Pakistan Chowk — a sigh of relief in the concrete jungle

Published: December 11, 2016
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Residents of the area revealed that once upon a time the compound functioned as a courtyard for them. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

Residents of the area revealed that once upon a time the compound functioned as a courtyard for them. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

KARACHI: The narrow cluttered and buzzing streets of Saddar are indicative of the constant commercial activity in the area. However, people looking for solace can now visit the newly restored Pakistan Chowk.

The historic site, located where Strachan Road meets Aram Bagh, was opened for the public on Sunday after the completion of a six-month rehabilitation project.

A stroll across the space reveals that the newly installed benches have been named after some of the country’s heroes, such as Sabeen Mahmud, Perween Rahman, Ardeshir Cowasjee and Bilquis Edhi.

The area also has an old peepal tree and it too was upgraded, as a new marble structure was built around it. Civil society activists such as Arif Aziz Dossal and Mariam Iftikhar have also decided to plant 17 new trees in this compound.

The compound even boasts an art installation, which was designed about two weeks ago by Spanish-German architects Juan Chacón Gragera and David Cardenas Lorenzo.

“These artistic installations allow people to sit underneath it and children can also play around it as well,” said Goethe Institut director Stefan Winkler

Blast from the past

A resident of the area, 81-year-old Yaqoob Ghalaria, shared a brief history of the place. He said he migrated to Pakistan in 1947 from Kuch in India.

“I came here as a nine-year-old boy on 17 November, 1947, and this [Pakistan Chowk] was the exact location where we started residing. Right next to this place was a meat market, which later shifted near Landa Bazaar,” he remarked.

“With the time I have spent here, I have seen many political parties, like Muttahida Qaumi Movement, trying to rehabilitate this place. This has happened about five to six times. Usually the revived area is not maintained and goes back to what it was,” he said, adding that he hopes this new installation is maintained.

He lamented that places in Pakistan are regarded in individual terms and not thought of as collective responsibility.

Planning stages

The project was conceptualised by architects Marvi Mazhar and Hassnain and funded by Pakistan Peoples Party leader Sharmila Faruqi, who also inaugurated the public space.

“While working on the project we talked to the residents of the area and realised that at one time this place used to be their aagaan [courtyard]. They used to sit here and chat. However, soon, the place had turned into a major hideout for drug addicts and a public toilet for the crowd,” explained Mazhar.

Speaking about the idea behind restoring the area, Mazhar said, “It was Sharmila’s idea, as she wanted to rehabilitate these old park places”.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2016.

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