Written by Ali Safdar
Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore
The Heritage Walk conducted by Pakistan Chowk Community provides an opportunity to study heritage sites in Old Town Karachi. These sites stand out, from the cement rectangular buildings surrounding them, because of their dilapidated condition due to negligence. Beautiful tinted glasses adorn rotten wooded window frames, and their jagged edges reveal dusty rooms. Dust and commercial boards mask the intricate design and aesthetic beauty of these Heritage sites. Their rooms are now used by shopkeepers to store goods. Some of them are occupied by citizens that barely earn enough to survive and support their families, let alone spend money on any renovations.


The Governmental departments concerned with preserving heritage sites bemoan a lack of funds to promote and preserve such sites. Such projects are simply not a priority of the Government. This is concerning because protecting Heritage sites is not only to beautify the landscape of Karachi. These buildings are different from the uniform. 'efficient' structures constructed nowadays tha itt have 'productive' purposes. These Heritage sites are important characters in the story of Karachi. They are reminders of a time when Hindu, Sikh, Parsi people played a prominent role in the prosperity of the city. During the Heritage Walk, participants walk through the famous, fragrant 'Parsi Gali'. They visit the Menghraj Dwarkadas Nagpal Building, a Hindu hostel built in 1918 that still has broken remnants of a Hindu Temple. If these buildings are neglected and erased, the stories and contributions of these communities in weaving Karachi's story will also be erased.
However, walking through the Gaari Khata street one cannot help but notice Kutchi Memon Mosque. Its green minaret, green and white striped archways resemble Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, the second holiest site in Islam. Kutchi Memon Masjid entrance gate is a copy of the King Fahad Gate present in Al-Masjid an-Nabawi. This resemblance was achieved after the Mosque was renovated in 2000.

This renovation shows the priorities of the people regarding preservation and association with the past. First of all this shows that people would rather pay attention to places that have religious importance or show the Islamic aspect of Karachi's past. This tells us the extent the past has been reconstructed and packaged to the present citizens of Karachi, who are not aware of the historical sites around them and their significance. The idea that Pakistan is an Islamic country left no place for other identities to exist more than a 'minority'. The major role that they played in these cities is erased completely. Secondly the resemblance to Al-Masjid an-Nabawi reveals that the citizens of Karachi value ideas and history that played out thousands of miles away from them. They prioritize their Muslim identity over their Pakistani identity. This tells us the success of the governments project to islamize the story of Pakistan. This distortion left a confused story of Karachi. A story where major characters such as the Hindus and Parsis were removed. So people did not wish to associate, understand this convoluted narrative and clung to their religious past and identity. The proof of this claim lies in the condition of Heritage sites around the city. Their decaying edifice is proof of the priorities of the citizens of Karachi.

Reconstruction of the Past

Written by Ali Safdar
Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore

The city of Karachi slept soundly at 8 am in the morning. The sun however was fresh and working at full strength. Few wandering souls on the streets of Old Town Karachi were exposed to the full brunt of it. Amongst them was our group of internees which was huddled around Ms. Shaheen Nauman, the official guide of 'Heritage Walk' conducted by Pakistan Chowk Community Centre. We started the walk at Pakistan Chowk near Sarangati, went to M.A Jinnah road and ended the walk at Meghraj Building. The area used to be an integral part of Karachi several decades ago. The buildings are testament to the forgotten but integral presence of Hindus in the city. Hostels such as Sarangati or Sewakunj were open for everyone regardless of their religion.

This shows that Hindu presence was not an oppressive one and did not create feelings of animosity. It also shows that Hindus played a greater role in the prosperity of Karachi as compared to today. The Hindu community in Karachi was a large one and other communities also called Karachi their home before Partition. However, after partition and its horrors many non-Muslims left the country and were replaced by the Muhajirs from India. This marked the beginning of a nation where Muslims could freely express themselves and their religion. It also marked the beginning of reconstruction of the past and prioritizing religion in the public sphere. 


 Towards the end of our walk we entered Meghraj building. The exterior was like most buildings in the area, dilapidated dusted, ignored. However, the respite from the heat was welcomed by all. The Opera style staircase at the entrance was a pleasant surprise and piqued the curiosity of the visitors. Climbing the steps, hands racing along the century old dusty handrail we entered a spacious, haphazard space. It used to be a courtyard whose open roof had been covered with concrete and rooms of various shapes and sizes were built upon it. The top walls were embroidered with carvings of Hindu deities and a small corner room held remnants of an old, now unused Hindu worship room.


Perched on that wall covering one of the deities was a board bearing Qur'anic ayah. The picture symbolized the reconstruction of the past for me. Ignoring, and even effectively trying to erase the sizeable presence of Hindus from Karachi's past began immediately after Partition. Such erasure would ensure that the today's Pakistani would consider their origins, an integral part of their identity, to be solely associated with Islam. This is something that is a major aspect that fuels the divide between Pakistan and India,


 Opposite to Meghraj building is Yahya Manzil. On the bars outside the windows its true name 'P. Moti Ram' was displayed. Having a Hindu name nowadays would not help getting residents. Most residents would not wish to stay in a building that is in anyway associated with Hindus. This is a result of the reconstruction of the past.

This aversion again points out to the unease or rather unawareness people of Karachi experience.  The Hindu community were an integral part of Karachi and a component of the definition of a 'Karachiite'. They played a big role in helping this city become a prosperous one. Acknowledging their role and presence in the history of our land is our responsibility. It may also lead us to introspect our own history and look at it more critically. Such introspection might lead in reducing the animosity between Pakistanis and Indians. More importantly, it might have a positive impact in the way we interact with our Sindhi Hindu community.

Territorial Marking and Articulating Space

Written by Rohama Saqib
The Lyceum School, Karachi

While trekking through the highly territorialized streets of Old Town Karachi, one thing which was particularly noticeable was that territorial marking was nourished by diverse architectural designs. Whether it be grand scale territorialization or small, artificial constructions are a rudimentary human need. On top of that, political, cultural and social class differences were apparent in the way that various people valued their perceptions of space and how they interacted with their built environment to set boundaries. I witnessed many and various territorial strategies and tactics being followed to prevent crime and encroachment from neighbours in order to achieve stabilization for community safety.

