IT is difficult to ascertain which Mr Marriott this road was named after. There were at least a couple of British army officers in the first half of the 19th century with the same surname: Charles Marriott and William Marriott, for example. Also, there was a doctor who many affectionately referred to as Dr Marriott. However, nothing can be said with certitude as to which one of them this extraordinarily busy nook of Karachi was dedicated. Architects aren?t sure. Historians can?t pinpoint. Those who live in the neighbourhood aren?t interested. Rest assured: once you?re here, you will not care what this place is called, because it?s nothing less than a labyrinth, and not the kind in which David Bowie stars.
Marriott Road, some claim, is Karachi?s biggest wholesale mar ket. You don?t have to dispute it. The moment you step into it either from a lane before a known Bunder Road landmark, Lakshmi Building, or from any other side, you?ll be met with a sea of donkeycarts, pushcarts, trolleys and pedestrians whose only aim in life, it seems, is to find their way forward. Chemists and druggists will look at you as their potential customer. They don?t invite you to visit their shops, and let you pass by peacefully if you?re not intrigued by what they?re selling. On the contrary, those with dried fruit and spices will scream at the top of their voice to lure you into tasting their products. Pay no heed to them. Look at the brighter, nay majestic, side. Marriott Road has more than a dozen absolutely gorgeous buildings whose charm, despite time?s vagaries and people?s brash acts of inconsiderateness, is very much intact.
First up, go back to where once the Khori Garden market was famous as hell because there?s a residential-cum-commercial structure at this spot where you?ll find the profile of a woman?s face, definitely a queen (perhaps Victoria), carved on the metal grille of its balconies. It?s a rare sight. The structure is called Azimuddin Mansion, which can?t be the name given to it when it was first erected. The lane that turns immediately left from this point brings into view some strange pictures. On one of its sides are small shops; in the middle there are carts on which old magazines, perfumes and stationery etc are placed; and on the other side there are buildings, old and contemporary, together called Yousuf Market. Two bottles of hair gel, which a salesman claims are Sri Lankan-made, can be bought for Rs50. Three perfumes for Rs100. Back-numbers of Pakeezah and Dosheezah digests appear to be hotter items than Bollywood and Hollywood magazines. Nothing is as eerily noteworthy as the emptiness that exists between a relatively new piece of construction and an old building, Mallji Trust, in Yousuf Market. There?s a yawning gap, almost a schism, between the two because of a demolished structure. The front of the empty space is covered with a small wall of bricks. It is symbolic of the current state of our collective memory.
To the left of this setting are a series of marvellous buildings.The entire Marriott Road is strung together with breathtaking works of stonemasonry of different styles and sizes. Only if the crowdedness and the everyday frenetic activity can be reduced to a controllable proportion, this place may very well turn out to be one of Karachi?s exceedingly attractive historic spectacles. Not many realise the beauty and grandeur of these structures. There?s Mazhar Chamber, Nadeem Chamber, Saleem Paracha Building, Niazi Mansion and Marvi Building (a little towards Bunder Road) and others, all of whom are fantastic examples of stonemasons? genius. Though it is important to know their maiden names, what?s more important is to cherish them as our architectural treasure and heritage.
Coming back to the Englishman this piece began with. Almost all the architects who have worked on restoring old Karachi buildings and monuments or feel strongly about their restoration are not certain who Mr Marriott was. Arif Hasan says: ?There was a time when I had collected information on the different persons after whom Karachi?s roads are named. I don?t know which Marriott this road refers to.? ?The buildings in this zone on the whole are made in European style and most of them are Renaissance and Gothic revival structures. Local elements, particularly Rajhasthani, have also been used in their detailing. This can be noticed in balustrades, cor nices and railings. The reason for this is that the masons who worked on them were from Rajhasthan.? There?s mud on Marriott Road. You have to squelch your way through it. Marriott Road may have been clean as a whistle in its early days, but today cleanliness is not one of its attributes. Dirt and squalor only cause pollution, which is not good for the gems made of stone that are in abundance in this area.