THEY say appearances are deceptive. According to a philosophical theory, the face neither reflects character nor soul, nor the self—it is only the serial number of a specimen. This can be true of many things, including buildings. There are some buildings constructed in colonial times in Karachi that belie their age and come across older than they actually are. Some look otherwise.
Usually what happens is that history lovers do not pay due attention to buildings that look clean and shiny and therefore give off a contemporary vibe, because an overwhelming number of old and historical structures that exist in Karachi comprises shabbily maintained, fractured and semi-demolished pieces. This implies, if you chance upon a neat, relatively well-kept building you will not generally think it is nearly, or more than, one hundred years old. Wrong. There are such works of architecture in the Regal Chowk area of the dty which, despite the horrible traffic flow and deafening commercial hubbub, have weathered many a storm. On the other hand, there are works of fine, fine stonemason-ry that have put years on themselves for no fault of theirs.
Here is the deal: you just have to reach Regal Chowk. If you take a picture of Karachi from a high altitude it is likely that you find the chowk right in the heart of the old city zone. It is centrally located and a majority of public transport buses take diis route to come from, or return to, extreme ends of the city (from Sohrab Goth to Merewether Tower or vice versa). If you are coming from Bumes Road turn left from Regal Chowk to hit M.A. Jinnah Road (formerly Bunder Road). The small strip that links Frere and Bunder roads from this end is called Preedy Road; yes, named after Colonel Preedy. Stop where a Parsi compound is and look in the opposite direction. Two pre-inde-pendence buildings will ingratiatingly smile at you.
Meet Yar Mohammad building. Today it is known by the name of its current owner. This is what a young, gregarious salesman at an optical store will tell you. “This building was constructed before Pakistan came into being. It was owned by an affluent gentleman who used to sell butter. Remember those butter packs with a picture of a camel on them? I’m referring to that.” Well, you cannot tell if that’s right.
A cursory glance at the structure will suggest that its upkeep has been an issue. It is not in desirable shape. The heavy signage on the fagade has concealed some of its beauty but die balconies and the staircases (the latter will remind you of a 1950s Bollywood film) are quite interesting to look at.
The right side of the building, partitioned by a modem, glass-covered reconstruction, is comparatively well-main-tained. The stone used in its making is not visible from the facade. There’s lots that catches the eye on the front portion in terms of architectural characteristics, which, in a manner of speaking, makes you forget about the stone. And this is where you have to get rid of aesthetic lethargy and move into the street from where you can view its rear portion. Bingo! It will not only enable you to see the lovely stonework which is the main component of its construction but also the woodwork which covers the open spaces at the back.
As if it is not enough, and much to the delight of this writer, apparently the name of the building has not been changed either. You can read Preedy House written in bold fonts on top of one of an entrance (unless Preedy was also the name of someone succeeding Colonel Preedy). Let’s stick with this name, Preedy House, for it has a pre-partition ring to it. By the way, before it a large structure West View, probably of the same age, is in much better condition.
Behind Preedy House is a ‘guarded’ compound, so let’s not discuss that. The reason for mentioning the compound is that opposite it is a nicely built structure called Lambat House built in 1954. In spite of being a ‘50s piece, the building at first glance seems to have very classic feel to it. Kudos to those who live here because tiiey have kept it nice and tidy!
Architect Noman Ahmed says: “This area was developed in the 1920s. It was basically a residential area and the idea for having shops on the ground storey had begun to evolve. After partition retail activity took root. Since these are late colonial buildings, they have rectilinear features and the most interesting aspect about them is the grilles on the balconies which had early 20th century motifs. The openings were rectangular. If you have found them well maintained, it is probably because their occupants are aware of their importance.”
Frank Owen Gehry is arguably die most influential architect of the latter half of the 20th century (and the first decade of the 21st century). He believes, “Architecture should speak of its time and place but yearn for timelessness.” Looking at the above-mentioned buildings it is hard to disagree with him.