Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Karachi - the First City into My Memory Chip

I am adding my first entry into my new blog - and I take a start from Karachi. Not because it is the gateway to Pakistan "Bab-e-Pakistan" as it lies on the most southern portion of Pakistan on the Arabian Sea, but because my earliest childhood memories belong to this city. I was three years old when my father then serving in Police in Sargodha (where he was the Reserve Inspector at Police Training School "PTS" responsible for the training of the recruits - later PTS moved to Sihala near Rawalpindi and upgraded to the level of a college) was transferred to Karachi in the Intelligence Bureau (and had a great deal to do into its organization and functioning).

So it was Karachi - I had a faint memory of how our house looked. It was near the place where present day Hajji Camp is located. There was a Fish Toll near our house. Once it rained very heavily and I remember we walked in knee deep water to a nearby complaint office to report for the electricity failure. I was almost five then. The famous China Creek was not far from our house and near that there was a small shop which beside other things sold "Till kay Laddoos" - then my favourite. Then there were Trams in Karachi, which I once remembered to have ridden with my brothers. Alas!! That treasure has since vanished. One of my aunt living with us was an air hostess in PIA and would always bring back bundles of chocolates and other sweet stuff. Once she brought me a small toy of Santa Claus riding a stag-driven cart. When the toy ran, it gave a ringing bell sound.

Then one day it was announced that my father had been posted to Lahore and we were to pack up. So we boarded a train (later it was revealed that we boarded the then famous Tez Gam). We left at night and I still remember the small hillocks passing by the moving train like ghosts.

I came back to Karachi in 1977 and then there was no ending to it.

I was later to find that Located on the mouth of the Arabia Sea, Karachi was nothing much until the Mirs of Talpur seized it from the Khan of Kalat in 1795 and constructed a mud fort at Manora. Originally what now constitutes Karachi was a group of small villages including Kalachi-jo-Kun or just Kolachi and the fort of Manora. Any history of Karachi prior to the 19th century is sketchy. Karchi is also said to be called Krokola from which one of Alexander the Great's admirals sailed at the end of his conquests was the same as Karachi. In 1729, Kolachi-jo-Goth became a trading post when it was selected as a port for trade with Muscat and Bahrain. In the following years a fort was built and cannons brought in from Muscat were mounted on it. The fort had two doorways, one facing the sea called the Khara Darwaza or Brackish Gate and one facing the River Lyari called the Meetha Darwaza or Sweet Gate. Currently, the site of those gates corresponds to the location of the neighbourhoods of Kharadar and Meetha-dar. In 1795 the city passed from the Khan of Kalat to the Talpur rulers of Sindh. The town then swelled and by 18181, had a population of some 13,000. Not much happened thereafter until 1st February 1839, when a British ship - the Wellesley - anchored off Manora. Two days later the little fort surrendered without a shot being fired on either side. Three years later, it was annexed into British India as a district. The fickle finger of fate had suddenly shoved the sleepy back-water towards becoming a megalopolis, a world city.

Its development during Sir Charles Napier's era has been significant, who once said "Would that I could come again to see you in your grandeur!". Napier's quote proved almost prophetic and today Karachi has all what a thriving seaport anywhere in the world should have - wide sunny beaches and yachting, deep-sea fishing, golf and horse racing all-year round. Karachi was not what many see it today. At the time of independence though trams were used as means of transportation in some selected sections of the city, it had mostly camel driven carts snailing around the city. Some Victorian style buildings could be seen in the city centre. In fact Karachi as a city lacked a rich cultural past or the absence of historical buildings. Some of the old Victorian buildings that still stand to their glory include the famous Frere Hall.

From camel/donkey carts and cycle rickshaws and trams, Karachi has come a long way. Today mini buses and metro buses have replaced carts and trams. While a majority of people wait for the buses after a hard day's work, gleaming new air-conditioned cars whiz by on broad and busy roads. Although there are very rich people in Karachi, called "Seths", a majority of middle class people, who Karachi feeds of his established industrial base, look on. Since independence in 1947, Karachi has swelled into a very big city with modern buildings replacing the old ones, though some old hearts weep with nostalgic memories when any old building goes down.

Today Karachi is bursting with skyscrapers, modern 5 star hotels and restaurants and many public parks and theaters. Karachi is host to the annual Kara Film festival. Although this festival is very new it has gained an eminent position in international circles. Karachi is the financial capital of Pakistan and also home to the largest stock exchange of Pakistan: the Karachi Stock Exchange. Most Pakistani banks have their headquarters in Karachi. The headquarters of nearly all the multi-national companies based in Pakistan are in Karachi. Karachi also has a huge industrial base. The Karachi Steel Mills, the pride of the nation, is located near Port Bin Qasim and provides the much needed steel for the development of the country. There are large industrial estates on most of the fringes of the main city. The main industries are textiles, pharmaceuticals, steel, and automobiles, besides many cottage industries . Karachi is also developing into a software hub of Pakistan.

Karachi has a number of beaches, sun bathed with blue water kissing and taking away the warmth from the sun baked sand. French Beach is the finest beach in Karachi. The water is clean and the air is crisp. There are gorgeous rocks embedded in the ocean. The waves splashing against them is quite a lovely sight. But the Clifton Beach is the most visited as it is the only beach that is in the immediate city, close that is. All the other ones are farther away. Hawks Bay is yet another wonderfully sunny and sandy beach. The water is clean and if you need a tan, it is the beach to go to. The huts allow total privacy and the view is magnificent. If someone is interested in turtles then Sand Spit is the beach to go to. Paradise Point is the last beach on Sindh's limits. It is a fairly rocky, allowing no swimming.

Karachi is a true representation of Pakistan as people from all races and regions of Pakistan abound here which also is the chief reason that its restaurants provide a wide choice and range of Pakistani cuisines. One can find endless variety of Pakistani handicrafts like rugs / carpets of rare design and beauty and ornaments and clothes. In fact one can call it a ethnic and linguistic pot pouri of Pakistan.

So this is all about Karachi from me - my next travel will be through streets of Lahore (logically too as we came to Lahore from Karachi) where I grew up eating one of the best food anywhere in the world.