My Home Town
Historians, in the absence of facts, construct a mythical history based on speculation and imagination. The history of a city is determined by documentary evidence. Analysis and examination of documents help historians draw a comprehensive picture of a city’s past. A city becomes historical only when it contributes to politics, literature, economics, and culture and creates its own soul, which distinguishes it from others. It also assumes significance because of its geographical and strategic location.
Throughout the history cities became prominent either because of their political and commercial importance or their cultural and social contribution to society. Cities that emained capitals of an empire or served as administrative centres assumed authoritative and hierarchical character in their development. On the other hand, cities that were centres of trade and commerce developed a homogeneous culture without much political domination and supervision. Residential areas of the cities in the subcontinent were divided on the basis of ethnicity, religion, caste, and linguistic affiliations.
There were separate places of worship and centres for social gatherings to keep their religious and ethnic identities, but once they came out from their residential space to the public space such as arkets, gardens, playgrounds, working places, and government offices, they came into contact with one another. Interaction, meeting, exchange of ideas in public space created a sense of belonging to a city, which united and combined its inhabitants’ interests. That gave people a sense of belonging and thus, they defended their city with a zeal and faced crises and vicissitude of politics with patience.
In such a milieu, a city created its traditions, customs, rituals, and festivals, which culminated in the creation of its unique character. Karachi is not an ancient city. And so it has no historical monuments – other than nsignificant fishing town that was developed as a port in 1729 by BhoJomal, a Hindu merchant. The city passed through three historical stages. In the early period it remained part of Balochistan and Sindh; in the second stage it was occupied by the British in 1839; and finally in 1947 it became the first capital ofa newly independent Pakistan.
In all these stages, the city assumed different and distinct characters. In the first, it remained an insignificant port. During the colonial period it became one of the cleanest cities and developed a culture of tolerance, humanism, and enlightenment. After partition, its entire landscape changed. New immigrants from India brought along with them a new culture. But later when the Pathans, Punjabis, and the Balochis arrived in search of Jobs and economic opportunities, the city became a mint-Pakistan. Bottom line. – treat the motorbike with a bit of respect, treat her like you’d treat a lady…
It works. RitzCracker sep 28 2003, 10:27 PM post Auqaab Group: VE Moderators posts: 5,652 joined: 21 -July 02 part-II The history of Karachi during all these stages on the one hand is fascinating, but on the other hand, very sad. I shall attempt to capture the spirit of the city and highlight its main features and characteristics. In 1839, T. G. Carless visited Karachi and submitted his observations to the Government that it was Just a small insignificant town. Due to a lack of sanitation, this small and insignificant town was also a very dirty town.
As there was no concept of town planning, the town grew haphazardly. Richard Burton who visited Karachi around 1844 leaves an interesting account of it: “Karachi town, when I first became acquainted with it, was much like the Alexandria ass of low hovels, mat and mud, and of tall mud houses with windowless mud walls, flat mud roofs, and many bad-girs or mud ventilators, surrounded by tumble platform of mud covered rock… “On approaching it, three organs were affected, far more powerfully, however, than pleasantly, viz. , the Ear, the Nose, and the Eye.
The former was struck by tomtoming and squeaking of native music; by roaring,bawling, criard voices of the people; by barking and braying of stranger-hating curs, and by screams of hungry gulls fighting over scraps of tainted fish. The drainage, if you could so call it, was managed by vaporation – everyone threw before his dwelling what was not wanted inside, while dogs, kites, and crows were the only scavengers; and this odour of carrion was varied, as we approached the bazaars, by a close, faint, dead smell of drugs and spices, such as might be supposed to proceed from newly made ‘Osiris'”.
After the conquest of Sindh (1843), in 1847 Karachi became part of the Bombay Presidency. The British administration gave particular attention to its development and gradually transformed it from an unknown and sleepy town to a prominent city of the subcontinent. It became a modern and well-planned city. By the time the British conquered Sindh, they had already experienced town planning. In the 19th century Europe, as a result of industrialization and commercial activities, the bourgeoisie developed their city, taking care to provide more space for public utilities and entertainment.
