Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Karachi Press Club: The majestic heritage monument that still stands tall

The southern port city of Pakistan, Karachi has enjoyed immense strategic value for centuries. When the British realised its strategic significance, the city became the centre of many official civil and military activities of the province of Sindh – the British also adorned Karachi with Victorian style buildings housing civil, commercial, educational departments along with churches, residences for government and bungalows with different architectural styles.

Article By Swaleha Razi Ullah | Tribune

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PHOTO: SWALEHA RAZI ULLAH

One of the buildings, reflecting the residential architecture of the wealthy class of that period, is the Dinshaw House of 1890 – where the Karachi Press Club began its journey in 1958. As described by the brochure, KPC was established in 1958 in a Victorian style bungalow on what was then the Ingle Road – now Sarwar Shaheed Road.

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PHOTO: SWALEHA RAZI ULLAH

Dinshaw’s contribution in architecture of Karachi:

The Dinshaw House is named after Seth Eduljee Dinshaw, a Parsi philanthropist and largest landowner of Karachi during British Colonial rule. A noteworthy man among his community, he contributed to charitable projects in the city including Lady Dufferin Hospital (1884),Edulji Dinshaw Dispensary in 1882, Nadirshaw Edulji Dispensary, contributing in the construction of Mama Parsi School in 1910 and for Sindh Art College in 1885 and 1887.

Reportedly, Dinshaw owned half of Karachi by 1893. His rise from poverty to one of the largest landowners in Karachi lasts as a memorial to his enterprising energy. A first generation millionaire, his contribution in architecture of Karachi in that era is of great significance – with most of the buildings built by him serve as private residences, offices, and godowns.

The evolution of the architectural style of residential buildings in the colonial era reveals that single storied residential bungalows of an early period of occupation paved the way for the construction of double storied stoned structure with the basic features of pitched gable roofs and verandahs. “The bungalows enclosed in walled compound represent the symbol of wealth and status. The typical residential bungalow for the wealthy, for example, was set back from the road by a walled compound. The amount of land enclosed was a symbol of status.”

Architecture of Dinshaw house (1890) and its post-partition state

Anglo-Indian styled building in Karachi’s Cantonment area with Victorian architecture of the 118 years old monument fashioned with stones, is a walled compound covering 5,000 square yards including a lawn in the front and a car park in the back yard. The thick-walled stoned structure of high ceilings and round opening arches were carved to fulfill the climatic conditions. Italianate style beautifies the outlook and symbolizes the Eduljee’s status as a wealthy figure of that time.

The Dinshaw house, declared a Protected Heritage by Sindh Cultural Heritage (Preservation) Act, 1994, is home to KPC since 1958.

Architect Farhan Zia, founder of architectural firm SCHEMATICS and a member of Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners (PCATP) and Institute of Architects of Pakistan(IAP), also confirmed that the 19th-century monumental building was originally a double storied bungalow built in Italianate style with local stones used as basic construction material. In contrast to the modern structures, these elements are based on geometry.

A comparative study by Rameez and Barkatullah, highlights the classical architecture of the KPC building including pediment, keystone, Doric columns, arches, gable roof. The triangular section, the pediment, found at the main entrance of the KPC building is compared with a Greek temple’s pediment and Roman temple’s pantheon. While the doric order and round arches are compared with Renaissance Palace Pallazzo Te in Italy. The rustication feature is likened to Medice Recardi and Pallazzo Caprini (renaissance palaces built in Italy) and Sicilian Baroque that possesses Baroque architectural features of 17th and 18th centuries.

The architecture is being modified to accommodate activities of the journalist community as KPC is frequented round the clock. A steel structure has been constructed in the front yard to encourage new members. But the modifications have received mixed response from the journalist community as the steel structure has overshadowed originality of the monument. “The chopping of the majestic Neem and other trees has affected the beauty of the monument,” remarked a senior KPC member. “It’s target killing.”

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PHOTO: SWALEHA RAZI ULLAH

Rameez and Barkatullah also condemned the modification, saying that ‘the building of steel structure was against the architect’s advice since it hides the original beauty of the architecture. Noting that the addition provided shelter to growing audience of public and journalists, they said it was brutal as it hid the building’s beauty and significance.

