After leading a nomadic life for a better part of his life, my dad chose Karachi to be his home and bought our house back in 1975. Of all his children, I am the only one who is a true blue Karachiite – born and raised in the city I affectionately call ‘the city of candle lights’.
My father used to work for a bank in a tall building on Chundrigar Road. Being an over curious child I wanted to know everything about his work. I must have been around 9 years old when he took me to his office for a day. I did not learn anything about banking except for the fact that everyone swivels their chairs in the office and was suitably impressed by his assistant’s perfectly coifed hair – a kind lady who gave me a lot of office stationary. One thing that is still vivid in my mind about that visit was my first glimpse of Merewether Tower from his 11th floor office’s glass window. That was the day I fell in love with the city I still call home.
After that day, I would request my dad to take me to work every day because I wanted to see the city. He obviously refused and I remember telling him in a huff that one day, I too will have an office on the same road. Fast forward to a few years and I am newbie at a newspaper. I was given assignments that no one would take and I gladly took them all because those assignments gave me the chance to discover my city. I have had a fairly protected middle class upbringing where parents pick and drop the children and don’t let them wander around the city. My new found independence was heady and I discovered Kharadar and Methadar, Bolton Market, Tower, Urdu Bazaar, Chakiwara and Lyari while meandering through the streets on the pretext of working on my stories. For someone who cannot file the tax returns of her minuscule salary, the sight of white clad old Memon entrepreneurs calculating millions on old rusty calculators was enchanting. I remember my first visit to Jackson, a notorious area in Lyari famous for finding all the stolen goods where a man wanted to sell me a fairly new stolen motorbike for 10,000. When I told him that I don’t know how to ride a bike he threw in the lessons for another 200 rupees. I remember discovering a paan wala near Civil Hospital who sold special pan for 250 rupees a piece. I also remember my first visit to Lunda Bazaar where I was astounded to find out that if you look hard enough, you can actually find the labels you are looking for. Each and every part and person of the old city made me fall in love with Karachi a little more.
One of my German friends who lived in Islamabad for a few years once asked me why do I love Karachi and I said I don’t know. Loving Karachi is an acquired taste and those who have not lived here would never know it. Karachiites love their city the way a mother loves her ugly child, warts and all, but I have always known one thing. One of the reason I love Karachi is the business district and the area surrounding it. I love the buildings from the British Raj period and once told Nasreen Jalil, city’s deputy mayor, that she is the luckiest woman in the city not only because she has an office in one of the grandest buildings (KMC Building) in the city, she has a designated parking space to her name.
In a planned arson attempt on December 28th 2009, part of the same building along with Denso Hall, Akbar Building and approximately 1500 shops on M. A. Jinnah Road, Bolton Market and adjacent areas were set ablaze. According to renowned architect Yasmin Lari, the one-and-a-half kilometers strip between the KMC building and Merewether Tower houses about 60 historical buildings, majority of them protected under the Sind Cultural Heritage Protection Act. Not only people have lost their livelihood and their life savings in the fire, we, the citizens, have lost a part of the architecture that made Karachi the city it was. I am at a loss why such incidents of vandalism happen in Karachi alone and nowhere else in the city, who are the people who surface after every such tragedy armed with petrol and phosphorus to loot and burn the city. I almost died on December 27, 2007 when similar carnage was wreaked upon the citizens of Karachi and I know of people who are still reeling from the financial loss they accrued on that fateful day two years ago.
The suicide bomber who started it all obviously died, but the CCTV footage shows the faces of vandals. They not only destroyed the private property of the shopkeepers in the area, they also burned down public property such as Police and KESC vehicles and buildings under cultural heritage protection. As a tax paying citizen, I DEMAND that the home ministry runs the faces of vandals through NADRA’s database, find them and publicly punish them so that people will think twice about destroying public property in future. They should also release the tapes to the media so that we will know the faces of the people who destroyed our beloved city. I, along with all the other tax payers bear the cost of such acts and I am sick & tired of paying for it. I want the culprits behind the bars and I want them there right now.
The tower of the KMC Building is visible behind the theick dark smoke.
The fire that turned millionaires into penniless people.
The burnt CDGK vehicles in KMC building compound.
Photos were stolen from BBC and Dawn