In 1842, Dr James Burnes, the provincial grandmaster of the Scottish Freemasons, issued orders for the formation of the Hope Lodge in ‘Kurrachee’.
Nearly 170 years later, the Scottish Freemason Hope Lodge has been “ruined” by its current occupiers, the Sindh wildlife department, claims its former caretaker, Jeevan. “I don’t have anything to do with the place now, but we remember what it used to be like. It is sad,” he says.
Jeevan paints a delightful image of life under the Raj and evenings at the Hope Lodge. Its well-heeled members – Englishmen, Muslims, Parsis, Hindus – began to arrive at around 6pm, rolling up in their Austins or Victoria buggies. Some strolling in as the sun began to set.
Food for the British members came from the Boat Club, and in later years, the Metropole Hotel, while the ‘native’ members would often eat food prepared by the caretaker’s family. “The English liked the baked stuff or custards and puddings,” recalls Jeevan’s wife as his family has served the Lodge since it was built in 1842. Her mother-in-law, Ganga Bai, also cooked for the Lodge.
“The floors have the same tiles you see in the high court,” points out Jeevan. “We used to keep it shining. In my father’s time, the goras would check for dust by sliding a finger down the floor! Everything would be polished. If even a bulb went out, I would tell the secretary sahib and he would instantly ask to have it replaced.”
The neighbourhood – now home to journalists streaming in and out of the Karachi Press Club where there are always a few dozen protestors camped outside – wasn’t always like this, Jeevan says. At 11 pm, the roads would be washed because of the excrement left by the horses driving the Victoria buggies, checked for any breeding mosquitoes and then cleaned again. On weekends, he would go with his father to Elphinstone Street “which only had a few shops”. “The peppermints and other sweets in their big jars… I would often just stare at how they looked.”
The Hope Lodge was among the few ‘clubs’ in Karachi. The YMCA, Jeevan recalls, was where foreigners often stayed. “Food, alcohol… it was a very busy place.” The other establishments were Sind Club and the Union Jack Club, now known as the Services Club. The lane where the Karachi Press Club is now located used to be called the RA (Royal Airforce) Line, where government employees lived. Fawara Chowk, he says, used to have a statue. “As the years passed, all the old things went.”
Jeevan’s father, Prabhu, migrated to Karachi in 1905. After 45 years of service at the Hope Lodge, he suffered an attack of paralysis and the members offered his job to his eldest son. Jeevan took over from his brother and served until the closure of the Hope Lodge. Through these decades of service, Jeevan says the management treated them with respect. “These British knew that they would only be here for a couple of years, and then someone else would come. But we would continue to stay here. They never once pointed a finger while talking to us. We had free use of the place. They would allow us to put up a tent and hold wedding ceremonies here.”
After the partition of the subcontinent, the number of foreign Freemasons dwindled, and there were only a dozen or so left by the time the organisation was banned in Pakistan.
On July 19, 1973, according to Jeevan, some government officials took away all the documentation belonging to the Freemasons. Their accounts were frozen a month later – and so Jeevan’s dues were never cleared - and the building fell into disuse.
There is little left to remember the Freemasons by. The boundary has been damaged, the tiles are dusty and the renovation work appears to be going on in fits and starts. A building was erected on what used to be a garden with jaamun (jambo fruit) trees and rose bushes, which was later razed. The garden plot is now used for parking.
Inside the lodge, the plaques erected at the time of the Hope Lodge’s creation and consecration still exist. One states that it was “nearly destroyed in the monsoon of 1851” and “erected in 1852”. Others contain list of members, including the few ‘natives’ who were permitted to join – such as MMR Shirazi, Mir Ayub Khan JM, AF Kalyaniwalla, WF Bhojwani, KP Advani, Jamshed NF Mehta. According to the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, “Natives of India joined the Craft, and Rising Star Lodge at Bombay and Saint Andrew’s Lodge at Poona were set up West and East in 1844 for that purpose and soon followed by others. Some prominent natives of India have become Freemasons. Among these are the son of the Nabob of Arcot, Umdat-ul-Umara, Prince Keyralla, Khan of Mysore, Prince Shadad Khan, the former Ameer of Scinde, Maharajah Duleep, and Maharajah Rundeer Sing.”
The caretaker’s family – who served the Hope Lodge their entire lives – is currently in litigation over their quarters on the property. Jeevan is reluctant to share details of who the existing Freemasons are, but says they did step up and offer help when his legal issues began.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2012.