This article was written by Peerzada Salman for daily Dawn Karachi
If you have weak navigation skills, make sure you?re with someone who has an elephant?s memory. Reason: once you enter a lane, you don?t know where it will end or what course it will take with the next turn. The market here is like a maze; it can?t be pigeonholed, ironically. The glitter of gold refracts off glass windows of the countless shops in Sarafa Bazaar, occasionally dazzling your eyes. Diamonds, necklaces, pendants? you name it. Only if the streets had been a tad wider, window shopping wouldn?t have been a bad idea.
It?s difficult to say from where the boundary of Mithadar begins. The precinct is bordered with Kharadar, Jodia Bazaar and Lyari Town across the road where the famous Kakri Ground is situated. Mithadar nonetheless has its charm, primarily because of many an old, decrepit building ? some in an awful state and a handful shabbily redone by local residents.
The Hindu Bahi Building is a beautiful piece. The thing about this stonework is that whoever resides in it doesn?t seem to have taken it for granted. It?s not in a well-preserved condition, but it?s not in a shape that will make you shake your head in despair either. The narrow Yousuf Street splits into several alleyways dotted with stores of all kinds. Though there are many colonial buildings in this area, the construction of residential apartments and commercial blocks has imparted a touch of commonplaceness to them.You have to literally concentrate to look for a work of stonemasonry. Rest assured there are several.
The neighbourhood? despite the clamour, despite the over-crowdedness, despite the traffic jams? has inexplicable magnetism. Once you start moving, you stay on the move, and willingly veer off the track you supposedly wished to stay on in the beginning of the journey. You stumble upon one interesting scene after another. For example, you can see a young boy placing his miscellaneous stuff on a pushcart (and sometimes on the pavement). A bald middle-aged man pulls up before him and starts haggling over a hairpiece. A wig for Rs100, not a bad deal at all! However, beware of the material it?s made of. You never know if it makes you more follicly challenged than you ever were.
It?s not just that, you can discover a lot in the course of your trip into Mithadar and the localities that run alongside it. There?s a semi-broken building next to the Edhi office a few yards from the Sarafa Bazaar. It has nothing to write home about. Except the tarnished plaque on one of its walls suggests the historical worth that no one appears to care about. It was presented in 1918 to the Punjabi Dhakhna community (never knew it existed) by Seths Devidas and Asoomal Rochiram in memory of their late brother Seth Thanwerdas Rochiram. You wonder, the building is all but non-existent, yet the plaque survives.
In its early days, Karachi had two fortification walls, Khara Darwaza (Brackish Gate) to its west and Mitha Darwaza (Sweet Gate) to its east. There was a time when the town was guarded by Talpur soldiers. Then in the first half of the 19th century, the British took firm control of it. The gates have gone, but the areas where they once stood are pretty much here with their names compressed into single words — Kharadar (instead of Khara Darwaza) and Mithadar. An oldie believes that Mithadar was named so because the land had drinkable (sweet) water underneath. Wherever you bored into the soil, water would gush out and it never tasted salty. It?s just one of the many stories that you hear about old Karachi and it?s difficult to gauge their veracity.
What can?t be disputed is you can find a chain of structures representing the days of yore in Mithadar like Jatin Building, Hindu Bahi Building and Ayesha Bai Manzil, and moving into Latif Zari Market the number increases with Fatima Manzil, Amna Manzil etc. And zigzagging through this vicinity will eventually lead you to Rampart Row. It?s a special place: smack in front of the Lorgate Mansion (a small stone building) is a small Hindu temple and across left to the mansion is a Sufi shrine. Communal harmony at its desirable best! Rampart Row is adorned with lovely works of stonemasonry such as Bastaki Manzil, Yousuf Manzil and Ramchand Rudmal Building (1911).
Architect Noman Ahmed says, ?The buildings in the areas that you?ve been to, that is, Rampart Row and the streets adjoining it, have mainly Sindhi-Hindu architecture having elaborate details, with prominent corners and elaborate columns. Most of them were built in the early 20th century. A few of them face a high degree threat. The structures that have withstood the vagaries of time, like the temple, are faced with the problem of surrounding commercialisation. The situation can be rectified if ownership details of these buildings could be worked out. Many blocks have fragmented ownership because those who live here either got the building by virtue of evacuee property or through inheritance. In order to conserve residential property inhabitants must be taken on board.
?Here I must mention the Kochinwala market on Lakshmidas Street. Constructed in 1914, it has great aesthetic merit. Its parapets and pediments are well defined. If you haven?t been there, you must go and have a look at it. It?s pretty well-kept, unlike Haridas Lalji building,? says Noman Ahmed.
After wandering around the streets for a considerable time, and despite not having enough money to buy the stuff that you like, you return to Sarafa Bazaar just to feel like Timon of Athens