Walking westward along the railway line from the cantonment railway station, past the Clifton Bridge, lie a row of mostly decrepit residential bungalows. Built from the 1880s onward they seem to have come off a common template. All the houses are constructed of pale yellow sandstone with red tiled roofs, elegant porches terraced on top with stone balustrades and strongly accentuated arches. Their tall arched windows are shaded by wooden blinds that open or close as needed and the verandas are shielded behind timber fretwork.
About a century before these houses were built in Karachi, far away in Kolkata, the engineers of East India Company in Kolkata were either raising the most grandiose edifices to showcase their wealth and power or building homes for staff. Though in no way modest, the design of the residences did not warrant much concern for individuality. Or so it seems. Indeed, a complete template appears to have been used for all and sundry.
By the time the Crown took over administration of India in 1858, the template may have been lost but a memory of it still lingered on. The houses strung out along the railway line and sprinkled in other parts of what was then called “White Karachi” all seem to follow the template for they are more or less identical in design.
Some common elements in these houses were necessary to keep out the intense heat of a summer day. The thick walls, the fretwork on the veranda and the blinds on the windows were all meant to ward of the elements. The veranda, never a part of typical English residential structures, was a necessary adjunct to shade the rooms from the heat. In other words, in the essentially European design of the bungalows, the veranda was a necessary vernacular addition.
One such house that came off that forgotten template snuggles between the corner of McNeil and Chaudhry Khaliquzaman roads in Clifton. Owned by the Khaliq Dina Trust, it has for the past 40 years been home to renowned architect Habib Fida Ali. When he acquired this building in 1974, it was in a shambles and needed a great deal of work to be made habitable. He did just that, even though once taken in hand the work dragged on for considerable time, with more and more aspects of restoration needing attention.
The building may have followed a lookalike design to be one of many in Victorian Karachi but in the late 20th century it was one of a decreasing number of empire structures. With more and more Victorian bungalows and their sprawling lawns demolished and replaced by high rises, it was just as well that this now priceless house was saved from destruction.
Note: This story first appeared in Stones of Empire - Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) book of days 2013
Labels: Book of Days 2013, Karachi, Sindh, Stones of Empire
posted by Salman Rashid @ 8:31 AM,
At February 28, 2013 at 11:26 AM,
Umme Talha said...
Sir, I want a link of SINDHIA MEIN SIKANDAR. I didn’t get it even on YouTube. I like it very much when it telecasted on PTV years ago.
At February 28, 2013 at 1:05 PM,
Wish to live in such a mansion.
At February 28, 2013 at 2:11 PM,
I thought all blogs look same and carry same ‘cat and dog’ stuff that that happens to a particular person. I also thought all blogs are hasty, like someone ranting.
But I find writing here as a very well thought out act. I find a great labor of research, exploration and real work having a literary merit.
Well done Salman. Reading your work is a joy.
At March 1, 2013 at 1:27 PM,
Salman Rashid said...
~ Thanks Nadeem Rustam and Umme Talha.
At November 15, 2014 at 9:43 PM,
"White Karachi" would have been wonderful to see. Wooden blinds and verandas bring back lots of memories.