That is why, besides administrative buildings such as courts, post-offices, railway stations, town halls, government offices, there were gardens, theatres, galleries, museums, elegant shopping arcades, clubs and cafes, to provide space to citizens to enjoy and relax. For public utilities there were hospitals, educational institutions, libraries, banks, workhouses for the poor and churches. There were wide roads, avenues, and thoroughfares that facilitated transport. A system of sanitation and disposal of waste kept the city clean. A municipality took the administration under a mayor to hold order.
Another important feature of the new city structure was its secular character. In the mediaeval cities of Europe, the cathedral used to be in the centre of the city. In the new structure commercial buildings became the centre symbolizing secularism over religion. Based on this experience, the British developed Kolkata, Varanasi and Mumbai. They applied this experience in the development of Karachi as a modern port city too. After the conquest, the pattern of Karachi’s population had also changed. Once it developed as a port city it attracted business communities from all over India, who came in search of new opportunities to make more money.
So arrived the Memons, the Bohras, the Kacchis, the Pars’s, the KhoJas, the Marwaris, Malabar’s, and the Goans along with a few Europeans and Jews. Their arrival made the city multi- thnic, multicultural, and multi-religious. culturally and socially, which resulted in a politically homogenized urban culture based on secularism and tolerance. The city became unique offering its own kind of charm. sep 28 2003, 10:28 PM part-Ill The Parsi community played an active role in Karachi’s development especially during the period of Jamshid NasarvanJi Mehta who served as president of the municipality from 1921 to 1933.
The period saw improved sanitation, a regulated supply of water, repaired roads, new gardens, housing schemes, etc. The city, as a result, received a facelift. It became a model of cleanliness. The types of buildings that were built in the modern city showed their commercial, educational, administrative, and recreational values. Commercial interests kept religious and ethnic differences in the background. Trading communities, after earning wealth, instead of hoarding and spending it on their personal comfort and luxury, donated considerable portions to welfare projects. An example of this was the Parsi community.
It earned great respect in society by its philanthropic contributions. Social work brought wealthy people in contact with the unfortunate. The theosophical movement led by Anne Besent also influenced some of the leading fgures of the city. Not only human beings but animals too were cared There were societies for animal protection whose office holders were honorary magistrates. It became their duty to keep an eye on the cart and carriage drivers so reprimanded. There were hospitals for old and sick animals. There were also a number of troughs, which the Parsis had built in memory of their ancestors, where cold water for animals was available.
The Hindus too maintained gaoshalas (cow shelters) for old animals. All this was part of colonial Karachi. After 1947, as the capital of a new country, Karachi emerged as a new city. New immigrants from all parts of India named their new settlements and residential areas after their ancestral cities and provinces. To name a few, Karachi still has Bihar Colony, Banglore Town, Rajputana Colony, Ajmer Nagri, Aligarh Colony. etc. Similarly, one can see the names of shops as Delhi Hotel, Ambala Sweetmeat, Pilibhit Oil Company, Jaipur Hair Cutting Salon, Agra Shoe Shop, etc. Names of roads were also decolonized.
Victoria Road became Abdullah Haroon Road, Napier Road Mir Karam Ali Talpur Road, Nathal Bhai Patel Road Nawab Ismail Khan Road, Lawrence Road Nishtar Road, Elphinston Street Zaibunisa Street, Motilal Nehru Road Jigar Muradabadi Road, Cannaught Road Chaudhary Rahmat Ali Road and so Surprisingly, individuals who were honoured this way did not contribute to the development of Karachi. Most were politicians and not social workers. It was an indication that, in the new setup, politics was more important than social work. It also showed that there was no place for the British or Hindus in the emerging scheme of things.