 Popularly noted was that some inhabitants of the area would display proxemic behaviour by marking-off their boundaries in physical ways creating their own separate identity and fulfilling desires of place attachment and personalization. They would do this by way of painting or lining tiles on a portion of their own zone which was part of a larger residential building, customizing casements, painting store shutters or hanging a billboard over their store, suspending fabric on rope over a specified area and utilizing miscellaneous building materials to dictate their spaces. In this way each person was able to articulate their space by creating a visible bubble. Although there were no official written rules regarding territoriality other than those of prominent buildings, there were masqueraded governing codes that everyone unknowingly followed. Residents would be sure to not tresspass one’s property by carefully outlining their intimate space after which they would paint the area with funky colours such as muted greens, lavenders and hot pinks. However, I also detected the great extent to which negligence existed as residents would only clean their territories putting others at an unfavourable position. Moreover, areas under state-owned businesses would be well-maintained as opposed to its surrounding areas- there was often no regard for others. Those with a higher social stature had decorative environments while lower classes could not manifest their spaces creatively.

Territorial marking also shaped and affected local people’s accessibility to certain areas by exerting varying degrees of control. For instance, Banks and Police Stations displayed a high-level of territorial behaviour by establishing greater security for protection. They constructed a defensive sphere of space, commonly using wrought iron gates, brick masonry and barbed wire – the use of such materials reproduced elements essential to security. They further reinforced territorial marking by using a guard to ensure the social order of space. Defining territory defensively in the way that these banks and police stations did would prevent intrusion and minimize the propensity of crime or robberies- becoming almost impenetrable. Furthermore, some zones under enterprisal control monopolized the area on the strength of formal artificial barriers. Such privatisation of space and establishment of borders is necessary for effective control and an indication of one’s ‘ownership’. Nevertheless conversely, areas open to the public did not delineate such bold boundaries which reflected their self-interests and encouraged accessibility by allowing locals to interact with their built environment. Amongst the diversity of buildings, nature was also integrated into the territories giving the places identities and facilitating place attachment.

Therefore, territorial marking was perceptible through the complexities and distinctness of the areas- each person had a sense of place and familiarity based on their own self-interests, identities and variations of architectural style. Everyone was in close harmony- pursuing their own responsibilities.


From Past to Present: The Journey of Infrastructure in Old Town

Written by Insiya Huzaifa
Cedar College, Karachi

As the years have gone by, the changing political culture, disorderly planning and increase in urbanization have contributed to the area of Old Town becoming a forgotten refuge for Karachi’s heritage. There has been an evident change in the development and maintenance of infrastructure throughout this time period, some complementing the olden look and some proving to be unaesthetic to the eye. However, the overall appearance of the area has gone from being a graceful, central location to being an area demanding conservation.


 As urban populations increased, it was soon realized that old city areas were not planned to adequately provide communication infrastructure, warehouses, residential expansions etc. causing people to move out to newer locations leaving Old Town in the hands of political lobbies and hence, unattended. The colonial style architecture made the area central to the cultural and social life of the city but these buildings can no longer persevere as increased commercial activities have led large areas of Old Town to become unofficial warehouses and many historic buildings have been demolished and replaced. Karachi’s inner city markets have extended from obliging to a population of four hundred and fifty thousand in 1947 to supplying a population of ten million in 1998 causing the old community organizations and establishments to come to an end.


A typical sight in that region that highlights the difference between buildings in two separate eras, is the juxtaposition of colonial style residential homes on Kutchery Road that consist of two to three stories, with the upper floors being the residence and the bottom floors being a shop, with apartment style buildings. The former were built from sandstones with some having gothic style, Hindi architectural traits shown by sturdy grills and block like structures. The apartments on the other hand reflect an urban yet poorly executed agenda to fit in small, habitable homes for the increasing population constructed with plastered, cement blocks that have a plainer look than the intricate designs on the historical buildings, most of which are left unkempt, showing us how the area has faced social degradation.

One of the sights depicting the former times is the placement of gaps between buildings to let in sunlight and ventilation. A lot of buildings are situated in such a way as to form an unintentional courtyard amongst them such as those in the New Cloth Market on M.A Jinnah Road which provides a feeling of openness, especially in the hot climate. Another trademark of the colonial era is the use of carved pillars made of sandstone as seen at Denso Hall which gives it structural beauty as they are placed in a circular fashion throughout the library. These types of pillars can also be seen at a water trough across the Qamar House. These days, unfortunately, what is left of a lot of beautiful buildings is simply the outer facade such as the Shikarpur Cloth Market. From afar, it seems to be a heritage sight whereas when you enter, you face deflation as you find it to actually be a parking lot.

There are however, buildings that have added modernization to the area such as the Anjarwala Building on Shahrah e Liaquat which itself is a franchise that has been around for decades so one would think that the bakery would fit right into the visual of Old Town. It’s dark grey colour, sliding glass windows and the cube like structures in its silhouette indeed give it an aesthetic look but when you back up and take the entire area into view, the building provides a contradictory impression when compared to the heritage buildings around it.

There is a lack of balance between moving forward in the world through urbanization and preserving our history, which if found, could bring back optimal utilization of what Old Town has to offer. 

Cultural Heritage Through the Lens of Ownership

Written by Hajra Hasan
The Lyceum School, Karachi

Ownership is a term that is associated with empowerment and pride and rightfully so. Beyond the physical and material sense, it is an idea that can also be applied to our heritage and the need for its preservation, especially since the current status quo is one where a feeling of passiveness seems to have pervaded all sections of society with only a small number fighting for centuries worth of history and culture to be preserved through these buildings. 

Dilapidated buildings on Mohalla Road.

Dilapidated buildings on Mohalla Road.

It is important to understand that this passivity is the result of a historical precedent that dates back to the time of Partition in 1947. Amidst the chaos of having an independent country with Karachi as its capital, decisions were made which tried to settle everything in the short term. This can be seen in how the Evacuee Property Board Trust, created at the time, allocated properties to the large influx of refugees pouring into Karachi. This, combined with the occupation of abandoned Hindu and Sikh residences and religious buildings led to issues of ownership and property rights which persist to this day. In the case where a plan was created known as the Greater Karachi Master Plan of 1952, a lack of implementation ended up making it ineffective. Looking at our current issues from their roots highlights how entangled and vague the idea of ownership is in Karachi whether it is in the physical or metaphorical sense. It is only through conversations and active mobilization from all sectors that we might be able preserve what is left of our cultural heritage and restore those buildings that were thought to be lost or too ‘dangerous’.

