Saturday, August 08, 2020

Karachi: What’s in a picture?

Jul 30. 2016
Facebook Twitter

Asia News

A special report by Dawn, a member of the Asia News Network.



A 19th-century sketch of Greek commander, Nearchus, leading his fleet across River Indus in the present-day Sindh province of Pakistan.

Nearchus was a commander in ancient Greek king, Alexander’s army which had invaded India. In 325 BC, Nearchus exited India with his section of the army by sailing over the Indus and exiting from Balochistan.

He entered Balochistan by first reaching the mouth of Indus which emptied the river’s waters in the Arabian Sea. Historians believe this was where the coastal Manora area is in Karachi today.

A great storm from raging and Nearchus found a fishing village here led by a matriarch. He named the place Morontobara (Greek for Woman’s Harbour).

Source: The Voyage of Nearchus from the Indus to the Euphrates: William Vincent(Nabu Press, 2011).
Karachi in the Mirror of History: M Usman Damohi (Al-Abbas Publications, 2011).



An 1839 sketch of Karachi drawn by a British traveller on the eve of Britain’s conquest of the city.

At the time, Karachi was just an insignificant dot on world maps. It was a small fishing town ruled by the Sindhi-Baloch dynasty (the Talpurs). It had a fort made of dry mud and an underdeveloped harbour. The town had no paved roads and no sanitation or garbage-collecting system.

It had a population of about 20,000 people who were mostly involved in the fish trade. Crime was high, and disease was rampant. The bulk of the population was made up of Sindhi, Balochi and Gujarati-speaking Hindus and Muslims.

Gazetteer of the Province of Sind. B Volume 1 Karachi District 1919.



An 1860 photograph of British ships entering Karachi waters (Arabian Sea). By now the city had been made Sindh’s capital and absorbed into British India.



A woman suffering from the fatal bubonic plague awaits treatment in 1890, Karachi.

The city’s worsening sanitation conditions fed the infected rats which arrived on ships from elsewhere in India. Hundreds of people perished from the plague. The British began work on providing the city with an effective sanitation and sewerage system.

Gazetteer of the Province of Sindh. B Volume 1 Karachi District 1919.



A 1919 photograph of Karachi’s Saddar area.

By the mid-1900s, Karachi had grown into an impressive trading post. The British developed Karachi’s harbour and it became one of the busiest in India. The British also built a robust infrastructure (roads, bridges, hospitals, parks, railways, etc.); and introduced modern policing and city governing systems.

The crime rate saw a sharp decline; and the city’s economy boomed. Fifty-one per cent of the city’s population was Hindu; 40 per cent was Muslim; and there were also large Christian and Zoroastrian communities.

There was a Jew community too, apart from thousands of British officers, doctors, engineers and administrators and their families residing here. It was during this period that Karachi became known as ‘the Paris of Asia’.

Gazetteer of the Province of Sind. B Volume 1 Karachi District 1919.



Statue of the British Queen being unveiled at Karachi’s Frere Hall/Park during a ceremony.

The statue was shipped all the way from London. The ceremony was attended by British and local officials of the city government, British military personnel, Karachi’s wealthy Hindu, Muslim and Zoroastrian dignitaries and the general public.

A few years later, a statue of King Edward, too, was placed here. Both the statues remained in place when Karachi became a part of Pakistan in 1947. However, the statues were removed in 1956 when Pakistan’s first constitution declared the country a republic.



Karachi, 1948: An open area dotted by hundreds of temporary camps, housing government officials who ran matters of the country and the city from inside these dusty tents.

Karachi became the capital of Pakistan in August 1947. It witnessed a huge influx of Muslim refugees arriving from various Indian cities and towns. Karachi did not have the resources to accommodate such an influx. Many of its buildings were packed to capacity. Many civil servants, police personnel and ministers of the new country shifted to these tents from where (for almost a year and a half) they navigated the fate of Pakistan and its capital city.

Pakistan’s Capital (A feature in LIFE Magazine’s June, 1948 issue).



A 1951 photograph of a busy commercial area of Karachi.

The city began to recover from the early demographic tremors caused by the dramatic influx of refugees when Karachi became the capital of Pakistan.

Another reason for the recovery was the sudden boom that the city’s economy enjoyed when Pakistan became a leading exporter of jute, cotton and other agricultural goods to the US troops stationed in Korea during the Korean War. The bulk of the goods were exported through cargo ships leaving from the city’s harbour.



Men and women workers laying bricks during the construction of a building in 1952.

The brief economic boom that the city enjoyed (see previous picture and text), facilitated the government to erect some much needed buildings to house the growing number of government officials and refugees (Urdu-speaking Mohajirs).

In the early 1950s, a bulk of the city’s labour force was made up of the working-class sections of the refugees. By the late 1950s, much of the force comprised Pakhtun migrants arriving from the NWFP province (present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).



Pakistan’s first Republic Day parade. In 1956, Pakistan became a republic. The occasion was marked by a parade held on March 23, 1956 in Pakistan’s then-capital, Karachi.



Pakistan’s constituent assembly in Karachi passing the country’s first constitution in 1956.

The constitution declared the country a republic and promised Pakistan’s first election based on adult franchise. Assembly members were all indirectly elected, and consisted of legislators from the centre-right Muslim League, the centrist Republican Party and the left-leaning Awami League.

The assembly also consisted a few members from the left-wing Azad Pakistan Party. An alliance of centre-left outfits called the United Front had the second largest number of members in the assembly after Muslim League. The assembly did not have any member to form a religious party, even though the small Nizam-e-Islam Party (based in East Pakistan) was part of the United Front.



1957: Mohajir street actors re-enact scenes of violence during the partition of India and which forced many of them to migrate to Karachi.

Most such plays were staged on the streets of the refugee camps which were still existing till the late 1950s. Crime, exploitation and a sense of alienation were ripe in the camps. They were emphatically depicted by famous Urdu novelist Shaukat Siddique in his 1956 novel, Khuda Ki Basti (God’s Abode).



1958: American tourists enjoying a sunny day at one of the many beaches of Karachi. ‘Huts’ had begun to come up at these beaches to accommodate the increasing number of visitors to these beaches.

According to a 1957 newspaper article in America’s Washington Post, Karachi’s beaches were some of the ‘cleanest beaches in Asia’. Tiny working-class settlements (gohts) near these beaches began to expand.

The settlements were largely populated by Sindhi and Baloch fishermen and their families. They slowly began to venture into other areas of business as well, such as selling beer, soft-drinks and snacks to passing visitors, become caretakers of the huts, and invest in buying horses and camels to provide joy rides to bathers.



Military police personnel in Karachi checking licenses of car-owners in 1958.

Pakistan military chief, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, had come to power through a military coup. He ordered a crackdown against corruption and crime in Karachi which had grown ever since the city’s economy had begun to struggle from the mid-1950s onward.



Pakistan’s first leading female industrialist, Razia Ghulam Ali, giving instructions to an employee at her factory in Karachi. The Ayub regime had made Karachi the focus of its rapid industrialisation project.



Karachi’s Burns Road area in 1961. The area, first developed as a ‘posh’ locality by the British, had become a middle-class neighbourhood in the 1960s, largely populated by Mohajirs.

Restaurants and eateries offering spicy North Indian dishes had begun to come up here and by the 1970s, the area would become a famous ‘food street’ — but highly populated and congested. By the 1980s, though it remained famous for its eateries, it was mostly populated by lower-middle-class segments of Karachi.

Facebook Twitter
More in Travel
Editor’s Picks
Top News