Latest update about Katrak Mansion:
CAN you get enough of Karachi? The question is loaded with meaning. In the last three decades or so, Karachi has become synonymous with things ? bloodshed, filth, smog ? that were foreign to it when it grew into a blissful littoral zone from a beautiful small-time village.
The areas which were once deemed the hub of the city and were visited by locals and foreigners with a sense of delight are now discarded as old, dusty and volatile. You never know what ticks people off and the city becomes a battleground. In the process, history becomes its first, and perhaps only, victim.
Merewether Tower is a known Karachi landmark on M.A. Jinnah Road (formerly McLeod Road). If you’re coming from the Jinnah overpass crossing a known insurance company office, the first road off M.A. Jinnah Road that turns left towards old Karachi is a place that is in-your-face, yet for some odd reason is obscured from history buffs. It’s G. Allana Road. The one building that immediately demands attention and stands out like sentinel, albeit aged, standing guard on the area is Katrak Mansion.
Unlike some other structures in the city named after the great philanthropist and Karachi lover, this mansion has a circular front, which is quite dissimilar to the rest of the oldies in the locality. Don’t think too much of the yellow colour on the building. It couldn’t have been its original shade. The cafe and the paan shop on its ground floor, along with a variety of offices in the mansion’s beautiful hall-like spacious rooms, is its 21st century avatar. We shall not comment on them. What can’t be argued is the fact that the building is a distinct piece of construction which needs to be dusted off and cleaned up. Its big wooden doors, solid columns and halls with high ceilings are a sight that’s unique in many ways. A little bit of scrubbing and washing can work wonders for it. A small board on one of the outer walls of the edifice reads, “Katrak & Co Estd 1891”.
Right behind the mansion there’s Jamshed Katrak Chamber built in 1932. Equally lovely and equally in need of care, together they make a lovely couple.
The buildings that follow are examples of con temporary cement work. The stone-made beauties that once stood behind Katrak Chamber are long gone. What to do then? Well, keep looking and turn right into the lane after the chamber. Again, there are still new buildings on both sides of the lane. Look closely. Pressed between two structures there’s a work of stone-masonry the locals call Suthriya Building. A little ahead is Radhakishen Naraindas Building erected in 1932. There’s nothing special about it except that its residents have closed up its balconies with bricks. You can only shake your head in distress.
Walk back to where Katrak Mansion stands tall. Smack opposite the mansion, across the main road, there are 19th century railway godowns and offices. The temptation is irresistible not to enter the large compound where these offices are housed, though the word “compound” these days has assumed chilling connotations. Let’s just say it’s a complex covering a wide area.
Stepping into it will give you a fair idea where the priorities of the railways authorities lie. The sandy soil kicks off heavy puffs of dust at the slightest blow of the wind. So if you have a full head of hair, keep it covered. Left to the main entrance, there?s a lovely stone-made construction on whose wall a board reads, “Office of the Div Transportation Manager, P R Dry Port, Karachi Bunder.” The big godowns in front of it are simple and have nothing architecturally startling but carry a historicity that?s unavoidable. Only if these and the buildings across them can be refurbished, the entire area will turn into a sight for sore eyes.
Architect Arif Hasan says: “The 19th century buildings in the area where Katrak Mansion is situated were demolished in the beginning of the 20th century. Then in the 1920s and up till the ’40s new structures were built. Katrak Mansion is an example of that. They have influences of the modern art movement. There must’ve been early godowns in this zone that were demolished to make way for new constructions. As for the railway godowns, as I’ve mentioned often, they were made when the port, and activities related to it, were expanded.” “To address the point as to what worth these buildings have, well, they have a historical value. If we lose them, we will lose an important part of our history. They represent a certain period of Karachi’s development. We can’t ignore the significance of that period.? A vendor who sells snacks untidily placed on his pushcart on G. Allana Road is a busy man. He comes early morning and starts selling his stuff, which doesn’t take more than a couple of hours for breakfast eaters to finish.
When the sun shines on G. Allana Road full blast, the vendor moves back his pushcart into a sheltering shadow of an early 20th century building