When visiting the historical areas of Karachi one might be taken in by the architecture of the buildings, clear symbols of the Colonial era and interest might be piqued by the way in which the residents and workers live life around them. The people seem to view visitors as outsiders while also wanting to spread knowledge about the living memory of the area that has been passed down through inter-generational stories and experiences.  However, once one realises the depth of their knowledge and attachment to the area, the reality of how little they possess sets in. Those with the most significant ties are the ones who have honourary ownership of it in terms of history and culture while the ‘real’ owners are the landlords who may choose to irrevocably change the face of the buildings along with the lives of its residents when they so choose.

Commercialization of a colonial era building, a Servis shoe store.

Commercialization of a colonial era building, a Servis shoe store.

When making the decision of who ultimately ‘owns’ these Colonial buildings, the Pagri (goodwill) system,which has been in use since Karachi’s pre-Independence days, throws another curveball into it. Not only is it completely unrecognised by Pakistani Law, tenants under this system do not possess any legal documentation or leases for the buildings they live in. This worked for the tenants and owners for many years but the recent exploitation of these tenants has made it obvious that simply ignoring them or treating them as regular tenants(where documentation is required to file any complaint) is not the correct course of action. Because of this, new ‘investors’  buy old and dilapidated buildings cheaply and then require the Pagri tenants living there to either buy ‘sub-leases’ for exorbitant amounts of money or they evict them if they refuse. In these cases, ownership becomes a platform for exploitation without any oversight or action from the Government forcing us to contemplate what true ownership means since these tenants were promised something and are now helpless to do anything against the ‘investors’.

Numerous examples of buildings which are crumbling under the strain of the environment because of the lack of maintenance or being systematically demolished in order to build ostensibly more profitable commercial buildings are a common site in these areas. This reminds us of the two key players which are seemingly absent with only the consequences of their decisions being felt by the residents. The Government and the private owners are the ones who make decisions regarding the fate of these buildings but neither seems to be operating with their true worth in mind. In this sense, ownership then becomes a hollow stamp upon the building. This divide among the people and those with the ability to bring change is brought to the forefront each time we hear about another tale of how a building was brought down with only its tenants fighting against it while the rest of the city that often cites those buildings as part of their heritage doesn’t even hear about it.

Deterioration of a facade.

Deterioration of a facade.

The issue lies in the fact that having a building declared as ‘heritage listed’ in Karachi is the first in a long series of steps because of the blatant violations of the Sindh Cultural Heritage Preservation Act of 1994, without any repercussions. In that, it is clear that the Government does not take ownership of the buildings that are under its protection while the far-removed private owners have no ties to the history and culture of the area. Perhaps it is time that we tap into this seemingly vague and indistinct idea of ownership and seize it for ourselves since it is through public demand and indeed, public outrage that ideas and decisions move forward when the Government does not deliver.

Mendoza Building.

Mendoza Building.

MA Jinnah Road’s Public Spaces as a Heterotopia

Written by Eman Farhan
The Lyceum School, Karachi

Darya Lal Mandir near Pursukoon Chowk.

Darya Lal Mandir near Pursukoon Chowk.

Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia explains spaces where, in the words of Walter Russel Mead, “things are different.” That is, an amalgamation of objects, people, artefacts and buildings which are usually not together, forming the “other.” After my recent heritage walks across MA Jinnah Road and the inner city of Karachi’s Old Town, my observations connected with a principle of heterotopia named heterotopia of time, and the general “other” that is the basis of heterotopia.

A heterotopia of time is described as a space which encloses, in one place, objects from all times, hence existing in time and out of time. Almost, one can say, being resistant to time itself as it houses mounds of history. Across MA Jinnah Road, starting from Karachi Municipal Corporation and right until Pursukoon Chowk and Karachi Port Trust, Heritage Walk Karachi’s Team mapped and collected the history of buildings and markets. Full to the brim with temples and mosques, different shops, houses atop commercial areas with the paint chipping, water troughs and more, one thing stood out to me-difference.

New Memon Mosque on MA Jinnah Road.

New Memon Mosque on MA Jinnah Road.

Each building is connected through its colonial history and architecture, with similar pillars and arches across MA Jinnah Road. Yet, in present time, they are constantly changing and diverge from one another. The Shri Swaminayaran Mandir is a relatively closed off space, with a strict no photograph policy, but open to whoever wishes to go inside and worship, or observe. This temple, compared to the Memon Masjid further down the road, differs greatly. With the difference of religion and the general treatment of minorities in the Muslim majority of Pakistan, the space changes completely. There is an understandable sense of initial apprehensiveness at the entrance, but a welcoming atmosphere past it. For a close-knit community, the temple also offers housing and a library, almost making it a public space for those living in that compound specifically. What makes it part of the larger heterotopia of time is that with activism and research groups, or just individuals who would like to know more about their city than just the life and culture of the majority, more “other” people enter and occupy this public space, of all ages. A public space within a public space, it co-exists with other religious spaces.

The concept of the “other” is much larger in this day and time and is ever expanding. Class differences, gender, sexual and religious minorities and their experiences may constitute the “other” of society. Looking at a more micro, individual level, an individual’s experiences are bound to differ from another’s, be it through individual circumstances or the influence of macro constructs like class and gender. Inflation rates and the growing polarization of classes with the growing middle class of Karachi all indicate change and difference. On MA Jinnah Road, one can see expensive cars heading towards offices on I.I Chundrigar Road next to a merchant on a donkey cart, passing by a dhaba under the shade of a tree where masses of shopkeepers sit and chat. The small presence, (now hopefully growing) of women in this public space also adds to the concept of otherization as most of Karachi, let alone MA Jinnah Road’s public spaces are dominated by men. Division after divisions that are so evident and integrated into public spaces all point to Karachi’s MA Jinnah Road being a heterotopia. New, modern practices and ways of life set within decade old monuments, buildings, spaces and people all point toward it being a heterotopia of time.

