By Peerzada Salman courtesy daily Dawn Karachi.
REPLACE Gregor Samsa with a building oil Moljee Street opposite the Merewether Tower. The story will have almost the same character with a different name ? let’s say Tower Mansion or Seth Ramchand Building ? undergoing no different ordeal than Samsa does when one fine day he wakes up to discover that he has been metamorphosed into a big insect. The buildings on Moljee Street face a similar dilemma.
For Samsa, in the beginning things become toilsome for hi m and the people around him (family, colleagues and regular visitors) try and grasp the transformation. As time passes, and as things become part of the daily banal routine, Samsa is treated accordingly. His existence becomes unpalatable for some, eventually forcing his family members to rue his transmuted state. So he does not cope with it for long and… passes away. God forbid if the above-mentioned buildings end up being Samsa-like. However, as of now, their fate is comparable to that of the oft-dis-cussed Kafka character.
The Merewether Tower has astounding old structures all around it. It is because the clock tower stands at a point which is the confluence of two of Karachi’s major thoroughfares, I.I.
Chundrigar Road (formerly McLeod Road) and Shahrah-i-Liaquat (formerly Frere Road). The convergence is a huge lesson in history for all those who are interested in the subject. Both roads have several colonial buildings which point to the time when Karachi was expanding, tastefully at that, as a cosmopolitan town. Once Pakistan earned independence, gradually these structures (a majority of them) were either demolished or left to their own devices. Consequently, looking at some of them from a distance, with a foul sewage smell coming from uncovered manholes making breathing an arduous task, can be a tortuous experience. Can a history lover shy away from his job?
Across the Merewether Tower on Frere Road a structure, which shopkeepers say is Tower Mansion, positions itself in an unassuming way. To be honest, no one can feel good looking at the building since it can be likened to a Greek hero who has not had a bath for years. You can tell that its makers invested a great deal of creativity and thought in its construction. Step-motherly treatment meted out to the building by whoever resides in, or uses, it is evident.
Tower Mansion is situated from where Moljee Street begins and touches the Kharadar zone. The row of buildings parallel to the mansion starts with a weird but interesting structure on top of whose triangular carvings Seth Ramchand Keshrdas is written. The name lends a pre-1947 touch to it. The shine on the walls suggests it was redone or refurbished not too long ago. The combination of the old and the new is an odd one, though.
Getting away from Moljee Street would not be a bad idea since buildings made of concrete have totally overshadowed, in some cases dwarfed, the very few stone-made ones. It would be wrong to entertain the notion that the little journey is over. Walk back to Frere Road. Look in the diagonal direction and find yourself unwittingly sliding towards a facade of what once may have been a huge edifice. Only the outer wall of this structure
remains and the inner part has completely vanished, as if scooped up like ice cream and nothing but the biscuit remains. Yes, it is what used to be Shikarpur Cloth Market.
NOTICE the use of cement bricks on top of the stone structure.
The market, as old Karachiites endorse, at one point in time dominated the Karachi city scape. These days it serves as a parking facility. Of course, the space is so wide and accommodating that those who work in the area find it appropriate to park their vehicles here. With the market disappeared like a puff of smoke in blustery wind, are there any signs that depict the historic worth of this lonely facade? There are two. First, its portal of an entrance mentions Shikarpur Cloth Market 1924 in faded letters. Two, you stroll into the hollowness through the entrance gate, immediately on your left a list of companies which may have housed their offices in the building can be easily read. One such mention of an office reads: Hillhom & Sons, 1st Floor, Room No: 17.
Architect Noman Ahmed says: “The emissions caused by vehicular traffic have affected the facades of these buildings. This is the reason that the motifs used in their construction are not clear. Once these structures are properly treated, even that can be sorted out, that is, we will be able to see their motifs in a better way.”
Kafka’s character may be dead. He may not have come to terms with his metamorphosed existence. The buildings on Moljee Street are trying hard to hold on to whatever is left of their lives. They should not be allowed to end up like Samsa. Their lost character can be retrieved, and without much hassle.
Author’s email : mohammad.salman (at) dawn.com