From dog-killing files to Moses Somake’s mosque design, KMC unfolds Kurrachee’s history

Published: December 9, 2011
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The materials are de-fumigated, brushed off with special cloths and ironed after a special tape is used to piece them together. The discoveries were made in 2002 from the clock tower. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

The materials are de-fumigated, brushed off with special cloths and ironed after a special tape is used to piece them together. The discoveries were made in 2002 from the clock tower. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

The plan of the mosque by Moses Somake. A letter to the chief officer and chief engineer from Moses Somake & Co dated August 27, 1915 attached with the five sheets of plans for the proposed Willingdon Place in Kiamari. The plans were signed by Messers. Cowasjee & Sons. COURTESY MUNICIPAL ARCHIVAL RECORDS
The materials are de-fumigated, brushed off with special cloths and ironed after a special tape is used to piece them together. The discoveries were made in 2002 from the clock tower. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

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.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Salmaan
    Dec 9, 2011 - 7:02AM

    Could someone post pictures of Karachi from the old old days?
    or at least a link to old pictures on the net.

    Recommend

  • Balma
    Dec 9, 2011 - 8:49AM

    I have been to this heritage / archive section in the majestic KMC building.
    The folks working there are doing a wonderful job. Abdul Qudoos to all of you.

    Recommend

  • ARF
    Dec 9, 2011 - 9:37AM

    look for old pics on the google image search engine

    Recommend

  • Murtaza
    Dec 9, 2011 - 2:06PM

    Great work Team. Make a website of you discoveries and if you need any help I am here to help you guys in this.

    Good Luck

    Recommend

  • Noran
    Dec 9, 2011 - 9:29PM

    In this connection it world worth mention here that in earlier 70s karachi was town where surprisingly cantt station to sher shah kemari gizri malir and greek were at a 20 to 30 minutes walking distance were very near. Some of the kmc employee had been walking daily from clievon to gutter baghicha for duty daily. eg freere market freere hall and freere police station were at a distance that few officials been touring all there places by walk or of an higher rank then bycycle till 1960. To walk amid said localities for hawks and carts was usual from sadar to civil line was a 15 mints walk today 15 mint required to get out of that parking packed streets. Kindly give me a cute smile if understand or reader may laugh freely. That time sadar police station was by all means in saddar which today is in clifton town and at a distance of 3 km on wheels and by walk one can’t find way to and saddar area are mostly is in predi street an other example is that civil line police station is for away from area civil line as police station is at beaumont road and civil line area is behind freere hall where governor house government press c m house c s house state guest house indian france japan us and russian iran uk
    consulate are in civil.. Non of the block from bonus road dr ziauddin is in reach of jurisdiction of civil line. The impress market is a legend the roads as queens road bunder road lanes area numaish guromandar victoria road laurance road solder bazar and molvi musafar khana all are associated with impress market which has a shape as one building for auction… What ever was to bring by ship via that time bundar ‘ port’ now m a jinah road.Recommend

  • Ali Islam
    Dec 11, 2011 - 8:53AM

    I beg to submit,,, hahahaha

    Recommend

  • melinda hewitt
    Dec 18, 2011 - 2:47PM

    Thank you to Saad Hasan and to The Express Tribune for this engaging and fascinating article about the great work the Heritage Foundation is doing to preserve the mountains of documents found in the KMC building. I have seen their office and marvel at how they are painstakingly restoring the valuable documents which give us a window in on Karachi’s past. I am in contact with the grandchildren of Moses Somake and am trying to help them to learn more about his past in Karachi. For that reason may I request that you email me a high resolution file of the photograph of the letter that appeared in the article dated 27 August, 1915 and also the drawing of the mosque. With the writer’s permission I would like to pass it on to the family. They have already read the article and are excited to know more.

    All the best and please continue to write on such interesting topics.

    Recommend

  • gibran.ashraf
    Aug 10, 2012 - 9:14PM

    Hi Melinda – you can get in touch with Saad Hasan, the reporter who filed the story here- saad.hasan at tribune.com.pkRecommend

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