A call-to-arms to improve the city that interestingly resonates with some of Karachi’s eternal themes: the cult of religiosity and a proclivity for excess.

Karachi 2007
By Ardeshir Cowasjee
IN the year 1905 a visitor from London spoke the following words to his Karachi host : “What strikes me so much about Karachi is the way all you fellows pull together — the merchants and the railway, the local bodies and the government officials; not only do all of you seem to sincerely believe in the great future of your port, but you meet together and talk things over, you all work actively hand in hand, to carry forward the objects you have in view. In fact, your methods are the methods that command success.”

These sentences are imprinted on the cover of the book ‘Karachi 1839-1947’ written by the principal of the BVS Parsi High School, Behram Sohrab H J Rustomjee, (pub.1952, which now should be reprinted).

“You fellows” pulled together not for reasons of nationality, ethnicity or religion, but because they were honest and good men with the interests of the progress, wealth and well-being of their city foremost in their minds, and because they had the will and the intent to make it into a viable, prosperous, well run, well maintained and eminently livable city.

At the beginning of 1905, Tahilram Khemchand was the president of the Karachi Municipal Corporation, the highest civic official. By autumn of the year he was succeeded by T. L. F. Beaumont who stayed in office until 1910 when Sir Charles Mules took over. Mules was followed by Harchandrai Vishindas who was followed by Ghulamali Chagla, and then in came the great Jamshed Nusserwanji, the maker of Karachi, as the elected president, staying from April 1922 to October 1933 when the first election for mayor of the city took place.

The first to be elected was Jamshed Nusserwanji. The system agreed upon was that the Parsis, Hindus and Muslims would alternate in the mayoral office and thus in 1934 Tikamdas Wadhumal was elected, followed in 1935 by Kazi Khuda Bukhsh. And so it continued : 1936-37 Khan Bahadur Ardeshir H Mama, 1937-38 Durgadas B Advani, 1938-39 Hatim A Alavi, 1939-40 Rustom K Sidwha, 1940-41 Lalji Mahrotra, 1941-42 Mahommed Hasshim Gazdar, 1942-43 Sohrab K H Katrak, 1943-44 Shambonath Mulraj, 1944-45 Yusuf Haroon, and from 1945-46 the pattern was broken when the Christians asked for a turn. They were given one and in place of a Parsi, Manuel Misquita, was elected into the office. He was followed, 1946-47 by Vishramdas Devandas who gave way in 1947 to Mohammed Ahasan. None of these morally honourable and honest men were politicians by profession, nor did they particularly like ‘politics.’ Their aim was to serve, their sole concern was the city and its well-being.

The system ended with the partition of the subcontinent in August 1947 and the creation of Pakistan, 60 years ago, when the population of Karachi stood at some 450,000. An almost immediate influx of some 600,000 refugees from across the border brought up the population to just over a million and thus began the degeneration, with a steady flow into the city of the horde. For a city to more than double its population almost overnight did not bode for happy, orderly or progressive times.

And how did we in Karachi start off this auspicious year of 2007? In an inauspicious manner, with filthy streets and roads, running with blood and gore, littered by the stomachs and intestines of well over 1.5 million ruminants slaughtered mainly to stock deep freezes (the sales of which doubled in the last month of last year).

We have two meatless days a week in this country which can only denote a lack of livestock. Does it make sense that over the span of three days each year, in one city alone over a million prime breeding stock is slaughtered to ‘keep up with the Khans’ and as an exhibition of wealth coupled with vulgarity.

Thousands of municipal employees and hundreds of vehicles are employed to collect the offal so casually through along the sides of our streets. But it is an uphill job. Not only does the blood and gore further choke our already choked gutters, but the muck is carried into the sea surrounding Karachi which is already calculated to be around 90 percent pure sewage.

Since we cannot escape the live show of a city converted into one vast slaughterhouse, one wonders why sections of the press show its photographs of animals in their death throes, and of rows of dead animals lined up along the inner city streets? Is it to amuse and entertain, or to shock, to make us think and do something about it?

According to one account, underneath the gruesome photograph of a camel being tortured to death by cowboy butchers “…. at Burns Road, which turned out to be a mega event for the neighbourhood, but it was especially so for children. The place where the camel was slaughtered was filled to capacity. Even women stood and watched the incident with keen interest.”

With “keen interest”? Is this the ‘spirit of sacrifice’? And what on earth are our children learning? How to amuse themselves?

We need to follow the example of other countries, and what better city in Pakistan to set the trend than Karachi? In the interests of health and hygiene and to prevent the proliferation of filth, muck and its associated diseases, our administration needs to prohibit all animal slaughter outside or inside homes, in the streets, or on the roadsides as is done in most civilized countries — Turkey being the latest (please note, President General Pervez Musharraf and Karachi City Nazim Mustafa Kemal).

Open sites in each area, at a distance from the residential and commercial areas, should be designated where people can bring their animals for slaughter under hygienic controls and conditions, by professional slaughter men, and with arrangements made for waste removal and the recycling of blood, hooves, horns, offal, etc. With the population increase and with the increase in the wealth of the ‘haves’, this solution would seem to be a must. Things cannot go on as they now are.

That the city is unmanageable by its present administration was amply illustrated on January 3 by the photograph of the managing-director of the KWSB chatting to a group of Chinese contractors, employed to clean up the open storm water drain dug and made by the Raj to carry rain and tidal water (not sewage) into the sea, now via the Nahr-e-Khayyam, which, according to a public notice in this newspaper on September 14, 2006, the District Coordination Officer has assured us will remain “as the storm water drain channel and no commercial activity will be allowed on this land.”

The City Nazim’s decision to call in the Chinese was made early last September, after Karachi had been literally flooded (a mix of rain water, sewage, garbage, oil, etc) when three inches of rain fell during the three-day period of July 30 to June 1.

There is one thing which our incompetents and corrupt can do. Clifton was built by Jahangir Kothari on his land which he bequeathed to the city of Karachi. The pier of the complex was named after Lady Lloyd, Governor Lloyd’s wife, and the marble plaque embedded in the pier wall reads :

“Lady Lloyd Pier. Inspired by Her Excellency the Hon. Lady Lloyd, this promenade pier and pavilion was constructed at a cost of Rs.3 Lakhs and donated to the people of Karachi by Jahangir H Kothari, OBE to whose generosity and public spirit the gift is due ……. Opened by Her Excellency the Hon. Lady Lloyd 21st March 1921.”

Now the minions of the party in power in this province have embedded a second plaque in the wall which reads :

“Inspired by Her Excellency Lady Lloyd Pier Late Mr Jahangir Kothari gifted this promenade pier and pavilion to the public of Karachi which made possible the creation of this parade. This was opened on 21st March 1921 by Her Excellency Lady Lloyd. The Honourable Governor Sindh visited the site and directed rehabilitation of Kothari Parade and development of Bagh-e-Qasim. This Foundation Stone was laid on 22nd July 2005 by Honourable Governor, Dr Ishrat-ul-Ebad Khan.”

Can someone convey to the governor that the lady concerned was not named ‘Lady Lloyd Pier,’ but simply ‘Lady Lloyd,’ and a pier is a solid structure of stone extending into the sea or a tidal river.

As much as one hates to admit that Altaf Bhai of London Town can be right, one has to give him credit for admitting that his leading partymen have let him down. He is quoted in yesterday papers : “Some leaders are seen roaming in big vehicles. While most workers are working day and night for the party, some workers have adopted the lifestyle of feudal lords and jagirdars. Such an attitude of some of the MQM leaders and office-bearers has shocked me.” Well said, Altaf!

E-mail: arfc@cyber.net.pk


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