Are Old Town’s Public Spaces Really “Public”?

Written by Eman Farhan
The Lyceum School, Karachi

With the rise of feminism across the globe and onto our social media timelines, women’s rights are a topic many feel strongly about (including myself). To be truly socially conscious, it is important for one to observe the role and dynamics of women in local spaces and contexts, particularly ones with a history. On my trip to Old Town, I found myself observing not only the presence- but the lack of women in public spaces.

Two interns entering an old building in Old Town’s inner city.

Two interns entering an old building in Old Town’s inner city.

Old Town is full to the brim with heritage and history. You can see it in each crack in the pavement, each pink/pastel shade painted building. Surrounded by colonial architecture, some that is almost crumbling, there are shopkeepers, vendors, business owners who have been running family businesses passed down from generation to generation. Amidst the hustle and bustle of city life, I could only see a handful of women. While interviewing shopkeepers and guards, there were no women in the history they told us. Buildings and businesses all kept, owned, maintained, broken down by men.

It is no surprise, considering the conservative norms of society that most of the population adheres to- a woman’s job is to take care of her home and family. Now, due to the rise of the middle class, one sees this norm being broken very often- there are many working, successful women in Karachi. Working class women also toil day and night to make a living as domestic help and seamstresses. But how many middle- and working-class women did I see on the streets, using public transport, sitting and chatting under the shade of the huge indigenous tree at a dhaba?


Public, as the name suggests, must include the women of a particular area. Yet, I could only see a select few in these “public” spaces. Mostly on the side of an occasional road, waiting to be picked up by a male family member. Nearing a dhaba, I could hear the hearty laughs of shopkeepers off duty while they had their chai, and felt that women have an equal right to sit in the same space and laugh and talk loudly over cups of chai. Out of fear, and the fear of being “out of place” is what holds women back. It is not a womans “place” to be in the same social setting (other than the home) as a man, so men dominate the streets. All I could think of was how vital women’s public presence and narratives are. Imagine the mounds of history we can not unearth because these women are not present in the public to share it with us. Women deserve the simple experience of walking down the street without fear, of hitching a bus without analyzing each step, of existing, with comfort, in their city’s public spaces.

However, I found that the Heritage Walk is an empowering initiative as it gave me the insight and opportunity to walk through my city’s streets, an act of reclaiming public spaces on its own. With continued visibility that this program brings and the history it unfolds, change is but a few steps away.

Pakistan Chowk Community Centre in Birmingham

Pakistan Chowk Community Centre (PCCC) team, consisting of Ms. Marvi Mazhar (Founder and Creative Head) and Ms. Marium Hanif (Project Manager) travelled to Birmingham in the month of March to participate in the Transforming Narratives Project. Transforming Narratives aims to establish Birmingham as a leading international cultural centre for contemporary Pakistani and Bangladeshi arts. It is managed by Culture Central, Birmingham, supported by Arts Council England and being delivered in partnership with The British Council and 12 Birmingham-based cultural partners.

Over the course of their entire visit, PCCC team met with collaborating organizations to exchange methodology and frameworks on community outreach, involve in critical exchange and dialogue on intercultural relations and expansion of PCCC’s following existing projects:

  • Spoken History Project: Through this project, the community centre collects and curates the history of Karachi’s oldest where storytellers are gathered, and data is extracted to map the vestiges of a space that was, and the space that is now.

  • Heritage Walk Karachi: The motive of this project is to engage people from all districts by introducing them to the heritage buildings of the Old Town. The idea is to educate them about their historical significance in a rapidly changing city and the diversity of the communities, who have inhabited them


On their first day in Birmingham, Pakistan Chowk Community Centre team visited Midlands Arts Centre to meet Ms. Piali Ray (Director), Ms. Sabra Khan (Projects Director) and Ms. Sooree Pillay (Program Manager) of Sampad Arts. Sampad Arts promotes arts and artists from Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan origin who are settled in Britain, by supporting, commissioning and co-producing arts and educational projects. During the meeting, PCCC was introduced to programs offered by Sampad Arts, especially the methodology employed for the execution of the “My Route Project” which had similar objectives to that of Heritage Walk Karachi. My Route Project explored the transformation of landscape, culture and communities of Stratford Road, extending from Sparkbrook to Hall Green, from 1940’s to the present day.

Figure 1: (L-R) Sabra Khan (Project Director), Sooree Pillay (Program Manager) and Piali Ray (Founder) of Sampard Arts at Midland Arts Centre with Marvi Mazhar. founder of Pakistan Chowk Community Centre to discuss potential cross-cultural dialogue.

Figure 1: (L-R) Sabra Khan (Project Director), Sooree Pillay (Program Manager) and Piali Ray (Founder) of Sampard Arts at Midland Arts Centre with Marvi Mazhar. founder of Pakistan Chowk Community Centre to discuss potential cross-cultural dialogue.

Figure 2: Marvi Mazhar at Legacy West Midland's Heritage Trail curated by Rachel West (Heritage Officer)

Figure 2: Marvi Mazhar at Legacy West Midland's Heritage Trail curated by Rachel West (Heritage Officer)

Ms. Mazhar and Ms. Hanif also experienced another site-based project in Birmingham, i.e. the “Handsworth Heritage Trail”. The trail was curated by Rachel West of Legacy West Midlands, beginning at Soho House, former home of the industrialist Matthew Boulton, and ending at the Soho Road, the centre of Indian culture in Birmingham. PCCC team was also introduced to other projects by Mr. Aftab Rahman (Directir) of Legacy West Midlands such as the “Old Wives Tale” and “Bangla Food Journeys” which explore the dynamics of the migrant Bangladeshi Community in Birmingham.

Figure 3: Marvi Mazhar (right) at Soho House in Birmingham with Legacy West Midlands founder and director, Aftab Rahman (left)

Figure 3: Marvi Mazhar (right) at Soho House in Birmingham with Legacy West Midlands founder and director, Aftab Rahman (left)

While in Birmingham, PCCC team also visited the IKON Gallery, an independent, not-for-profit exhibition space to meet Ms. Linzi Stauvers (Head of Learning) who introduced us to the “Slow Boat” project. Ikon Slow boat is an off-site cultural space that operates in the Birmingham and Sandwell canals hosting neighbouring residents in workshops, performances and screenings. It also offers a residency program to artist offering a unique platform to engage with dynamic audience. Ms. Stuavers also offered a guided tour of British artist, Hew Locke’s exhibition: “Here’s the thing” which explored the languages of colonial and post-colonial power, and the symbols through which different cultures assume and assert identity.

