I strolled into Karachi’s old town on a bright Sunday morning to look for the city’s remaining colonial structures.
revised on May 9, 2023
I pass by Saddar and the old town nearly every day, much like the hundreds of thousands of other people who work in the southern portion of Karachi. My relationship with the old city area and its colonial past was restricted to passing by and watching it from a distance when travelling to other places, despite the fact that I was born and raised in this city.
I don’t have many chances as a woman to engage with the streets of my city, much less to walk through them. My attention was immediately sparked when I discovered about the Pakistan Chowk Community Centre’s (PCCC) Heritage Walk Karachi (HWK).
I can fairly state that when I arrived to the gathering location, Pakistan Chowk, on a bright Sunday morning, I had no idea what to anticipate. I learned through a cursory look at their Instagram account that the majority of their following is made up of students, professors, and urban specialists. Despite our small group of eight or so people, I did not anticipate the diversity of folks that came to the walk. I later discovered the reason for the lack of participants was The face of Karachi’s Heritage Walk is Shaheen Nauman.
According to the HWK website, Shaheen Nauman, the tour guide and project coordinator, is “one of the first women” to conduct her own historical tour in Pakistan. The statement reads, “Nauman is well versed in the histories and stories of Old Town Karachi having spent a sizable portion of her life exploring the area on her own.” The walk has been held every Sunday since January 2018, with the exception of significant holidays like Covid-19 and Ramazan.
“I adore the colonial structures that depict our nation’s heritage. Additionally, I am nearer to the colonial structures because when people talk about their ancestors and heirlooms, they often mention things like “This is a betel case,” “This is a pomander,” and “This is my maternal grandmother’s skirt,” according to Nauman, who spoke to Images.
“I have nothing tangible to demonstrate to them that my family is from this region of the nation. I therefore bind myself to colonial structures. Being on the streets and showcasing my city’s history to passing motorists has been really fulfilling. I cherish my city.
She clearly cares a great deal about the city, its colonial infrastructure, and this initiative, as seen by the passion and enthusiasm in her speech. As a result of the city’s influence on who and what I am, it is a way for me to give back.
After Marvi Mazhar, an architect and the creator of the PCCC, discovered Nauman’s enthusiasm for colonial structures, she hired her to work as a guide for HWK in February 2018. As the “face” of the HWK, she presented herself.
At Pakistan Chowk, the voyage began, and at Karachi Sweets, it came to a conclusion.
Nauman informed me that Mazhar had restored the Chowk with the intention of turning it into a public area. The previous benches had to be replaced because someone had removed them and sold the materials. Additionally, they encountered obstacles from traffic, particularly rickshaws and bikes that frequently used the entry and exit of the Chowk as a shortcut.
Nauman claims that Sindhi Hindus made up the majority of the population in the region before to Partition. This is clear from the Sanskrit word “Om” that is etched in the core of the majority of structures that are still mostly intact, despite being damaged.
The stroll had other elements in addition to buildings. The path also featured prominent Banyan, Tamarind, and Siri trees and plants that are native to Karachi. All three tree species are shaded by nature and ideal for both animal and human activity.
Going backward in time
The 1930s and the 1880s and 1890s are the two decades in Karachi when a disproportionately high number of structures were constructed. The secession of Sindh from the presidency of Bombay in 1936 was the cause of the 1930s. Railways and the port were built in the 1980s and 1990s, which sparked a significant increase in the number of structures being built in the city.
We went to the magnificent Sarngati Building first. 1930s using redstone imported from Jaipur, has endured the test of time. “It has a strong foundation and is an earthquake-resistant structure. It was intended to be a seven-story structure in the original design plan. The red stone formerly The structure had housed several government offices while Karachi served as the nation’s capital. Nauman claims that the building’s stone is one of the key reasons it has continued to be outstanding. She cited the strength of Redstone as the reason.
I questioned Nauman about the importance of beginning the walk so early and if it was only to escape the traffic that would certainly congest the region in the evening. You may observe more than just the traffic, in other words. You really exhaust oneself, especially in the heat. You could get heat stroke, God forbid. It’s simpler to wander, watch, and take notes when it’s colder outside for safety’s sake.
That led me to question whether the schedules limit participants’ ability to socialise with those who live and work nearby. There are three sections to Pakistan Chowk Community Centre. Oral history is one. We travel there and interview locals who have lived here before, are now living here, who travel here to work, and local ladies. That’s a different project. It is a component of another project, but it is a part of the Pakistan Chowk Community Centre, Nauman told me.
As we walked the largely deserted streets, we could see remnants of the city’s past everywhere. Water shortages have traditionally existed in the old town region, and carriages are still employed to transport water from public pipelines.