KARACHI: During the month of March 1929, the Kurrachee Municipality killed 165 dogs. This fact was meticulously recorded in a Dog File, which maintains the number and the location where the animals were killed month after month throughout the year.
This vestige of bureaucracy is part of the thousands of documents dating to 1887 that were accidently discovered in 2002 in sacks from the clock tower of the Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) building located on M.A. Jinnah Road. Since then, restorers from the Yasmeen Lari-led Heritage Foundation have been working to preserve the brittle papers.
“We come across something magnificent every day,” said Fauzia Lari, who is in charge of the archives restoration programme. “The process is long – from taking out the documents, sorting them out and cleaning them. But in the end, it’s all worth it.”
She and other people involved in the project come across rare architectural drawings, road layouts and data every day. One of her assistants found a hand-made sketch of a cinema building. No one knows for sure if it was ever built.
“Some time in 1920, a citizen wrote to the KMC complaining that an oil-fired street lamp in front of his house was lit up for two continuous days,” Lari said. “Do you know what he wrote in the end of the letter? ‘Who will pay the bill?” she laughed.
It is long haul for the team. The heap of papers was too much for anyone to handle and no one took interest at the time, said Hassan Imam Siddiqui, a senior KMC official. But then, Nasreen Jalil, who was the naib nazim at the time, took an interest.
The KMC building has secrets of its own. There is a dungeon where the British used to keep prisoners. While most of the doors have been sealed, one steel door still leads to the room. “We opened it up a few years back, hoping to find treasure or something,” said another KMC official.
Among the interesting discoveries so far is a sketch of a mosque designed by Jewish architect Moses Somake. He completed the design on March 13, 1917. “We are trying to locate the place,” said Siddiqui.
The mosque, if it was ever built, was located on plots 1 and 2 on Khoja Lane in Market Quarters, which happens to be the area behind the KMC building. The Express Tribune visited the old city area but could not find anyone who knew where Khoja Lane used to be. “Son, I am 75 years old and trust me there is no Khoja Lane,” said a man running a tea shop on Nanakwara Road.
A small road off Napier Road is still called Khoja Gali. There were few mosques in the vicinity but residents said they have all been built in the past 30 to 40 years. Muhammad Habib, who has a bookstore in the area, said he was unaware of the building. “It could be Adam Masjid. But the dome I see in the sketch is not there.”
However, Adam Mosque of the Dawoodi Bohra community, is said to have been built in 1937. It is completely different from the sketch as well. People at the Bhori Community Centre were unable to help. Perhaps as the team continues to sift through Karachi’s history some detail will surface somewhere.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2011.