Figure 4: Marvi Mazhar of Pakistan Chowk Community Centre (PCCC) with Linzi Stauvers (right) of Ikon Gallery, discussing social impact through artistic intervention.

Figure 4: Marvi Mazhar of Pakistan Chowk Community Centre (PCCC) with Linzi Stauvers (right) of Ikon Gallery, discussing social impact through artistic intervention.

Along with the “Here’s the Thing” exhibition, PCCC team also got the chance to visit “Women, Power, Protest” exhibition and “Too Cute! Sweet is about to get Sinister” exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The exhibition, “Women, Power, Protest” consisted of pieces from multiple artists that raised awareness, provoke debate about how much the circumstances have changed for women over time? whereas, the second exhibition explored how objects and images can have the unique ability to be simultaneously sweet and yet sinister. Ms. Mazhar and Ms, Hanif also met with Ms. Rebecca Bridgeman (Curatorial & Exhibitions Manager) and Mr. Toby Watley (Director of Collections) to learn about how curation can celebrate and acknowledge diverse communities, exploring their traditions, beliefs and customs in an accessible and welcoming environment as is in the case of “Faith in Birmingham” exhibit at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. PCCC team also participated in the open archive session by The South Asian Diaspora Arts Archive that discussed different stages of developing a multilayered and a dynamic archive of concerned subjects.

Figure 5: Marvi Mazhar meeting with Rebecca Bridgeman and Tobly Watly of Birmingham Museum and Arts Gallery discussing cultural management and research methodologies practiced to connect people and play an impactful role in the creative playground.

Figure 5: Marvi Mazhar meeting with Rebecca Bridgeman and Tobly Watly of Birmingham Museum and Arts Gallery discussing cultural management and research methodologies practiced to connect people and play an impactful role in the creative playground.

While in Birmingham, the team did not only get the chance to meet the representatives of organizations based in Birmingham but also the representatives of organizations based in Pakistan and Bangladesh at the Transforming Narratives event launch on the 21st of March, 2019 at Birmingham Repertory Theater.

Figure 6: Pakistan Chowk Community Centre team at Birmingham Repertory Theatre for Transforming Narratives launch along with other representatives from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Figure 6: Pakistan Chowk Community Centre team at Birmingham Repertory Theatre for Transforming Narratives launch along with other representatives from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In light of their international visit, Pakistan Chowk Community Center’s hopes to implement the methodologies learnt during the research, collaborate with organizations based in Birmingham with similar objectives and conduct workshops to train volunteers who wish to undertake similar initiatives.

Thajba Najeeb's Visit to PCCC

On 16th & 17th of December, 2017, Bahrain based artist Thajba Najeeb conducted two short events through the Pakistan Chowk Community Centre for the artists' community. 

Thajba was such a delight to meet with. She surrounds herself with a positive evergy which is almost contagious. The meet & greet with her on the 16th of December was at the centre and a few of the artists from the locality participated. It was such a beautiful afternoon, where Thajba shared her work and experiences with the artists, and in turn the artists shared their own.

A little weak in spoken Urdu, Thajba did not let her linguistic limitations be any factor in restricing dialogue with the participants. It was an exciting event.

"Paint Your Mind" was a workshop that Thajba conducted the very next day i.e. 17th December, 2017. This was an outdoor workshop where participants were guided by Thajba to draw inspiration from their surroundings & draw free hand.

It was an exciting evening at the Pakistan Chowk & Thajba seemed to enjoy her visit as well.

She describes her visits as follows:

"My experience.. from walking up those red stairs to sitting under the tree in the middle of the  hustling bustling streets pf Pakistan  Chowk... was a true and new experience for me. I love the passion students, teachers,mentors and creatives have to restoring the image of these long forgotten monuments. Personally a new challenge was to refocus all my energy  whilst getting distracted and working in an uncontrolled environment.


I look forward to working towards creating a festival event with onsite painting, food and chai where a beautiful  half day can by spent basking in the sun, conversing, painting and creating by expression. 

I have many ideas of collage workshops  inspired by buildings.. acrylic workshops- all student oriented... but need to plan it out...and will send proposal to you once i organise it with nadia asap.

Thank you very much to you for your effort, time and energy spent towards this and for this opportunity. I look forward to having a blossoming relationship with you on this front."

Thank you Thajba Najeeb for bringing to PCCC your positive aura; we hope to host you again soon!


Artistic Intervention: Rang Saazi with Girls at Dhabas

A year ago on July 15th, Qandeel Baloch (Fauzia Azeem) was killed by her brother. She was 26 years old when she was murdered. In her short life she held a mirror up to us. Our society's hypocrisies and its blatant hatred of women. She was a woman who had nothing yet fought to live her life on her own terms. Armed with a smartphone and a bold, red lip, Qandeel Baloch winked at us from our laptop screens and then laughed when we responded with venom. She refused to back down and struck back with wit, charm and infinite resilience.

In celebration of Qandeel's life, Girls at Dhabas and Pakistan Chowk Community Centre invited the community to paint a mural of Qandeel on July 15, talk, share and learn while creating something together. Splashing the colors of resilience on walls near Pakistan Chowk, we refuse to forget her, the women before her, the women among us, and we will fight hate with art and solidarity.

The Rang Saazi was followed by a dialogue at Pakistan Chowk Community Center the day after, discussing what happens when people get together to make controversial art in public spaces, about women who decide to live and practise their daily lives differently.

Photo credit: Shayan Khatri

Representing the artists of Old Town at Jumma Hafta Art Bazaar @ T2F

On July 14 and 15, our team of interns displayed and sold the works of the oldest artists of Old Town, like Ahmed Anwer, among the works of contemporary artists at The Second Floor's Jumma Hafta Art Bazaar. It was an excellent to bring the works of the Water Color Society at Pakistan Chowk under the spotlight and talk about the process. Spoken histories of Old Town veterans were put on public display in eight postcards for people's engagement. People also got to have a glimpse of the Pakistan Chowk Community Centre on postcards, carrying our mission and our narrative further.

