As Allah Walli Chowrangi is removed, new road paves over Karachi history

Published: December 17, 2012
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Allah Walli Chowrangi, designed by Ozzir Zuby, was built in 1989 when mayor Farooq Sattar wanted the city’s roundabouts to be beautified. CREDIT: ATIF REHMAN/URBANPK.COM

Allah Walli Chowrangi, designed by Ozzir Zuby, was built in 1989 when mayor Farooq Sattar wanted the city’s roundabouts to be beautified. CREDIT: ATIF REHMAN/URBANPK.COM

The late Ozzir Zuby at work. He studied at the Academia di Bella Arte in Italy and made sculptures of virtually all the famous names in Urdu literature. He died in 2001. PHOTO COURTESY DANISH AZAR ZUBY
The monument was broken into eight pieces and dumped at the Hill Park’s car park. PHOTO: EXPRESS
Allah Walli Chowrangi, designed by Ozzir Zuby, was built in 1989 when mayor Farooq Sattar wanted the city’s roundabouts to be beautified. CREDIT: ATIF REHMAN/URBANPK.COM
KARACHI: 

Much like the entity it calligraphically symbolised, Allah walli chowrangi will remain in the hearts and minds of the people of Karachi even though it has no physical presence – anymore.

Its legacy will endure because it has been used a reference point for anyone offering directions in the vicinity of Tariq Road. But a little over a week ago, the four-sided 25-feet tall rendition of the word ‘Allah’ at the roundabout, was broken into eight pieces and dumped in the car park of Hill Park. The monument, which was about 40 feet in diameter, had to be removed as it was located on Shahrah-e-Quaideen that was undergoing a much-needed 42-million-rupee facelift. Indeed, as vehicular traffic swelled over the years, frequent jams developed at the roundabout which should have been a box junction. Additionally problematic was the fact that it was located on a stormwater nullah, according to non-profit Shehri’s Amber Alibhai.

The elegant structure was designed by the late Ozzir Zuby whose son Danish Azar explains wanted to reflect the concept of God being omnipresent. “This was the message. Allah is ever present and everywhere,” he told The Express Tribune. “Being able to read [the word] from four sides meant you could see Him all around.”

Danish

It is a mark of the impact of this design that it has been copied across Karachi and beyond. It can be found in awkwardly rendered off-scale concrete versions in mosques, on buildings and homes and even smaller roundabouts. While architect Shahid Abdulla said he wouldn’t necessarily call it a masterpiece, it was one of “the most copied designs” in the country. “It was the common people who gave it value,” he added.

The chowrangi was part of a beautification project in late 1989. Then mayor, Farooq Sattar, had tasked a committee with proposing monuments for roundabouts, recalls Professor Dr Noman Ahmed of NED University’s architecture department. “The choice of this design was not made considering the aesthetic requirements of the city. The sacred name was preferred because of its larger public appeal,” he explained. “But the design was so carefully worked out that it doesn’t obstruct the vision of drivers coming from any direction.”

Over two decades the symbol gained so much currency that town planner Arif Hasan believes people will always refer to the spot as Allah walli chowrangi even though it is gone. “It was the same case with Lucky Star,” he said, referring to the roundabout on Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatallah Road. “There used to be large billboard for Lucky Star cigarettes, which were the second cheapest after K2. People just remembered that.”

Residents of Karachi such as Ramsha Kohati are sad to see it go. “I suppose this was one of the most famous landmarks in Karachi, and now as it has been removed,” she wrote The Express Tribune. “I am sure you understand how important this landmark has been for the people of Karachi.” She is not alone. Some concerned citizens have approached Danish Zuby with the idea of starting a public campaign to save it.

For its part, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation said it had to be removed. “The landmark has only been replaced. We will re-install it at Hill Park,” assured spokesman Sajid Hasan. “I don’t think there is any harm in removing it for the sake of development.” Perhaps unbeknownst to Hasan, his words drive at the heart of an urban debate. Should popular heritage be sacrificed at the altar of the asphalt gods? Town planner Tasneem Ahmed Siddiqui, who is best known for his work in the low-cost Khuda ki Basti retorted: “The government is just bulldozing everything in the name of development. Corrupt officials want to spend money, all their time on road projects because of the kickbacks.”

For whatever it is worth, though, the KMC spokesman assured that it would be put back together again.

Zuby would have been heartbroken to see it go. His son Danish, an artist and interior designer himself, said that much like other artists, his father was sensitive about his work. “And when he felt he wasn’t getting the appreciation [he deserved] he closed himself in his own world.” Ozzir Zuby is no more and neither is one of his most endearing contributions to Karachi’s landscape. But neither is likely to be forgotten any time soon.

Ozzir Zuby (1922-2001)

Ozzir Zuby was born in Kasur in 1922. He graduated in fine art from the Mayo School of Arts, Lahore and later earned a scholarship to complete his post-graduate work from Accademia di Belle Arti in Italy. Zuby was a sculptor and painter which is why his talent in calligraphy shuttled between two and three dimensional art. Some of his sculptures include those of Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmed Faraz. Zuby was also a graphic designer and did the covers of hundreds of Urdu books. One setback changed Zuby forever; his mural, ‘The Awakening’, was plagiarised in 1967. He passed away in 2001.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2012.

