Karachi railway station: On the right track

The Express Tribune: February 1, 2015
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If you are a 29-year-old architect and you’ve lost your sense of direction, it seems entirely fitting that your dream job would land you at Karachi’s Cantonment Railway Station. “I had left my job at the Heritage Foundation. I had no jobs lined up and I didn’t even know how I would pay my bills,” recalls Marvi Mazhar. “Then I got a call from architect Aqeel Bilgrami and he asked me to come see the station, as a group of artists and architects was hoping to revitalise this beautiful 19th century building.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Full story here
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Ziarat Residency: Restoring the house that Mr Jinnah called home

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The Express Tribune: August 14, 2014

ZIARAT: “We have a tradition in our Pashtun culture,” says Feroze, the manager of a guest house in Ziarat. “When there is a shaadi or a baby is born, we get out our guns. We’re happy! We fire!” A little after 1 am on June 15th last year, Feroze woke to the sound of gunfire. “I thought someone had their first baby boy because it was so intense,” he said. A few minutes later, he learned that Ziarat Residency, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s home in his last few days in 1948, had been attacked by militants.

The bomb disposal squad removed six more bombs planted inside the house, but not before furniture, artifacts and photographs inside were burned and one police official lost his life.

Within a month, architect Nayyar Ali Dada was approached to oversee the Residency’s restoration. While he has a record of such conservation projects, it was Dada’s prior experience with the house that made him, as he puts it, a ‘natural choice’ – in the 1990s, the government recruited Dada to convert the Residency into a museum space after a fire.

Link to full article here

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Flashback

I didn’t feel much like celebrating Pakistan this year, so I put out an open call for images from your parents/grandparents/family archives. Got such fantastic contributions from all over Pakistan, with great anecdotes/family histories. One photo every day, taking you back to a time when we had a lot more to celebrate. Today’s photo is one of my favourites 🙂 Most of the slots are full but if you’d like to contribute a photo, get in touch with me at sanam.maher@tribune.com.pk

Check out the e-paper if you’d like to read the note sent in with the image: http://tribune.com.pk/epaper/

August 1st Aug 1

 

Karachi’s Chairman: Saving her a seat

The Express Tribune: December 27, 2013

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On the 27th of December, 2007, Riaz Ahmed was at his workplace, Manzoor Sons, a catering, decoration and tent manufacturing business, when he received a call from his wife. “I was very busy as we were juggling seven or eight functions that day,” he says. “When I answered the call, my mind was preoccupied and all I heard my wife say was “Zaalimon ne BB ko maar diya”.”

As his workers scrambled for updates on the functions, Ahmed thought of a room one floor above his office, where a caramel coloured wooden chair was placed in a dark corner, the curved S-shape of it’s legs peeking out from under an olive green tarpaulin. This is the chair that Benazir Bhutto sat on when she visited the National Refinery in 1995, during her second stint as prime minister. “It had rained the night before,” recalls Ahmed, “and it was still damp when Benazir arrived at the refinery in her helicopter.” Not wishing for the prime minister to tread on the muddy ground, Ahmed and two of his employees stood by the helicopter with a tightly rolled red carpet, unfurling it before Benazir as she walked from the helipad to the building. A photograph of the day sits under the glass surface of Ahmed’s desk at his office on Burns Road. “She came back to do something for Pakistan this time,” he says, looking at the image. “She didn’t realize how much love we would give her.” Ahmed says he was unable to process the news of Bhutto’s assassination until he reached home at 4 a.m. on the night of the 27th.

The weighty sheesham chair with a cranberry red velvet seat is now upholstered in a royal blue fabric and it was last used at a function for the former chief minister’s nephew three years ago. “He told me he had seen a blue fabric he liked at the PM house in Islamabad and so we had to change the fabric,” Ahmed says. This ‘sadarti kursi’ or presidential chair was made in Chiniot and has been used at a few weddings and some government functions but, Ahmed says, those who request it don’t know who sat on this chair nor do they care. “That time is long gone,” he says. The chair can be rented for Rs. 600.

