrounded by lush green gardens, which were renamed as Jinnah Gardens or Bagh-e-Jinnah after the partition. It was built in honour of Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere. The most interesting thing that sets Bagh-e-Jinnah apart from the rest of the parks around the city is the fact that the grounds as well as the majestic Frere Hall building are visible from outside. The beauty is not hidden behind walls or thick fences which allows passersby to enjoy the view. 
Once inside, one is greeted by a plaque with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, created by Sadequain, on the left side of the lovely wooden staircase. Upstairs, a wondrous sight awaits! Sadequain's last piece of work, the amazing mural Arz-o-Samawat (earth and the heavens) adorns the ceiling upstairs. Painted on dozens of panels that are put together, it is a masterpiece dedicated to the city of Karachi and its people by Sadequain. On one of our visits, while we were being shown around by the Additional District Officer Culture, to assess damage, we observed a number of those panels detached. Rainwater has cause seepage which in turn shows increasing signs of damage to the hardboard on which the mural has been painted. The once bright colours are gradually fading and if serious measures are not taken to control the seepage, the mural will start falling apart. 
The space itself is now being used as an art gallery. 
Restoration work on Frere Hall has been carried out a number of times. However, it is lack of regular maintenance that is one of the causes for the damage. Frere Hall stayed closed for public for nearly a decade after the bombing on the US Consulate which was right across the road. After  the Consulate's relocation, Frere Hall was once again opened to public in 2011. 
If we can muster enough courage to step out of the airconditioned malls and introduce our children to art, architecture and heritage, Frere Hall is the first spot to end up at. From the spacious grounds to the fountain, from the lovely arches to the marvellous mural, it is truly a feast for the eyes.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Reimagining Karachi Goes Junkin'

Yesterday might have been one of the hottest days of the month but it was still not enough to keep some over ambitious ones indoors. So Reimagining Karachi set out for Jet Lines when the sun was at its peak. When we said Reimagining Karachi is a promise, it wasn't merely a claim. It is the promise of a better, more habitable, rejuvenated city, yet one must not overlook the baby steps or the stepping stones as a dear friend calls them. Exploration of the city, sharing trips and experiences and creating awareness are all part of it. Reimagining Karachi is also about experiencing, enjoying and sharing the simple joys that the city offers. And we believe that it is important to enable everyone to revert to supposedly ordinary things extraordinaire.
So off I went junkin'. Now it might be because of a certain project for which we are hunting for recycled furniture that I was so excited about my finds, or it could be because of a personal motto "Recycle, Reuse, Reduce" which has now turned into "Recycle, Reuse, Reimagine", thanks to a dear friend and colleague Talha.
My first stop was Punjab Chowrangi which has now become a hub of vintage furniture, and what treasures one finds there. Old mirror frames propped casually on the floor, lovely jharokas, pure Burma Teak wood consoles, beautifully carved vanities, tiny peerhis (low stools to sit on or perch artifacts), the list is endless. My special interest was in a pair of woven high-backed low chairs with an ethnic tile embedded in the back. Unfortunately, since it was ogled for personal use, the meagre amount left in my purse was not enough to acquire the gorgeous set. Off to another shop or rather the workshop where all the restoring and refinishing of vintage pieces takes place. Of all the pieces that I could have gone for, the one piece I insisted on buying was not for sale and was being used to prop pieces to polish. The blunt 'ye baichnay kay liye nahi hai' was not enough to dampen my spirits. The stubborn streak that I have in me, I kept insisting for a price which ofcourse turned out to be very steep. I wrinkled up my nose at the price, pretended there was no love lost and turned away, secretly trying to push back the one tear that threatened to roll down at the thought of the loss of a Burma Teak table. A long stretch of more shops with haphazard displays of carved treasures provided another delightful hour. 
My next destination was Jet Lines area. Despite its notoriety, it has its own appeal. The entire roadside is laden with wooden goodies. The pavements are chock full of vintage furniture quite in need of restoration yet oozing old world charm. A low wooden bench caught my eye, its most interesting feature being chunky metal rings on the sides. For a mere 1500 rupees it was quite a steal. But the lifelong habit of not buying anything on impulse compelled me to go back home and rethink it. A coffee table, all rickety, seemed very interesting. A potential piece of furniture, perfect for the lounging area was a great bargain. With just the base, all it required was a wooden top which could be done in plywood to cut down cost. Well, at least the base was teak. A perfect sized table that could be used as a conference table was rejected because I realized after careful examination that it was chipwood. No wonder it was for 4000 rupees and with constant haggling could have been brought down to even less. But chipwood! Not even for such a bargain would I go for chipwood. You wouldn't want the chunky table crumbling to pieces within months. 
A few more shops across the road and I was done, the rays of the sun now becoming unbearable but the trip quite fruitful.
Junking is not very common among the privileged. It is however an interesting option which leads to recycling wooden furniture. Not only is it beneficial environmentally but also shows a different side of Karachi. Jet Lines, Liaquat Market, Qayoomabad Main Market, Aram Bagh, Punjab Chowrangi and some parts of Nursery Market are just a few of the many one can explore. The intention might not be to buy vintage furniture but it sure encourages us to venture into discovering parts of the city we are not familiar with. 
I consider Karachi the land of wonders. People from rural areas come to earn a living, local tourists are attracted to the beach, it has the hustle and bustle that is common of a commercial hub, skyscrapers, malls, diverse ethnicities, tastebuds enticing cuisines, all contribute to its character. And that is not all, it also has quaint old neighbourhoods that one fails to notice in the fast-paced life that one leads today. Reimagining Karachi focuses on architectural heritage but at the same time has taken up the responsibility of taking everyone on a journey of exploration and discovery, re-introducing the flavour of Karachi. More on junking later!