JHAB proved to be a great way for people to learn about what Pakistan Chowk Community Centre aims to be and how they can contribute to make it happen.

Photo credit: Anum Mufti

Urban Negotiations | Case of Illegal Pedestrian Bridge

A pedestrian Bridge is being  proposed for students, from private property- crossing public road.

Site Plan of the DJ Science College, Karachi.

Site Plan of the DJ Science College, Karachi.

Historical Background
Historical Background: The Northern extremity of the Rambagh Quater is defined by M.A Jinnah (Bunder)Road, the western boundary by Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed (Kutchery), southern boundary by Aiwan-e-Sadar) Roads, while Strachan, Mohd.bin Qasim (burnes) and Robson Roads divide this Quarter from Artilley Maidan Quarter. One of the major buildings of this Quarter is the Dayaram Jethmal Sind College designed by James Strachan and Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed (kutchery) Roads. During the 1870's this area had been a garden with trees and plantation, but by 1893, the impressive college building had been constructed in its place. One of the main gardens of karachi, the 'Doctor Burns Gardens' is also located in this Quarter. The D.J. Science College building is majestic, well constructed in the Rambagh Quarter, old town Karachi. This building was inaugurated in 1887 by then governor of Bombay, Lord Reay, as the Sind Arts College. Diwan Dayaram Jethmal, a distinguished philanthropist was its chief promoter and benefactor. 

Building No: KAR/RAB/008
Building Name: D.J.Sindh Govt. 
Science College (Deyaram Jethmal College)
Address: Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed (Kutchery) Road
Plot No: 3 & 4, RB/4
The D.J. Science College building is majestic, well constructed in the Rambagh Quarter, old town Karachi. This building was inaugurated in 1887 by then governor of Bombay, Lord Reay, as the Sind Arts College. Diwan Dayaram Jethmal, a distinguished philanthropist was its chief promoter and benefactor.

Case of the D.J. Science (Institution) Pedestrian Bridge:
It's unfortunate, that D.J. Science college administration did not take any advice from Heritage Committee/ Architects on intrusive construction for the pedestrian bridge for a 55 feet wide road. The width of the road, and the surrounding context does not permit for such a massive, insensitive construction. Culture of pedestrian signals need to be promoted in the old town, downtown of Karachi. By allowing the bridge construction, the committee will channel the trend of this type of construction in the sensitive heritage cultural precinct zone, which in future will be plastered with hoarding and billboards. The height of the bridge will be approx 20 feet high, obstructing the heritage facades leading on axis on Kutchery Road. 

Advice / Suggestions: 
Vehicles must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians within a crosswalk that are in the same half of the roadway as the vehicle or when a pedestrian is approaching closely enough from the opposite side of the roadway to constitute a danger. Since its a two way road, the walkway can have a designed approach, by adding an island in the center of the road and formalised footpath at point A to point B.
1. To have a traffic officer designated to help students cross during morning/afternoon college hours.
2. To have signage's across the road, in Urdu & English with speed limit restrictions.
3. Introduction to have zebra crossing with pedestrian signal as a suggested system for the Institution, and also start the trend of pedestrian signals across the Old Town/Downtown.
4. To add vehicle speed softening measures before pedestrian walkways.

Heritage in Custody: The Case of Pakistan Chowk

By Asad Alvi

The Socio-Cultural History of the Area:

Pakistan Chowk was once called the educational heart of Karachi. If you ask an old Ned-ian, they will testify to this. The area was first utilized for educational purposes by Dayaram Gidumai Shahani, who many have gone on to call, alongside Edulji Dinshaw, as the ‘Father of Education’ in the country. Today, the rich socio-cultural history of Pakistan Chowk, patronized by Gidumai, suffers from historical amnesia. As Akhtar Balouch has written, that the history of Pakistan Chowk’s degradation is also, in many ways, an insight into how Gidumai turns from a “silent servant to a silent suffers.”

In 1880’s, the area was bought by Gidumai and mapped out as an educational center in the city (Khuhro, 1997). It was from here that the Sindh College Association began to operate, and it was here that Gidumai himself laid the foundations of the D.J Science College, of which he became the principal. After Gidumai died, the area was bequeathed to Kewalram Shahani, Gidumai’s son, who became the long-living educational and cultural patron of the area. Under Kewalram, however, the area transcended its mere educational activity to that of tourism, too. The Chowk housed the busiest taxi and Victoria station in the city, which was popularly known as the Purana Tonga Stand, which tourists and locals alike used to visit nearby cafes and restaurants, two of which were the popular Café Saadi, and Kaisar Restaurant. The former served as a public space where students from nearby institutions could interact during lunch breaks, and became an important hub for educational interaction, and the latter became famous for serving the likes of Noor Jehan. Just behind Café Sadi, the Chowk also housed the Bholu Akhada. A muddy wresting arena, the Akhada became the breeding grounds for wrestlers, producing great sportsmen like Bholu Pehelvan and Aslam Pehlevan, who both became world heavyweight champions. On one occasion, the president of Pakistan himself, Khwaja Nazimuddin, travelled to the Chowk in Karachi to watch the match. Pakistan Chowk’s history, thus, is a rare intermingling of education, sports, culture, and metropolitanism. However, while patronizing Pakistan Chowk as a space for tourists and culturalists, Kewalram Shahani also made sure that the activities in the area stayed true to the original spirit of his father: that of education, and perhaps, this is what the Chowk’s defining trait eventually became. The Shahani family were Hindu-Sindhis, and essentially, educationists and writers. Hence, the very pathos embedded in the family’s history made it a cultural imperative that the area be utilized as a hub for the printing press, reason why Arif Hasan calls the area perhaps “the first flourishing printing press of Karachi”. Gidumai had himself translated the likes of Jab Sahib, Bhagwat Gita, and Yoga Darshan, and these books were available in the newly flourishing literary market that founded its basis at Pakistan Chowk. Kewalram, on the other hand, became a philosopher, and wrote a treatise of Sufi philosophy called, “Mana Jo Chabuka” (The Scourges of Heart). The young man quite surprised the literati at the time when he wrote the first feminist novel of the Sindhi language, “Maa aen Dheeya” (Mother and Daughter).