Most statues of the colonial period that graced the city disappeared from the scene. The new immigrants brought strong religious and political prejudices. They adopted the country as their new homeland on the basis of religio-nationalist ideology. Most were either government servants or people in search of new economic opportunities or those who were forced to migrate because of communal riots. Arriving in large swarms, they pushed the old inhabitants of the city into the background. sep 28 2003, 10:29 PM part-IV A strong bureaucracy curtailed the power of the municipality. The commissioner of Karachi ruled like an uncrowned king.
Evacuee property was allotted indiscreetly. It changed the whole landscape of the city. Educated and wealthy Hindus left for India. The Parsis relegated their prominent position and retired. The followers of other faiths such as the Sikhs and the Jews disappeared. Karachi was given a new look. Mosques were built throughout the city that asserted the domination of religion over all other aspects of society. Karachi no longer remained a multicultural or multi-religious city. Religious tolerance was taken over by religious fanaticism. Humanism was replaced by rigidity. With the increase in population, the old infrastructure collapsed.
However, the MohaJirs or the new immigrants planted a new culture in the city. Urdu became the main language. The tradition of mushaira was revived and popularized in the new cultural milieu. Religious festivals such as Muharram processions and Milad-un-Nabi (PBUH) began to be celebrated with religious fervour. Urdu magazines, newspapers and books started publishing. Some of the great literary fgures such as Josh Malihabadi, Niaz Fatehpuri, Shahid Ahmad Dehlavi and others rejuvenated literary activities. As there were no restrictions, Indian visitors, popular poets and religious scholars visited regularly.
These contacts kept a cultural link with India. Ayub Khan, for political reasons, shifted the capital from Karachi to Islamabad. The shifting purged Karachi of the bureaucracy and presence of the ruling class. It now assumed a new identity, which became its commercial and industrial transformation. The process of industrialization started Just after Partition. Setting up of new compelled people from the North-West Frontier Province and Punjab to come to Karachi. The arrival of newcomers slowly changed the population pattern of the city. There emerged new settlements of Pathans and Punjabis.
The Pathans came along ith their tribal values and Jirga system and Punjabis with their aggressiveness and enterprise. The MohaJirs resented this intrusion. They felt threatened and resisted identifying with any ethnic group. In 1970, when One Unit was abolished and Karachi became the capital of Sindh, it brought Sindhi administration and politicians to Karachi. So far the Sindhi population of the city was in the background and not in a position to assert its existence. This unnerved the MohaJir community which had for so long enjoyed a socio-economic and cultural monopoly in the city.
These feelings, among other factors, ultimately aused the emergence of the MohaJir Qaumi Movement. Moreover, the political development of Pakistan greatly affected the city. The Karachi Corporation became a bureaucratic institution. It no longer remained an elective body, and even when it was, it failed to function to the benefit of the city. Besides, people from other provinces and a large number of Afghans, Bengalis, Burmese, and Iranians arrived in the ? s to settle here illegally. As most of them were unskilled workers and had rural backgrounds, their attitude and behaviour was no match to the culture of the middle-class MohaJirs.
The result was ethnic clashes. The culture of ‘mint-India’, which was so enthusiastically planted and nurtured was swept away by the new waves of immigration and with the emergence of a ‘mint-Pakistan’ In spite of all these changes Karachi is identified as a MohaJir city. The rural Sindh by and large has a hostile attitude towards the city as it is seen to have divided the province culturally and ethnically. The communities belonging to other provinces have their own social links with their ancestral home towns and villages. The MohaJirs, after delinking themselves from India, are locked in the city without any hinterland support.
Their separate identity is not recognized officially. As a result Karachi has suffered. There is little sense of belonging to the city. Unplanned new high-rise buildings and plazas have disfigured the city-scape. Old buildings and monuments are in a state of dilapidation. There is no interest in preserving these, as all newcomers disown the city’s past. Karachi, the tragedy is that the city’s past haunts only a few people who have lived in this city of peace, prosperity and homogenized culture from before Partition. But the majority of people here today live without any memories of the past.