IT’S a plush locality.There is a variety of pricey apartment buildings that seem to be built not way back in the past. They reek of contemporaneity. A smattering of luxurious bungalows also makes its presence felt.
An odd stone-made residence here and a few semi-demolished, ignored examples of stone masonry there vouch for the aged-ness of the neighborhood, somewhat unconvincingly. Despite all of this, if you are in the Clifton region heading towards Cantt Bridge, an extraordinarily peaceful and elegant site won’t make you walk past it. It’s a church gracefully standing in a compound. The grey and white on its exterior may not suggest that it’s a pre-partition building. In a manner of speaking, it is.
St Anthony’s Church, as almost all the churches in Karachi, is a good-looking work of architecture, with perhaps the only difference that it doesn’t appear to be an old one. Well, it is obvious that the structure was renovated to impart a present-day feel to it.The grotto on its right on whose top “I Am The Immaculate Conception” Said Mary is written in bold font is pleasing to the eye. The church itself is nicely maintained, with a high ceiling, beautiful altar and lovely triangular openings.
According to documents provided by a church official, in the former half of the 20th century the area where St Anthony’s Church is located was a part of St Patrick’s parish. Those who lived away from the Frere Hall zone found it difficult to reach St Patrick’s for mass. As a result, that part of St Patrick’s parish was separated and a new unit was erected. In 1937 a plot was obtained on McNeal Road and on February 13, 1937 a relic of St Anthony’s was brought in a procession to his sanctuary. The parish chapel was established between 1937 and 1947, and a few years later (1952) the church was constructed.
Architect Arif Hasan says: I’m aware that the building was restored and renovated a few decades ago, and it looks quite different to what it originally was. Concrete elements in the construction of the roof were always there, but the layers of plaster were a later occurrence. Architecturally, I think when I saw it last, its most prominent feature was the central tower.
Parish Priest of St Anthony’s Church Father Melito Dias is a remarkable man. In a couple of months he’ll turn 84. He speaks in a soft, measured tone with compassion for his fellow beings and a longing for the Karachi where he grew up. He says, “Five years ago, we made an extension to the church for more space. It was too small earlier.The seating capacity has now been increased a fair bit.” Father Melito loves to talk about the city he adores and all the beautiful things that were once associated with it.
In my younger days I used to move round in the streets on skates to buy stuff. I vividly remember there were a lot of open spaces in the city. One such big area was in front of Lucky Star; they used to call it the Goberi maidan (where they’d dry cow dung).
Primarily the neighborhood was occupied by British soldiers, but one thing is for certain: Karachi was a truly cosmopolitan city. In my school there were Jews, Parsis, Muslims, Hindus and even Sikhs, all in their distinct attires and you didn’t feel anything about it. I’ve grown up with all this diversity. When he speaks about Karachi Father Melito’s eyes moisten, though he tries to conceal it. “The difference between the older Karachi and what it has turned out to be today, I think is of security.You don’t feel safe; everybody’s insecure.” It is not known who designed St Anthony’s Church when it was first thought of in the 1930s. Father Melito has an idea. There was this Dutch Brother, his name was Hillary. He architect-ed many churches and I think this was his design.
He’s also responsible for the church that’s in St Joseph’s Girls College. If the architecture of a holy place is worthwhile it helps devotion. Father Melito then reverts to the old days. “When World War II was on its last legs I went to a seminary in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). I started the journey from Karachi to Ahmedabad to Bombay to Madras and from the South I crossed over to Ceylon by a ferry.
When I was returning partition had taken place and I was asked about my passport, which I didn’t have on me. It was strange. I was a very good hockey player and had once been selected for Sindh (in 1946). Later on I got selected for the Balochistan team as well.” In life’s great play there’s no unity of time. Time flies at the speed of light. You can’t help it. Nostalgia for a rosy tangible past and longing for a secure future is a natural phenomenon. However, what father Melito is referring to is tangible. Karachi was a place worth living in. It still is. Or can be. Not sure.