Keeping up to their literary progress, the Shahani family opened up libraries, translation centers, and art schools around the Chowk.

The Saranagati building, the most imposing building around the Chowk, a red sandstone structure, was donated to the British Council and turned into a library, the second floor of which housed an atelier for emerging artists. One building on the corner, which has now been turned into a card printing shop, became the headquarters of the Sindh Sudhar Society, which oversaw the launching, circulation, and distribution of many quarterly publications, such as Ismat and Saraswati, which were made readily available to students living inside the area, mainly at the Meetharam and Sevakunj Hostels.

This brings us to a wholly distinct and important tangent of contribution: the hostel culture for which Pakistan Chowk became a facilitator, where the students of the newly flourishing NED University found home. By this time, the rupture of Partition had occurred, and newly pouring migrants, including students, recognizing Karachi as an important educational front, began to utilize the Pakistan Chowk. Three large hostels were opened: Sevakunj, Mehtaram, and Meetharam, the latter named after Kewalram’s late younger brother. All hostels offered free services and many of their residents were alumni students pursuing jobs, who went on to live there even after graduation. The hostels also housed reading rooms, where students could read dozens of daily newspapers and periodicals.

These experiences have been immortalized by the archival documents at NEDAASC (NED Alumni Association of Southern California, USA), which function mostly as memoirs and testimonies. One such document, penned by then-student Dr. Arshad Mehmood, speaks: “I was in Lahore when I received the telegram, “Come immediately, Vacancy open.” The sender’s address was at Sevakunj Hostel in Pakistan Chowk near NED College in Karachi. I caught the evening train, and made it to Sevakunj in the early afternoon of the next day. A quick shower to wash off the train dust, and I was ready. There was one large room, which housed four students, and the four cots and four desks in that room. Regular meetings and parties were held in the hostel courtyard, where we gathered valuable knowledge and friendships that have lasted a life time.” Such is, then, the cultural importance of these hostels. It is Farooq Soomro who writes: “Intizar Hussain compares old buildings to trees which have their roots deep inside people’s hearts. Everything revolves around such landmarks. And they remain forever in our stories and dreams becoming part of our folklore. Sevakunj is one such building.”

Sevakunj has a strong presence and character: it is decorated with a minimal but elegant façade. Inside, there is a small courtyard, reminiscent of a Persian sahn, in which students would accumulate in the evening and discuss education in a communal whole. The main architectural feature of the verandah is its arcading of exquisite motifs, often incorporated in buildings at the time; however, an unusual feature are gable frontages, possibly due to the influence of the recently completed Viceregal Lodge at Simla, considered to be a “free interpretation of the Elizabethan or English Renaissance.” (Davis, 1985: 117) Meethram is more intricate, the front façade comprising of detailed window-work, and a gallery. The neo-classical style of the hostel is not surprising; at the time many other native patrons and affluent philanthropists considered Renaissance and Palladian Architectural expression as the most befitting, which conveyed their enlightenment disposition and civilizational progress, which kept up with the cultural spirit of Pakistan Chowk. (Lari, 2000).

Marvi 1.jpg

Precisely who designed these hostels has fallen into historical obscurity, but Lari contends that it may very well have been Strachan, who designed other buildings in the vicinity, and that Meethram’s neo-classical accuracy could only have been devised by a mastermind such as Strachan himself (Ibid). Lari and Davis both point out to an important fact: that the very architecture of the buildings surrounding the Chowk echoes its socio-cultural pathos. Architecture, then, becomes a way to sustain culture – stamp the architecture down, and the culture will go with it too.

Field Notes: Pakistan Chowk Today Problems, Complaints, and Reminiscences
If the urban theorist Jane Jacobs is right, that “the history of a space is also the history of the people who inhabit it”, then the history of Pakistan Chowk’s degradation is also an analysis of the ethnography of its residents. Hence, my field notes were not merely passive observations, but also conversations with people I encountered at the Chowk. Thus, problems, complaints, and reminiscences:

  1. It is the broken staircase I notice first. There is practically no way to climb to the space of the chowk itself – it can be quite high for the elderly who may face difficulty reaching it. Hence, its accessibility is limited to people who are physically strong to jump. Someone like my grandmother cannot reach the Chowk.
  2.  A broken balustrade/grill. It disappears halfway into the air, and does not line the complete parameter of the Chowk. A nearby shopkeeper tells me that there was an original balustrade, only obstructed by stairways on both ends of the chowk, hence giving the area a genuinely neat look, something that has been replaced by a more precarious look now.
  3.  Garbage and Waste: The chowk is surrounded with trenches, waste and garbage disposal, some of which has been set to fire, and there is a cloud of gray smoke emanating from one side. It is difficult to breathe. I manage to locate the area’s oldest occupant, Arshad Abdul Latif, who runs the Pakistan Tailors in the area, which opened in 1955. Originally a migrant, Arshad has seen the spacial features of the Chowk change over the last period of 50 years. He recounts that the last appraisal of garbage waste in the area was done by municipal authorities in 1989, under Benazir Bhutto’s government. There has been none since.
  4. Political Vandalism: On either sides of the structure of the Chowk itself, are political posters and graffiti, the messages often bordering on intolerance and threatening tones. One, for example, reads: “Bund kamron ki siasat nahi chalegi.” (The politics behind closed doors won’t work!”). This, in essence, defies the diverse and tolerant historical nature of the area. Another graffiti reads: ‘Perfume Chowk.” This popular phrase has an interesting history. An eastern perfume pushcart started painting the phrase across the city to promote his business. Realizing how much his business had prospered due to this activity, local bhatta-khors decided to hijack the slogan and use it to for bhatta activity across the city, where the collected bhatta was accumulated at a Chowk in Gulistan-e-Johar that was infamously named, Perfume Chowk. This is an important observation for me. The imposition of Perfume Chowk (which stands for corruption) onto the structure of Pakistan Chowk (which stands for growth), operating vis-a-vis the wordplay on Chowk, is what the revolutionary Julio Martinez called ‘symbolic dislocation.’
  5. The Peepal Tree: There is a massive peepal tree at the center of the roundabout, which serves as a giant shade, that can be utilized in very interesting and creative ways. Right now, it serves as a shade/resting place for beggars/fakirs and people working at nearby car repair shops. Usually, men in greasy clothes are sleeping underneath the tree on an ordinary afternoon; you can notice their sacks and bags hanging from the branches of the tree; a mirror hangs loose with a broken toothbrush attached to it; these bags contain rotten food for days – some bags are torn and the food is spilled everywhere, leading to an unbearable stench – there are flies all around them, and their pillows and clothes bundled together, lined against the body of the trunk. The description is not meant to demonize these subjects along the lines of classicism; it is to show that these factors genuinely accentuate an atmosphere of decay in the area, and lend the area a generally dirty look. When I ask one fakir who lets him use this place, he tells he pays a regular sum of money to the police-man in the area. If an important part of heritage preservation is also bioecological concern, then this peepal tree must remain clean, and these people should be relocated to other spaces for their afternoon naps – the political implications of this should be considered first.
  6. Benches: Abdul Latif also recounts how in the earlier years, while there were no benches, residents of the area would bring mats and chadors with them in the evening and play ludo and taash. Evening leisure activities around the Chowk are now almost non-existent.
  7. Tonga Stand/Fountain: There is a dry fountain. This, however, was not used for drinking purposes as much, but for mere decorational ones. A prime use of the fountain, however, was for Tonga-walas. Imam Buksh, who watched his father drive a horse carriage, the ‘Victoria’ around the Chowk, and who now spends his time commuting children from school to homes, recounts an interesting story. When his father died some decades earlier, Imam Buksh inherited the family’s only horse. The horse, too, died after a few years. Imam tells: “Horses also need gallons of water, especially in this Karachi heat. The fountain water was used by all tonga-walas for their horses. Unfortunately now, it does not work. The public tap, at the Purana Tonga Stand, also gives no water”. The Purana Tonga Stand also had tethering spots where tonga-walas could chain their horses and carriage, but this spot has been erased. Many like Imam live in the fear of their horses and Victorias disappearing in the night.

