IT is quite astonishing how sometimes journalists and columnists are unable to see, if not overlook, startling pieces of information that can make their writings doubly exciting. There can be a number of reasons for that, let?s not go there. Preedy Street and the Preedy police station have been discussed on these pages on a few occasions. But the area is like a Shakespearean tragedy: just when you think you have covered all the vital elements of the play, something suddenly dawns on you that you thought you never knew. The neighbourhood, especially its Ramchand Temple Road, can be likened to a magician that pulls a new rabbit out of its top hot every time you visit it.
An old school on Temple Road is significant in a unique way. Its significance should be discussed so that people realise how history takes different turns at different time periods. The school is functional to date, albeit not the way it used to be, and is known as the Government S.M. Modern Primary School. Do not be dispirited by the name, because Karachi?s oldies remember it as Ratan Talao School. What you see in 2012 is a smattering of children attending it in the morning. In the afternoon, according to a paanwallah, it remains quiet. The question is: when was its glorious phase? You shall know about it. First, the location.
There are two ways of reaching the school building. One, enter from the Preedy police station?s side and stop where the police line quarters are situated. Very simple. It is bang opposite the quarters. Two, if Urdu Bazaar is the point from where you can feel you can get to the labyrinthine lanes and alleyways of this particular neighbourhood, again, take the road that hits the Preedy police station and halt right at the poorly kept police line quarters. And shout bingo!
Before you arrive at the institution, walk around Ramchand Temple Road. It might benefit you. Moving a bit further from the school, towards Urdu Bazaar, will give you a fair idea as to how delicately beautiful some of the old buildings in this area are ? and have been mentioned in this column.
Back to school. The Government S.M. Modern Primary School, sorry, Ratan Talao School is not an ostentatious building. It has simple architectural features, with rectilinear windows and rather spacious balconies. Broken edges, ill-maintained fa?ade and additions to the structure give a strange look to it. Still, the most noteworthy aspect of the school can be seen from Temple Road which connects Urdu Bazaar to the police station: two Indian flags on top of the building. Obviously, it is a pre-partition piece of architecture.
Eminent writer Amar Jaleel has dedicated his collection of short stories, Indira, to Ratan Talao School. He has fond and indelible memories of the institution. He writes in the book, ?It is at the Ratan Talao Primary School that I spent the most memorable four years (from 1942 to 1946) of my life. I learned a lot. I learned to love my motherland. I learned that mother could not be shared? I was 10 years old studying at the NJV School when one day someone screamed that rioters had set Ratan Talao School on fire. I was at Saeed Manzil. I rushed towards my old institution. I saw it burn. It saddened me. I?m a 75-years-old writer now but the flames coming out of that writer?s school have not been extinguished. They still compel him to write.?
Amar Jaleel remembers the good old days with a profound sense of sadness. He says, ?The buildings that you see on the left side of the school are basically encroachments on its playground. Ours was a 10am to 3pm school. From 3 to 4 o?clock in the evening doors would be closed and it was compulsory for every student to play or take part in sports for that one hour. From Temple Road?s side, there used to be big doors which were later closed. They must?ve been 8ft to 10ft long. The school has now become very congested and dark. The last time I went there I saw pillows and sheets lying in the rooms. I was told some men spend the night here and disappear in the morning.?
This is the kind of strong association that people can have with places and neighbourhoods. For Amar Jaleel, Ratan Talao School is not just an institution. It is his past, something which cannot be snatched from him. He is right.
The building in front of the school (from the entrance side) may not be that aged, but is old enough to be discussed. It is Marwah Bhavan. The shops that cover its ground floor make too much noise for history buffs to look at the structure with any degree of easiness. Rest assured: it too is good to look at.
Architect Arif Hasan says, ?When the British came into this region, there was a shortage of water. So they made tanks. They would get water from the Lyari nadi, from where it would be pumped into these tanks. There were many tanks along Bunder Road, the biggest of which was at Ram Bagh. The Ram Bagh well used to supply water to Ratan Talao, which was one of the tanks made by a Parsi. The Parsi gentleman presented it to the municipality in 1869. As far as the buildings in this area are concerned, most of them were built in mid-19th century and do not exist any longer.?
What exists, though, is a wealth of memories. And, ?History takes time. History makes memory.?