By Peerzada Salman
IT is almost impossible to accurately evaluate as to how many buildings constructed before partition in Karachi have weathered the storm (caused by time’s inconstancy). There may be thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. A decent number of them can be readily identified and some, because of their size and the purpose for which they were built, are known to all and sundry. Then a great amount of colonial structures which are still intact, fully or partially, have lost their identity. Their original names have been changed to more Pakistani-sounding ones and it is even more difficult to research their- maiden titles, for the simple reason that a majority of them were made by individuals who may have been affluent but were not as famous or well-known to warrant a place in histoiy books. Sad. True.
It is against this backdrop that the most known (and heavily congested) part of Karachi, the area around that architectural masterpiece Empress Market, assumes great significance. While the zone, on Preedy Street, has several buildings which you can readily recognise (Edulji Dinshaw Dispensary, Empress Market, Dar-i-Meher etc), a lot of the structures built in pre-1947 India remain nondescript and unsung. This has a rational explanation: these assorted buildings are either dwarfed or their view is blocked by the senseless infrastruc-tural development that has taken place near them. Only if you concentrate hard and pay extra attention to the entire vicinity then you’ll be able to spot a stone-made work of art here and an aesthetic piece of architecture there, lying on the ground like disowned gems stepped on by careless, callous people.
Who during numerable visits to Empress Market would’ve noticed an old building compressed between the market and Edulji Dinshaw Dispensary? Very few, if not none! It is a building which is totally taken over by as wide a variety of dentists’ clinics as there are teeth in an adult’s mouth. Being taken over implies that the base of the structure, which is in not a desirable order and only whose first floor gives away its age and the hard work that must’ve gone into its design, is covered with Chinese clinics that promise to take care of your woes caused by swollen gums and aching
molar. And to find out what the building is/was known as can be an exercise in futility.
Now get to right where Empress Market is situated. Bang opposite the market and at the very corner of Daudpota Road there’s a distinctive old building, the oldest among its neighbours. They call it Shahzada. Even if you can’t ignore the bustling restaurant on the ground storey, the upper portions of the structure will compel you to have a closer look at it. It’s an example of delicate stonemasonry which has been so shabbily kept that it now looks awfully weak and wonky. It’s not. Get real close to it, stand where the eatery is, look up and it’s not difficult to notice that Shahzada is holding up well. Yes, the architecture has gone awry and the symmetry seems to be skewed. Still, it is something which, with a weenie bit of restoration and
refurbishing, can sparkle like a twinkling star peeking out of a cloudy sky.
THE structure smack opposite Empress Market; despite vagaries of time, it’s holding up.?Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
Remain on Preedy Street and move straight towards the facility which was not too far back erected as a spacious parking lot by the local government.
Stop where the Depot Lines area begins or ends (depending how you look at it and where you are). There’s a big residence with a sloping roof and Mangalore tiles, some of which have come off. Since it’s a private house, it shouldn’t be discussed in detail. What can be said without equivocation is that it’s one of the remnants of pre-independence style of living.
On the other side of the road (the side where Empress Market stands) you can also spot a similar sloping roof with Mangalore tiles of a structure surrounded by concrete happenings. Once you look underneath the roof, it will become abundantly clear that this
place, except what’s on its top, is nothing what it may have been at the time of its making ? cement is profusely used in staircases and walls. The owners, however, must be given credit for at least keeping some of the house in its original state so as not to make it look completely contemporary.
Architect Arif Hasan says, “These buildings were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They have classical features. The spot that you mention reminds me of Saddar Tea Roof, or perhaps it was called Tea House. It was a posh spot. Things have changed in this area. It needs a rehabilitation plan.”
So much has gone wrong in the Saddar region that sometimes pessimism overwhelms history buffs. And then they think, let’s celebrate those remnants of history that to date make us look back in time not with despair but with hope ? the hope that our collective memory won’t fail us, and that ‘time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future’.