This article was published in the daily Dawn Karachi. Written by By Peerzada Salman. The writer has tried to give an overview of present situation of the once beautiful buildings of the Lawrence road Karachi. A lot has changed in this area. Many names have been changed and many beautiful buildings have disappeared, what remains also worth seeing.
THE area is an indescribable mishmash of contemporary and historical spaces. The most prominent among them is a zoological garden. Another worth mentioning site is the residential compounds for federal government workers. They paint a picture which is pretty different from the rest of Karachi?s pre-partition architectural vestiges. It is when you try and find a series of buildings that can hold your attention and make you appreciate stonemasons? craft and art that you have to work (read: walk) hard.
It is not exactly the case of looking for a needle in a haystack; still, the mushrooming of concrete mini-giants has either dwarfed or made less visible the stonemade buildings that to date stand on their old, wobbly legs. Come to Nishtar Road (formerly Lawrence Road) and begin your journey from the two-way thoroughfare towards the Saddar region. Keep your eyes open and ears shut, for a lot transpires in this zone on a regular basis which can cause distraction.
If you hit Lawrence Road where Gandhi Garden, now the Zoological Gardens, is located and turn left, you can?t miss a big building that doesn?t belong to the 21st century. It?s a nice-looking edifice with Spartan characteristics. A few yards ahead on your left you?ll see an arched entrance typical of colonial times. Again, it?s a pretty sizable, aged structure. Beware, according to the board on the entrance gate it is Wireless Police Building. An officer says the facility has existed since British rule.
Now comes the interesting part. Across the road another work of stonemasonry, which is now called Meherabad Building, presents a peculiar scene. On its ground floor there are shops that deal in ceramic material, particularly red bricks. The bricks placed in front of the fa?ade made of stone create a contrasting view that?s quite uncommon. Bricks, stones, steel? man?s affinity with nature. A painter?s subject! What can be seen after this is many a cement construction and even if you chance upon any stone pieces, they?re so botched up with mindless additions or extensions that it?s become difficult to recognise them at first sight. The search has to go on, though. So what to do? Turn left and stroll into the crowded lanes that ultimately lead to the Garden police sta tion and the Nabi Bux police station.
On your way you may find a colonial structure here and a stone building there. But it?s the Garden police station that will catch your eye. It?s an attractive work of architecture built in 1926. Surprisingly, it?s been kept in pretty good shape. A general store owner says the road where the two thanas stand before each other is Hernai Khem Singh Road. How can this be confirmed? There?s no signboard or commemorative plaque. Trust mankind. There are a few buildings facing Garden Police Station which remind you of the good old days.Then, again, you get lost in countless homes made with hard blocks of concrete. No choice but to move straight where the jurisdiction of the Ramaswamy area begins. A local tells you it is Mashmali Road (or something pronounced to that effect). You?re not sure. What you are certain about is the awesome but terribly maintained few buildings, all strung together.
The first, Hemani Building, is a cinematographer?s delight. With the facade being all but knocked down, the inside of the structure can be clearly viewed where the woodwork covering the front of the storeys is jumbled up in such a way that it comes across as a fairytale maze, something that might attract Tim Burton. Hemani Building?s neighbouring two works of art are Rewachand Fatehchand Building and one more whose name no one cares to remember.
It?s time to get back to Lawrence Road which will provide you with an opportu nity to witness, at the corner of the road, S.M. Chelaram Building. It is an apartment block, looks at least a century old and is in a poor condition. If restored, it can look worth a million dollars.
Now it?s easy to discover more gems on Nishtar Road. There?s Lawrence Building on whose ground floor a sweetmeat mart will lure you to taste a laddu or bite into a chamcham. Resist. Lawrence Building has a couple of other historical constructions flanking it. However, their facade are not as pronounced as those of some of the others. Therefore, they often get overlooked.
Architect and conservationist Anila Naeem says: ?Unfortunately Lawrence Road hasn?t been covered in the listing process as yet. What I can tell you is that the buildings in this area and its adjoining localities are of a hybrid nature; they have colonial features as well as those that the natives wanted to put in, for example, characteristics of Hindu and local vernacular tradition. You can witness such details on the balconies, with a symbol of Om on some facades, whereas garlands on top of entranceways were more of a British expression. Actually, the residential structures were financed by the Hindu community for themselves, so their likes and dislikes in terms of ornamentation were retained. At the same time they wanted to show to the British that they admired their style, so the local motifs, stone-carvings etc would often be accompanied by Ionic or Corinthian capitals.?
PS: When the British ruled India, there were a few Englishmen with the surname Lawrence. One was Sir John Lawrence who along with Lord Dalhousie established a model of administration what was termed the Punjab school. He later became Viceroy and gov ernor-general of India. John Lawrence had a brother, Henry Lawrence, the chief commissioner of Awadh. And yes, there was a person who was posted to the Royal Air Force depot at Drigh Road in Karachi in 1927 and remained there for a little more than a year. He?s the same man who many in history know as Lawrence of Arabia.