View more of Ozzir Zuby’s work here

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Dec 17, 2012 - 9:57AM

    The KMC, politicians, bureaucrats and architects, all want a slice of the pie that is Karachi Shareef. Damn them.

    Allah Wali Chowrangi was a landmark of simplicity and convenience. Highly regarded and easily understood. The argument that the bureaucrats want to expand and beautify the road to prevent future logjams, is nothing but a ‘sham’ by ‘shills.’

    Anything to destroy and mess up Karachi Shareef is the statement of beliefs of the KPBA (KMC, Politicians, Bureaucrats and Architects).

    Salams to Karachi Shareef

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  • Hussain
    Dec 17, 2012 - 10:57AM

    It was truly Karachi’s Landmark …. I was surprised to note that initially when the round about was removed the Tariq road intersection was closed permanently with concrete blockade i.e. u can not cross from SMCHS to Tariq Road directly rather have to take a newly established U-turn … however i just noticed the authorities have again open up the Tariq Road Intersection and instead installed signals, which make the whole exercise of removing the round about sounds stupid (there were signals on this round about ever since i remember)

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  • Dec 17, 2012 - 11:52AM

    Goodbye and Good Riddance!!
    The new road system will cut down on traffic jams in the city.

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  • abs
    Dec 17, 2012 - 12:28PM

    Come on ET your write up above suggest this is much needed. do not provide few nuts to blow up KMC in the name of context / perception you have made up yourself. If they are saying we would recloate it than destroy wht is the problem. For heaven sake use some brains and see how our society would take it.

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  • Saad Aftab
    Dec 17, 2012 - 1:27PM

    To be honest, i just passed from there yesterday, and i noticed improved flow of traffic, even at the rush hour, they just removed it for your own betterment, its not that by removal of it, you can no longer call that place the allah wali chowrangi, we pakistani’s have to learn to think from our brains, and not from our hearts; thinking from heart has never did us any good and we must learn to let things go, its like every pakistani get too emotionally attached to every single thing, so please lets not make a big issue out of this, if you are too emotionally attached with this chowrangi, i suggest you spend your day at the hill park

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  • Analyzer
    Dec 17, 2012 - 2:55PM

    Have any of the posters actually visited the new road? They’ve done a great job of opening up the space for smooth flow of traffic, with new LED lights for better illumination. I drove by there the other night and was pleasantly surprised, it seemed I wasn’t driving in Karachi. However, a portion of the drain is still open, hope they can cover it too to complete a job well done.

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  • Zubin
    Dec 17, 2012 - 3:38PM

    I am just thinking of the structure of the monument. And it inspires me, moves me and makes me sad to know such a beautiful peice of art will not be there any more. Instead of dumping the structure after breaking it could have been a better use of it. Also like to suggest to Mr. Shehbaz Sharief see if this monument can be of any use in any intersection in Lahore. Just a thought…

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  • Dec 17, 2012 - 4:20PM

    Sorry to say but the traffic situation will remain the same there as nothing has improved except the roads have expanded which may not affect the traffic flow during rush hour. Two things that have significantly been changed or transformed is that the shahrah e quaideen has become more beautiful at nights and my misery to tell people the address to reach my home as i live nearby and use Allah walli chowrangi as a reference point.

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  • B
    Dec 17, 2012 - 5:45PM

    While architect Shahid Abdulla said he wouldn’t necessarily call it a masterpiece, it was one of “the most copied designs” in the country. “It was the common people who gave it value,” he added.

    How very modest of Mr. Shahid Abdulla.

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  • Nabidad Khan — Sharjah
    Dec 17, 2012 - 5:53PM

    I would like to appreciate the reporter who wrote this story. Al least he registered protest again that nonsense act. Although, it is really painful for me to read the story of demolishing beautiful land mark of the city of lights Karachi. I must say shame on KMC, Politicians and Bureaucrats.
    Long live Pakistan.

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  • S
    Dec 17, 2012 - 6:48PM

    @Nabidad Khan -agreed

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  • Wifey
    Dec 17, 2012 - 7:27PM

    Great story saad! :)

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  • qwasi moto
    Dec 17, 2012 - 11:26PM

    The KMC should remove all unnecessary chowrangis such as the one at Tahir Villa, FB Area.

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  • Smj
    Dec 18, 2012 - 12:19AM

    How is Mukka Chowk?

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  • Dr. Asad Sadick, Germany
    Dec 18, 2012 - 1:02AM

    The administration responsible for destroying Allahs name from this famous Chowrangi, should be prosecuted under the Blasphemy law. Would be a sarcstic rejoinder to our warped mindset. Surprised that no one from the clergy has reacted.

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  • Nida Butt
    Dec 18, 2012 - 7:33PM

    wow the last person mentioned that the blasphemy law shud be used.
    our idiocy andack of sense is amazing.we shud b aa lot more worried about
    other more pressing issue

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  • Dr. Asad Sadick, Germany
    Dec 18, 2012 - 10:31PM

    @Nida Butt: Oh my God, my comments were sarcastic and ironic. You must read and understand. But am glad that at least read it.Recommend

  • smbfh
    Jan 3, 2013 - 1:15PM

    @Dr. Asad Sadick, Germany:
    Be careful Doctor sahab!
    You are safe in Germany, don’t send a gift of more bloodshed and riots to the emotional poor people in Pak. There is always someone out here who has a buck to be made at the expense of common man, from clergy to a secular politician.

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