SADDAR is like a classic work of art: the more you visit it, the more you discover new things about it. It?s a pageturner that you go through over and over again. If you?ve lived in Karachi even for a smallish period, you?d have at least once been to Empress Market. It?s a peach of a building. The area around Empress Market, all four sides, is not historic. It is history. Being there can give you an episodic sense of Karachi?s development (in the current situation Karachi?s devastation) with the arrival and departure of the British in the region.
While some streets leading to the market might take you back at least 150 years, Mir Karam Ali Talpur Road is different in the sense that the stone-made buildings (the remaining aged pieces that is) are not really from way back but depict the timeframe when the city had taken to urban lifestyle. Let?s say the period under discussion is from the early 20th century to the time when partition demarcated two different countries cut from one big chunk.
Mir Karam Ali Talpur Road is a world unto itself. Apart from the intriguing buildings, you can also come across (sometimes encounter) a Che Guevara look-alike. He will evade eye-contact and might turn out to be a beggar or someone who likes to dress up in a fancy way ? possibilities aplenty. This is one of the many charms of old Saddar. Not just works of construction but people too speak of a time zone that many modern-day Pakistanis are not familiar with.
If you?re coming from Empress Market and hitting Talpur Road, the first structure that grabs your attention (after Masjid-i-Qassaban) is Misquita Block (not sure if the spelling is correct). It?s a compound where to date many oldtimers reside.The building is not a classically built one, but speaks of the architectural attributes which were introduced in the former half of the 20th century. Members of the Christian community once lived in the neighbourhood; these days it?s an eclectic demographic distribution that has become the marked feature of the area.
Right behind Misquita Block, there?s Javeria Mansion, an oldie that has been coated with layers and layers of choona. The narrow lane where it stands is brimming with life ? a poultry farm, a general store, a variety of pushcarts, etc. Keep moving in that direction and you?ll end up facing another compound, which is perhaps older than the block already discussed. It?s called Baiji Wallah Building. You?ll find septuagenarians and octogenarians in small groups enjoying their cuppa or having a minor conference on the latest political goingson in the country. They?ll tell you the structure was constructed in 1936 or 1937 and look at you suspiciously for asking its age. Once assured you?re not someone who?s against the existence of outdated stuff, they?ll happily lead you to a gem that stands tall on Mir Karam Ali Talpur Road like a proud monarch unwilling to bow out and leave the land he ruled for long. It is Baweja Building built in 1938.
Baweja Building may look a bit de-coloured or not sporting the colour that it might have flaunted when it was first made. Signs of wear and tear too can be seen. Walls are chipped. Balconies have been mended. But by God the structure, despite being a simple one, is a sight to behold. A few blocks ahead is another good-looking piece, Lotia Building. It is in need of care more than Baweja Building, perhaps and appears to be small in size. It has a rear entrance as well which gives you the real idea about its size, making it a residential compound. Across the road and opposite Lotia Building, Gani Court is another decent example of the Saddar of yesteryear.
Now let?s complete the visit by moving some blocks forward from Lotia Building culminating in a beautiful work of stonemasonry, Barganza House. It?s an extraordinary building whose architectural and decorative detailing will take your breath away. It is nothing like the abovementioned structures yet forms a bond with them, a bond that makes all these beauties an inseparable part of Karachi?s glorious past.
Architect and conservationist Aneela Naeem says: ?This is the area where specifically the Goan Christian community used to reside. Some of them still live here. As far as I recall most buildings in the neighbourhood have Renaissance architectural attributes. Two structures, Barganza House and Sega Building, are pretty well kept and better preserved.The vertical treatment of Barganza House is quite striking because it breaks the horizontality of construction and imparts a vertical look to all three floors. In terms of treatment it has a little bit of detailing but Sega Buillding is a simplified version with semicircular arches and not many decorative elements involved. Gani Court is also an uncomplicated building. When we looked for it in our inventory we found that its original name was Anthony Villa.The general pattern of all the buildings on Talpur Road is that they are residential in character with shops on the ground floor.
?I remember a semi-demolished structure with a series of roundels on its ground floor and plain windows on the upper storey; can?t recall its name.? ?And yes, one last thing: nowadays you can?t visit Empress Market without leaving someone in your car to protect the vehicle,? says Ms Naeem.