WHEN it comes to heritage preservations, every society has its fair share of the naysayer. They argue that while you can learn from the past, a constant state of nostalgia can prove harmful for the cultural growth of society.
It may or may not be agreeable. What needs to be understood is that apart from countess beneficial factors the one positive thing that the act of preserving heritage does is that by revisiting our intangible past we get a sense of the ‘atmosphere’ or ‘ambience’ that can help society progress both vertically and horizontally without any pollutants. For example, if we try and review intangible past and learn lessons from it then the hastiness that has caused many a horrendous problem to emerge in Pakistan in recent times, especially in Karachi, can give way to a calmer approach to life.
Let’s elucidate this point. Who can debate that M.A. Jinn ah Road (formerly Bunder Road) is an extremely busy thoroughfare?
From early morning to at least a couple of hours to midnight it creates a deafening buzz and does not make life easy for commuters, shoppers, office-goers and vendors. The word ‘calmness’ cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be associated with it. But wouldn’t it sound crazy if someone said that only by entering an old colonial building one block away from the Radio Pakistan offices you can experience that sense of calm? It would. What’s the harm in trying that out?
The building of Radio Pakistan Karachi in itself is a worthwhile work of construction and has already been discussed in these pages. Move forward and leave one street which turns left to embrace Urdu Bazaar. Step ahead and keep looking left. The entire zone is packed with beautiful, well-embellished, poorly maintained buildings constructed before partition of the subcontinent. If it’s daytime, the incessant assorted noises can be utterly distracting. This is where you have to be very careful because the building on whose ground floor a bank has now set up its business must not be missed. Why? There is likelihood that you will overlook it because its mid-section is marked by contemporary glasswork. The reality is: it is an old work of art.
The structure is called Thakurdas Building. Or so it says on one of the boards. The shops skirting its ground storey form a misleading picture. Get close to it and you will discover a staircase. Climb up and you will feel different. Or enter a shop in the corner and the whole ‘feel’ of M. A. Jinnah Road will change. The world inside is quite different from what you
experience from the outside. It is the sense of quietude that you get once inside the building which does the trick.
If you are through with that, then the exterior will too begin to look different. The decorative elements of the building are elaborate. Dismayingly, so much dirt has accumulated on the facade that it has literally blackened it. For some reason, certain portions of the structure are pink. Could it be that the pink Jodhpur stone was used in its making? Who knows!
It is not clear whether the entire stretch of the building is the same or some of it is known by other name. Shopkeepers say that the part of the structure till the next street (which is Urdu Bazaar) is called Rehmat Building. Now the front portion of the structure also has Zafar Mansion written on it. Shopkeepers insist it has always been Rehmat Building.
The corner of Rehmat Building has a store whose signboard says Urdu Academy 1947. The salesman will gladly inform you that there was a time the store sold all kinds of books but nowadays it’s just the prescribed Sindh Textbook stuff that they selL The shop has a vintage look to it and by just being there you can come in contact with the past.
The structure opposite Rehmat Building is called Malkani Building. Architecturally it is older than Rehmat Building but better maintained. It has Italianate windows and the stone used in it is different as well. The oldie on the whole looks quite a sight. To boot, it is not in as bad a shape as some other structures on this street.
Architect Noman Ahmed says, “It is difficult to persuade commercial enterprises such as banks to review their plan for die structures which are not notified as heritage buildings. But for those which are notified heritage buildings such companies (should) present their plans to the heritage advisory committee for aesthetic review. It has not happened on a large scale so far, though.”
A man, who seems to be mentally challenged right outside the Radio Pakistan office is staring at
a dog. They look into each other’s eyes for some fleeting moments; then the man turns his face towards Thakurdas Building. His clothes are tattered and he looks like something that the cat dragged in. He walks up a bit and stands in front of the old building. He stares at it as if trying to remember where he had seen it before. He does that for many a minute until a private guard comes and pushes him away.