The Dinshaw House’s heritage and identity is somewhere lost despite minimal modifications to the skeleton of the main building. The frequent organisation of activities of the club and visiting of a large number of people has also increased conservation demand.

Preservation work of KPC building

Apart from alterations, the heritage building has also weathered environmental conditions including pollution, erosion, deteriorating teakwood combined with poor conservation and repair work carried out by the Sindh Cultural Department.

Currently, the weathered stones and fortification of masonry are being replaced with lime plaster.  An estimated Rs2.5 million worth of preservation work has been carried out since March 26, 2014 under the supervision of a two-member committee for rehabilitation work.

Senior journalist, AH Khanzada hinted that the original building was constructed with stones from Thatta – it is pertinent to add here that the restoration is being carried out by the same stones.

The floor will be reconstructed in six months with funds allocated through Endowment Fund Trust (EFT) – the centuries-old flooring will be removed, polished and placed again. On the other hand, the teakwood doors and windows are also expected to be replaced with wood. The ongoing conservation coupled with the press club body’s determination to maintain its identity stresses the importance of Dinshaw House. The conservation work will help to retain its identity for the future generation, and recognition to protect our heritage to its visitors.

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PHOTO: SWALEHA RAZI ULLAH

Post partition possession history of Dinshaw house

Before the establishment of KPC at the Dinshaw house, the building served as an office and warehouse of Evacuee Property Trust. President Iskandar Mirza also resided in this building.

In 1958, General Azam Khan offered the building to some journalists, who would gather in front of the Aslam Restaurant at II Chundrigar road, at a monthly rent of Rs110. In 1961, the upper story of the house was also rented out in the same amount.

The establishment of the Karachi Press Building in this monument of late 19th century served as the landmark in the historical significance of this heritage. The formal opening on December 6, 1958, inaugurated by then information minister Habibur Rehman, marked the beginning of a democratic struggle as KPC provides a platform to raise voice against injustices – social and political. Over the years it has been adorned with titles such as “Bastion of Freedom”, “Liberated Area” and “London’s Hyder Park”.

The building was sold to Zakariya Saya, a well-known trader of the city, by the Cantonment Board but after persistence from the then mayor Karachi Farooq Sattar, a tri-party agreement was signed between Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, KPC and Saya which allowed the building to hold its identity as KPC while two plots on Queens Road were granted to Saya.

Until the 1997 tri-party agreement, the building was under the patron-ship of Prince Karim Agha Khan, who paid Rs1,200 to the Cantonment Board.

Architectural detail of present KPC building and institutional history

After a survey carried out in 2015, it was decided to hold on to the skeleton of the main building through modification.

The “Ibrahim Jalees Conference Hall” on the ground floor hosts press conferences – at a specific amount. It is one of the sources of income for the KPC. The hall’s walls are decorated with two paintings – one by Indian painter Maqbool Fida Hussain and the other by Shahid Ismail. On September 10, 1992, Hussain entered the building barefoot and created the master piece. The artwork remains a powerful lingering memory of the Indian artist’s visit.

The building also boasts a library, a committee room, secretary room and an internet room named after the prominent journalist and former president KPC Sabihuddin Ghausi and a card room.

The elections for KPC body are held in the committee room – it is the same room where the Movement of Restoration of Democracy (MRD) began against the tenure of former dictator General Ziaul Haq. The room’s walls are adorned with two Sadequain paintings worth Rs20 million.

Former president of the KPC and veteran journalist Abdul Hameed Chhapra reminisces that prior to the establishment of KPC, demonstrations were held outside the Regal cinema in Saddar.

The club currently has more than 1,200 members with honoury members such as Prince Karin Aga Khan, scientist and Nobel laureate Prof Dr Abdus Salam, Prof Dr Saleemuzzaman Siddiqui, Justice Dorab Patel, Justice Fakruddin G. Ebrahim, Prof Karrar Hussain, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib, Ahmed Faraz, Josh Maleehabadi, Jahaingir Khan, Imran Khan and Javed Miandad. The late Abbas Khallili and Air Marshal Nur Khan were among the first members on this roll of honour.