DID you know that there?s a Kamla Nehru Road in Karachi? Who?s Kamla Nehru? Well, the wife of Jawaharal Nehru and mother of Indira Gandhi, both former prime ministers of India.
If you?ve been to the Quaid-i-Azam?s mausoleum, on its right where the famous Guru Mandir bus stop is situated, there?s this old housing scheme that veteran Karachiites know as Cosmopolitan Society. It?s a remarkably quaint sight. The mad rush that you witness on M A Jinnah Road doesn?t seem to have any effect on it. The society has gallis (lanes) named after known subcontinent figures. Kamla Nehru Road is galli No 1.
If it hasn?t surprised you enough, consider this: galli No 3 is named after Sarojni Naidu (though spelt Naido, which is wrong). The same Sarojni Naidu who was a renowned pre-partition freedom fighter and the first woman president of the Indian National Congress, not to mention a couple of other firsts attached to her name that should be kept for a later article.
And if that too hasn?t amazed you, two lanes ahead, galli No 5 is dedicated to Annie Besant. Who is she? She was a women?s rights activist and a backer of India?s sovereignty. She died in 1933 in India at the age of 85.
Kamla Nehru passed away in 1937 and Sarojni Naidu in 1949. It is heart-warming that there still exist in Karachi roads named after some eminent women who had a major socio-political role to play in pre-independence India, even if that role didn?t pertain to the Pakistan movement. It is something that you usually don?t expect of contemporary Pakistan where names of cities and neighbourhoods are changed to give them the so-called indigenous touch.
Cosmopolitan Society doesn?t have many stonemade houses. Most have been replaced by modern-looking palatial abodes. There are very few old pieces that have withstood the test of time. TV artiste, the late Latif Kapadia?s house is one such residence which is in the lane that is named after Kamla Nehru.
It is a gorgeous piece of construction, whose fa?ade and some portions of the exterior need a facelift. If you climb up and step into one of the rooms, you?ll feel as if you?re watching, or are part of, a movie made in the ?50s. The tiled floors, the teakwood doors, the high ceiling ? all are worth viewing over and over again. The house is like a precious stone (that seems to have gathered dust, but no worries). It may give you an idea about the time when the society was strewn with such houses.
Latif Kapadia?s son Ahmed Kapadia has fond memories of the place. He says, ?It used to be one of the posh localities in Karachi. Its ambience was terrific. The best thing was you knew everybody in the neighbourhood. As far as the architecture of the residence is concerned, when people from outside used to come to our house they?d tell us, ?what a place you?re living in? we?d realise its importance. Also, when we needed to drill some nails into its walls, it?d be a difficult job because of the sturdy stone used in its construction.?If you keep walking straight opposite the Quaid?s mausoleum, almost at the end of the road a few yards from Annie Besant Road is an old structure that has clearly undergone some modifications. It?s Cosmopolitan Club; a plate on its wall suggests it was established in 1925 and the building was, perhaps, built a few years later.
Another historic building! Move back to Kamla Nehru Road and walk straight towards the other side where there?s a huge two-way road. (You are still in the Guru Mandir zone.) Across the street there?s a small park-like place canopied by giant trees. Behind the grassy patch is something that makes your eyes wide open. There?s a water trough which may have been made for animals to drink from. The facility was built in 1895 and an-all-but-faded commemorative plaque on it tells you that it was erected by Byramji Edulji in memory of his father.
It is saddening that the trough water is as dirty as a sewer and it appears not too many animals drink from it. There?s a huge garbage dump right in front of the trough, making the scene a rather ironic one. The stench is sickening. No wonder living beings would rather stay away from the trough, which in 2010, it seems, has a multipurpose use.
Architect Noman Ahmed says, ?It?s an abandoned water trough. In the early 20th century it was used rigorously to feed all the equestrian elements. At the time when horse carriages and different animal carts operated in the Guru Mandir area, the facility had great value. But gradually its utility minimised and today it stands neglected.? There?s a board placed under the commemorative plaque mentioned above according to which, ?bathing and washing of clothes strictly prohibited?. You wonder: what?s the warning about