Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Sentinel Watch, Police Office Building, Jacobabad

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Upper Sindh was challenging country to manage in the 19th century. To its west were the Bugtis and to the north the Mazaris – both formidable Baloch tribes. The first administrator that the East India Company sent out was a man of exceptional calibre and humanity who established his writ in this volatile region. For the local Baloch, John Jacob became a saint of sorts, on whose grave in Jacobabad they light oil lamps even today.

More than half a century after Jacob had brought order to the region, the men of the Raj thought it necessary to raise a new building to house the offices of the Superintendent of Police. The 20th century had dawned and mixing local and European architectural forms was widely acceptable. Completed in 1910, the Police Office Building in Jacobabad became yet another remarkable example of the amalgam.

The façade of the brick building in its fading red wash is commanded by two thick-set minarets of distinctive proportions and design. Between the two snuggles the betel leaf-shaped arch of the entrance to an open parade ground, on either side of which stretch two short wings housing the various departments of the office. Going by their austerity, the wings were built with an eye only for function. The only aesthetic attempt here ends at the square pillars of the veranda with blunt arches.

As architects of the Raj did not deign to travel to such wild and inhospitable frontier regions, the builder was most likely a military engineer. With limited funds and little to play around with, the man nonetheless resolved to articulate his own sense of beauty with the two thick-set minarets that command the façade of the building. Curiously enough, the presence of a third minaret on the right wing gives the structure a somewhat lopsided appearance.

Spiralling lines on the exterior formed by moulded bricks define the upward swing of the stairways inside the minarets. The top of each minaret has a U-shaped brickwork balcony surmounted by a round dome. For additional beautification, a panel of decorative crenulations have been added below the balcony. Curiously enough, they are in inverse order: recessed denticulations and raised crenels.

It seems as if the engineer had been in the east where he had seen and was impressed by the architecture of the Muir College of Allahabad completed in 1873. The college has a similar stubby minaret housing the stairway with the same spiral lines expressing the rise of the stairs on the exterior. The college minaret ends in a balcony emulating the Tower of Pisa. Our engineer in Jacobabad, having copied the arrangement of that tower in mock, topped his design with the domes in order not to be termed an imitator.

The first effect the heavy minarets lend to the structure is that of a fortification of considerable defensive strength. And that was the primary function of administration on a turbulent frontier: to emphasise the state’s power and keep the populace in awe.

About a century since after it was built, the Jacobabad district police chief is still stationed at the Police Office Building, which continues to fulfil its purpose to this day.

Note: This story first appeared in Stones of Empire - Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) book of days 2013.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

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