Ahmed, who refers to Benazir as ‘Bibi jee’, feels a connection with the Bhutto family. “I’ll show you a chair that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto used,” he says, describing the lions’ faces carved into the chairs arms. “You’ll feel like the sher will jump out at you,” he promises, uncovering a sheesham high-backed chair with a red velvet seat, gulkari work or carvings of gold flowers curled around a crest of two swords and the crescent and star, their brilliance faded over the years. Sitting on the chair, your hands rest on the manes of two lions. The chair was first used by Queen Elizabeth in 1961 during a visit to Pakistan. “We also provided this chair for a function for Zia ul Haq, but we needed to create a special footstool as…” Ahmed breaks off, lowering his tone, “woh kadd mein chotay thay, you know (he was short in height).” Crafted in Multan, the chair cost roughly Rs 3000 to produce during the 1940s. It’s creamy velvet upholstery pockmarked with small holes, nibbled away by moths, it can now be rented for Rs 1000.

Since Zia ul Haq used the chair, it has been used once during a theatre production at Karachi’s Arts Council. “I also met Nusrat Bhutto when Sanam Bhutto was married,” Ahmed says, introduced to Mrs Bhutto by the manager of the Shezan Hotel on Victoria Road. “We visited 70 Clifton to meet Mrs Bhutto,” says Maqbool Hasan, who inherited the business from his father, “and press people followed us back to the shop to ask us what the Bhuttos were up to and why we went to their house.” Ahmed adds, “The day after Sanam’s wedding, Mrs Bhutto called me and said she’d gone to Larkana and so I shouldn’t worry that she’d skipped out on paying me.” The concern over payment is legitimate – Maqbool Hasan explains that “kaun le ga payment inn siyasi logon se, woh baad mein nazar hi nahin aatay.”

Much has changed in Ahmed’s line of work since he first met Benazir. The business, established nearly 150 years ago in India, moved to Karachi in 1949 and employed 50 workers; as the market for catering to weddings changed, with a focus on modern decoration and in-house services at hotels and marriage halls, Ahmed says the business only has 10 employees today. Primarily a tent-manufacturing firm, providing tents to Pakistan’s army since the country’s inception (in India, the business catered to maharajas requiring tents for events or camping trips), Manzoor Sons focuses now on weddings and events such as birthday parties or convocations, as they face stiff competition from cheaper businesses in China and Spain. The last tents they provided to the Pakistan government were sent to Awaran this year.

As he covers the chair in its tarp, Ahmed says he has not catered to the younger generation of Bhutto-Zardaris. “Hum ne abhi tak toh nahin kiya,” he says. “Bilawal kahaan hota hai Pakistan mein?”

Link to article in the Tribune

More photos via Instagram

Going nowhere

The Express Tribune’s T Magazine: December 22-28, 2013

“I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but my father might,” said the ghora gaari waala to Sarah Khan, when she asked him if he knew Ahmed Rushdi’s Bunder Road se Kemari. The artist met the young man’s father, who immediately recognised the song and took her on a ride in his tonga along the route Rushdi sang about in 1954.  “I took that route every day,” Khan says, “as my house was located in the area and I would visit Khori Garden for my art supplies.” Her trip on the tonga, however, allowed her to glimpse familiar sites anew, as she furiously sketched while perched in the carriage. The sketches form part of Khan’s contribution to Right to the City: Travel guide to Karachi, a collaborative project by four artists, a historian and a curator determined to challenge local and international perceptions of Karachi as ‘Pakistan’s dark heart’ (as characterised by Time Magazine in 2012) or a ‘sweltering gangland’ (Time Magazine in October 2013).

Link to full article in T Magazine

Paper work

The Herald: August 2011

Paper work

The challenges in documenting and accessing historical records in Pakistan

“How much has India paid you to get this information?” asked a librarian at a government archive when a private archivist Ahmed Saleem attempted to access documents for his research into Sikh history. Saleem laughs as he recalls his (mis)adventures in Pakistan’s provincial and national archives. “Staff members at the archives would have a number of excuses for my request to access files,” he says.

During the course of his research into Partition, Saleem was often told that the material he was seeking was classified as it posed a potential threat to ‘Pakistan’s integrity’. He believes “the chief secretary of the Punjab Archives keeps all records of Bhagat Singh’s trial in a drawer in his desk and if you ask for these files, he questions whether you are working for India.”

Saleem’s assertions echo what researchers in Pakistan have been saying for years: government archives are rich repositories of information for those researchers who manage to whisper the right words to open these veritable Solomon’s mines of historical records. With provincial archives slowly transferring data from outdated microfilms into computerised systems, these records are largely well preserved, though poorly organised. As one former archive director says, “There is no shortage of funds — that is a myth.” The problem, he believes, lies within the administration, failing to employ professional, well-trained archivists who are able to handle the material in their charge.

Link to PDF of full article