The Burma Teak table that was not for sale

Many hidden treasures can be found in this disarray

The rickety table that I will restore to its former glory. Will post the pictures of the restored soon

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

A Brush with History

Stone facades crying out loud, 
Hidden tales laced with tears,
Muffled echoes tug at my heart,
Grief prevails, the city fears.

A battle between hope and loss,

What if we break the ties?
Would we hold onto our past?
Or shall parts of us just drift by?

I hear the city. I hear the melancholic song it sings. I hear echoes of the past and I hear the silent cries begging compassion. I hear it and I want others to hear it too. The city that once boasted of beautiful architecture, is now saddened by negligence and oblivion. 
It is true that most of our architectural heritage is from the colonial times which some may argue was not exactly the era one would want to remember. A reminder of the invasion and takeover, most of these buildings represent the Venetian, Italianate, Gothic or Gothic Revival style of architecture. Very little of Islamic architectural features are present in what we call our heritage. But it is still part of our city, part of us. Many monuments that were built during the British Raj were removed; for instance, Queen Victoria's statue in front of Frere Hall. But we must understand that anything beautiful, with a certain character, that was part of our history, must be saved and restored. 
Many smaller clusters in the old neighbourhoods are suffocating with the emergence of modern architecture that has appeared with no regard for the historic fabric of these quarters or the scale that must be kept in mind while building anything new in these areas.
I urge my fellow Karachiites to look around them and see the stone assets that the city is dotted with. They are still attractive, and they are ours. The first step would not be to just go ahead and try to save them. The first step would be to take time out to venture into the historic districts of the city and admire these beauties. Unless we feel a sense of belonging and responsibility towards our city, we will not be motivated to move forward with vigour and  determination. Please introduce the local architecture to your children and try to get acquainted with it yourself too. This is what is left of our past and breaking ties with our past weakens our present and leads to a hollow future that lacks identity and individuality. Feel for Karachi and work for it, together!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Bridge the Gap! Start from Burns Road!

Burns Road! The informal food street of Karachi! One that has the potential of turning into a more customer/pedestrian friendly, organized and attractive spot for people to come and enjoy the delicacies of the local cuisine, from all parts of town. Most of my friends from a certain part of town wrinkle up their noses at the mere mention of Burns Road. It is not because they think any less of the food there but more because of a mindset - the other side of the bridge. Often it is the haphazard layout of the food stalls and badly managed traffic that keeps them from going there. But my dear friends! You have absolutely no idea what you are missing! Karachi Haleem, an ultimate favourite has never disappointed me. The sectioned plate of garnish that is served with it adds to the flavour. Then the carefully individually packed shahi tukras! The rabri to appease my crazy sweet tooth, the fried fish fingers and the bun kababs, the best there are! To be blessed with such scrumptiousness and not avail it is being unfair to our own selves. The delectable flavours are not the only attractive feature of the place. Burns Road is nothing but colorful though smog-smeared clusters of commercial cum residential buildings. Many of them exude warmth, friendliness and a strange appeal to the passersby. The secret of enjoying this is to stop for a moment and listen to their unsung songs of desolation. They are trying to reach out to us in hope of being saved. They are urging us to listen to what secrets they hold. They are hoping to entice us with aromas and flavours. They are hanging on to a tiny shred of hope that we can see through the stone facades and unite to retain their character. 
As for the excuse that it's noisy and congested and just so full of smoke, I must draw attention to the fact that all parts of Karachi cannot be the same. That is the beauty of it. The plethora of sounds and colours, the interesting wares, the different styles of architecture in individual buildings as well as smaller tightly packed clusters, all add to the character of this city. The haphazardness is the beauty of this place. I for one do not want to be living in a place that has identical apartment buildings lying parallel to each other with no old world charm, no history. A lot can be done to improve the general condition of Karachi; traffic, cleanliness as the prior issues to be dealt with and conservation and restoration after that. We just need to get together, understand our responsibility as a citizen and work for the betterment and improvement of this city. After all, aren't we the same people who abide by the traffic rules and do not throw trash on the roadside when we visit other countries? We do it out of fear of being fined, why can't we do it out of love for our hometown and a general civic sense? 
Dig deep in your hearts and you will discover great love for the city you call home.

The intricate architectural details add to the charm 

Such charming clusters should be preserved and looked after

The interesting grillework on each of the balconies is different from the usual that we see 


The tall Corinthian columns give a distinctive character to an otherwise unkempt structure

I can well imagine what a beautiful balcony this must be once! Can you?

Diagonally opposite NED City Campus, this is a semi gutted building with a unique dome that makes it stands apart from the rest of the buildings on the road

Echoes of the past

The Ruins that should have been preserved a long time back

Not many know what delicious Gulab Jamuns Bhasani is known for, with khoya on top