Forgotten stories of Karachi’s coastal islands uncovered

Kalmatti's book, 'Coastal Islands of Sindh', launched at the third Sindh Literature Festival 


Hafeez Tunio February 24, 2019
Gul Hassan Kalmatti launches his book, 'Coastal Islands of Sindh', at the Sindh Literature Festival in Karachi. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: People living on the islands of Karachi, which have been formed over centuries, are not only deprived of basic necessities but also suffer poverty, hunger and diseases.

The situation is such that no one pays any attention to their wellbeing or makes an effort to preserve their culture.

These views were expressed in the book 'Coastal Islands of Sindh', authored by Gul Hassan Kalmatti about the islands situated in the coastal areas of Karachi. The book was launched on Saturday at the Sindh Literature Festival held at Beach Luxury Hotel.

Kalmatti said that there were numerous islands on the coast of Karachi where people have been living for centuries. According to him, Bath Island, Kiamari and Clifton were no longer islands, while Manora, Salehabad and Shah Hasan have now been connected to one side of the road giving a look of a peninsula rather than islands.

Churna Island and old jetties of fishermen, Sandspit, Shams Island and Kakka Village, Baba Island and Bhit Island, Salehabad and Bunker Island, Manora, Dingi and Bhundar Island, Boat Basin, Clifton and Gisri (now known as Gizri) are among other islands which have been discussed in the book with their historical origins.

Sharing the details of his research, Kalmatti said that Bath Island was an island, which was 30 feet above sea level and up to 1935, sea water used to touch its western side.

Sindh Literature Festival kicks off

"People of Karachi used to visit this place for swimming. There were remains of an ancient city on this island" he said. About Boat Basin, he said, "It was established in 1912 and the area was originally spread over 21 acres. It used to be a pond for sailing and motor boats, and had four piers."

About Clifton, the writer said that people in earlier days used to call Clifton by its old name 'Mahadev' because of the Mahadev Rataneshwar Temple. Another name in common use was 'Hawa Bunder'. "It was an island connected to the city through a wooden bridge," he said adding that it was named Clifton in British Era.

In his book Kalmatti has referred to two different theories about this name. He quoted a book 'Kurrachee: Past, Present and Future', written by Alexander F Baillie and said, "The place was named after birth place of English General Charles Napier who belonged to Clifton that is in UK."

Referring to his research he said, "I believe it was named after Mr Clifton who was an assistant collector in the colonial period."

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The book said that Gizri was once famous owing to evidence of fish. Its original name is derived from 'Gishri', a kind of fish found in salty waters.  The name was changed to Gisri then Gizri.  The book talked about how original names of places and areas of Karachi have been changed.

It said that in 1967 Mauripur Airport was renamed to Masroor Base after a pilot who had died in a plane crash. Similarly, Lalu Khet was renamed to Liaquatabad, Banghoria Goth to Azizabad, Molri to Safari Park, and Pipri Bander to Port Qasim.

Regarding Baba Island and Bhit Island, Kalmatti said that there have been settlements on these islands for more than 400 years. "The Kutchi community, who are Sindhi speaking and fishermen, and call themselves Morrio Pota, live here. Many of them later moved to Shams Pir and other coastal areas of Karachi, "He said adding that head of Kutchi is called Patel and chief of Sindhi fishermen is called Jamote."

In his book, Kalmatti, referring to Sindh Gazette, mentioned the hurricane cyclone that devastated Karachi in 1902. "Before 1902, the residents of Karachi used to boast that their city is out of the way of tornadoes and hurricanes.

But that came to an end in 1902 with two consecutive storms that year. The first storm was on May 13 at 8am that had devastated entire Karachi and killed 225 people. The second hurricane occurred on June 13 with winds and high tides that had become more intense," the book said while quoting AH Atkin's report published in 1907.

The book "Sindh Ja Samoondi Bet" (Costal Islands of Sindh) was launched in the presence of large number of audience that interacted with the writer on this interesting topic. The third Sindh Literature Festival will continue today where many sessions on culture, language, politics, and literature are scheduled.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2019.

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