By: Amar Guriro
The next time you are near Urdu Bazaar, look up at a building opposite it to see one of the Subcontinent’s most famous faces looking down at you
Gandhi makes the shopkeepers of Bahadur Shah Market in Karachi smile even today. It’s their private little joke that unbeknownst to thousands of people who pass by each day, have the Indian icon smiling down at them.
This surprising wrought-iron reminder of the past can be found in the balconies of the two-storey Azeem Mahal which was built in 1933, at a time before any resident of Karachi could have been sure this city would be in Pakistan one day. “We are lucky to have historical buildings with images of personalities such as Gandhi Jee,” said Abdul Subhan, a shopkeeper at Bahadur Shah Market. “I think the Government of Pakistan should arrange an international exhibition and invite Indians to come and see the building.” But given the strained Indo-Pak relations after the violence in Kabul, it is perhaps unlikely that any such trips will be arranged.
It was not unusual before Partition in 1947 for buildings in the bustling port city of Karachi to be embellished with such artwork. DJ Science College and St Joseph’s Convent High School have tiles from Belgium, Michaelangelo’s cherubs flit in the masonry high above the traffic-crazed streets of Saddar and alternating Roman and lancet arches line Bunder Road at Lakshmi Das and Saleh Mohammed Streets circa 1920.
In fact, Azeem Mahal is located on Mohan Road, named after Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the man himself. The road starts from MA Jinnah Road (Bundar Road), crosses the famous Urdu Bazaar book market and goes up to the Sindh Assembly building.
Thirty-six-year old Mahfoozur Rehman, a shopkeeper who runs Japan Tyre Shop in Azeem Mahal, remembers the foreign tourists from his childhood days in the neighbourhood. They would pass by in horse-drawn carriages or Victorias. They would also visit his grandfather’s shop. “My grandfather was fluent in English and the tourists were eager to learn about the history of the building and Gandhi’s images,” said Rehman.
Today, elderly shopkeeper Shafiqur Rehman notices that children on their way to buy textbooks at Urdu Bazaar are stopped by their parents for a few seconds to admire the historic building. Aside from the balconies, the building, which has about 10 occupied flats is quite run down. People living on the second floor didn’t even know that their balconies had Gandhi’s image on them.
“Perhaps there are some enmities between the governments of Pakistan and India but as people we don’t really have a problem,” said shopkeeper Muhammad Arif. And 61 years later, perhaps there should be none.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008