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Restoring the glory of a neglected heritage site

The iconic Pakistan Chowk which oozes history but now wears a derelict look is soon to be developed into a heritage site with the inauguration of a community centre which will include the community in the upkeep and the projection of the historical importance of the place. The project aims at restoring the features that speakers reminisced about so nostalgically.

Marvi Mazhar Memon, the brain behind the project, addressing the gathering, said a need was felt for a remodelled square where the middle-class segment of society could interact and keep alive the cultural traditions.

Dr Rainer Schmiedchen, the German consul-general in town, in his speech titled ‘Importance of culture in South Asia’ said he hoped that the refurbished Pakistan Chowk and the community centre would welcome artists from India and sculptors from Sri Lanka as well.

He said a culture full of passionate aspects was needed to be preserved. He quoted a past speech at the Karachi Arts Council where the speaker had said: “We are no terrorists. We enjoy art and music like anybody else in the world.”

Schmiedchen said he hoped that the message would be conveyed all over the place. “I hope we shall be enjoying some good programmes at the community centre,” he added. Former provincial minister Sharmila Faruqi said the place would soon look like it did in the pre-partition era.

She reminded the gathering that not a single government penny had been spent on the project. “We wanted to tell everyone that a lot of things could be achieved if we involve the community,” she said. Faruqi said there was latent hostility too and people who were inimical to the project did all sorts of weird things like throwing garbage bags in the plot (where the function was being held), dirtied the place by spreading betel leaves spittle, and other such things but they were placated when they were acquainted with the advantages of the project. “We wanted the people to mingle.”

She said the place had proved that lots could be achieved if the government and the community joined hands. “We have to bring together different religions and communities to foster social harmony.”

Dr Stefan Winkler, director of the Goethe-Institut, said cultural diversity was the engine that drove development and culture. Cultural diversity, he said, had a transformative role in development. “This would not be possible without the cooperation of the community in the vicinity.”

Ambareen Thompson, from the I Am Karachi initiative, said the Pakistan Chowk project was an amazing one. “It is an apt example of community engagement. In Karachi, a city stricken with all kinds of violence and hatred, the I AM KARACHI campaign turned out to be the one to mitigate this violence.”

The walls, she said, contained lots of hate narrative which fuelled violence. However, she said, the campaign had reclaimed 2000 walls. “In a children’s art gala, 16 walls were painted by schoolchildren of the area highlighting harmonious themes.”

Noted writer Dr Asif Aslam Farrukhi most nostalgically narrated his association with the place and recalled the importance of the location with the DJ Science College at a stone’s throw, the Radio Pakistan building in the vicinity and its Bazme Talaba which was addressed by noted intellectuals and literary luminaries of the day.

Then, he said, there was Thomas and Thomas, a bookshop mentioned by literary figures like Mumtaz Shireen in their works. He lamented that all these places had been occupied and were today being used for other non-productive pursuits.

Farrukhi recalled how his father had arrived from Bombay on September 9, 1947 and asked the Victoria driver as to which was the place to go to and the driver brought them over to Pakistan Chowk. He pointed to the place nearby which was supposed to be their home for the next many years. The author also pointed to some structures like a tailoring shop in the vicinity and recalled what a trendy place it once was and how it had been reduced to a decrepit structure.

He regretted that all the places of those days which were the centres of cultural and intellectual activity had now been occupied and lost their charm. “We have been so unkind to our landmarks and our cultural heritage,” he lamented.

The community centre is a compact two-room accommodation in a vintage structure but it reflects the spirit of the era everyone was trying to recall. The function ended with a story telling session by Fawad Khan.

Reporter. Restoring the glory of a neglected heritage site. The News, August 18, 2017.

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