Heritage in Custody: A Precarious Future
While my field notes provide a more nostalgic account of cultural decay embedded in the minds of Pakistan Chowk residents, there have been other structural, political, and tangible problems that the Chowk has faced over the last several years, and ongoing tribulations continue to affect the area, a phenomenon that one newspaper report went on to call ‘Heritage in Custody’. The phenomenon of urban decay at Pakistan Chowk has manifested itself in many ways, two of which have generated much concern from residents of the area:

I. The Conversion of Mitharam Hostel into a sub-jail:
Last year, the government decided to convert Mitharam Hostel at Pakistan Chowk into a sub-jail. The proposal was approved by the Sindh chief minister, on the request of the Rangers DG, Major General Bilal Akbar. The latter had asked the provincial government to allocate a facility to detain suspects, especially those being interrogated by the Rangers under the 90-day preventive detention in accordance with the Anti-Terrorism Act. The CM House spokesperson noted they had sent a summary of approval to the home department. The historic hostel has already been under the use of Sindh Rangers since the last several years, serving as barracks. The Sindh government’s decision to convert the Mitharam Hostel, an historic edifice with magnificent architecture, into a sub-jail has drawn severe criticism from conservationists who demand the government to take back the decision and set up the jail outside city limits, for the hostel is among the over 1,000 buildings declared protected under the Sindh Heritage Protection Act.

Yasmeen Lari noted in a newspaper report: “Jails should be kept away from populated areas because of security hazards. While one had been hearing of government plans to relocate outside the city the Central Prison, which was out of the city limits when it was constructed but over years came to be surrounded by residential areas, the government’s plan to set up a new jail in the midst of Pakistan Chowk is incomprehensible. Soon the Rangers would want to fortify the Mitharam Hostel. The building was designed as a hostel and not as a jail by renowned architect James Strachan who was associated with the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and had to his credit many other beautiful edifices like the Empress Market. By converting the hostel into a jail, the government is completely changing the character of the historic edifice.”
Hameed Akhund, former secretary of Sindh culture department, in the same report, noted: “Pakistan Chowk is an education related area and buildings in the vicinity should not be converted into a jail. Located in the middle of thickly populated area, the building would expose the locality to violence and threats of terrorist attacks after it had been converted into a jail.”

II. The Green-Line Metro:
The prime minister announced earlier this year that the Green Line will be extended all the way to the CDB area. The project, worth Rs16 billion, is being funded by the federal government. Sualeh Ahmed Faruqui, chief of Karachi Infrastructure Development Company Limited (KIDCL), responsible for the building and execution of the Green Line BRT project, is of the opinion that they have to take the project to its logical end, which is Tower. He said if they turned the Green Line back right from Urdu Bazaar, the purpose of the project would not be fulfilled. This makes it essential for a new route to be devised, says Dr Muhammad Tahir Soomro, EA consultant and former director of Karachi’s mass transit cell. The Green Line is now expected to enter the Saddar area from Kutchery Road all the way to Pakistan Chowk and then through Court Road, touching Sharah-e-Liaquat, and entering MA Jinnah Road.

Courtesy: Green-Line Corridor Plan, Official Website of Green-Line

Courtesy: Green-Line Corridor Plan, Official Website of Green-Line

With this route plan, EA consultants believe the volume of passengers will increase by around 0.2 million people, which will reduce the cost of the government’s subsidy. This route, however, does not sit well with Ashar Lodhi, an operational consultant for both Green and Blue lines, who argues that the Green Line would require additional bus-stop stations to be constructed across the areas it passes through, many of which are mixed-traffic areas with historical roundabouts where street-interaction is an important aspect of one’s lifestyle. To counter this, and make the project ‘city and culture friendly’, the KIDCL has invited not only urban planners on board, but also cultural theorists, academia, and civil society members, to provide their input on the plan, and devise ways in which this project does not subsume the culture of the Chowk. The marriage between cultural and civil society actors with developmental authorities, has, however, never been successful. It is only a matter of time which will reveal how this collaboration turns out, and whether, if the Green Line Metro is to cut through the Pakistan Chowk, will take into account its rich socio-cultural and historical significance.