Inside the main building of the Karachi Cantonment Railway Station, a small throng of neatly dressed men and women from the non-governmental organisation ‘Pursukoon Karachi’ and Pakistan Railways were gathered on Sunday afternoon to inaugurate the booking office of the station.
The building is not a newly constructed office but the Pursukoon Karachi team of artists, architects and heritage consultants has revitalised the already existing office of the station. The 116-year-old building of the Karachi Cantonment Railway Station is being refurbished, locally known as the Cantt Station, by removing layers of old paint, cement and slabs of marble that were applied in the past during the building’s maintenance. “These layers were spoiling the building’s original beauty,” said Marvi Mazhar, a heritage consultant who is working on the project with Pursukoon Karachi. During the inauguration ceremony, she presented a brief about the progress of the work on the project.
The Karachi Cantonment Railway Station is being restored to its former glory in an effort to generate more revenue from it. PHOTOS: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS
The main entrance of the building was cordoned off by the police for the ceremony and passengers had to take the other entrances to reach the platform. From behind the fences by the platforms, the porters and passengers would stop momentarily to catch a glimpse of the ceremony taking place. Mazhar had to briefly pause during her speech for a railway announcement. Speaking in monotone voice, a man called out to a passenger, informing him that his family was waiting for him at the platform.
Mazhar introduced Khanzada, one of the oldest porters of the station, during the ceremony to acknowledge his services to the station. She said that during his services to the station, he has received numerous distinctions and certificates of recognition from the railway management and the Pursukoon Karachi’s team.
According to Mazhar, 75% of the work on the project is yet to be completed, which includes removal of excess layers from the rest of the building and restoring it back it to its original glory. “The station is the threshold of the city and it provides the first impression of the city to new comers,” she said. “This is a heritage building and it tells the story of the city’s history.”
Pakistan Railways Karachi divisional superintendent Nisar Ahmed Memon claimed that the revival of the station is the revival of the Pakistan Railways, which was once moving in a downward spiral but was now finally getting back on its two feet. “We have generated 60% more revenue this year and our freight service, which was zero before has also begun its operation,” he said. He hopes that once the coal movement for power plants has begun in the country, the department will take more steps for improvement.
The chief guest of the ceremony, Pakistan Peoples Party member national assembly Nafisa Shah, referred to the project as ‘a revival of the history’. “We have put plasters and marbles over our history and have been hiding our history behind it,” she said. Shah took a moment to praise the efforts of the artists, labour and railway management for this revival. “The main thing for bringing the project to this position was your passion to work for the preservation of your culture and this passion served as the directing force for the work,” she said. She also said that the culture can counter the on-going extremism. “Extremism was never a part of our culture. If we feel proud of our culture we will stand-up against extremism,” she added. She highlighted other heritage buildings in Sindh including the building in Shikarpur, which she said was a grand city of Sindh in the pre-British era. “If an artist adopts a single building to preserve it than generating funds for it is not impossible,” she said.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2014.