Jamshed Nasarwanjee Rustamjee Mehta: The Real Father of Karachi

‘Ownership’, as defined by Oxford English Dictionary is ‘the act, state or right of possessing something’. In Urdu, it translates into Milkiyyat, while in Sindhi the alternative is Maaliki. When someone, something or some place is considered abandoned or ownerless, the Sindhi people often say: Adaa! Hinjee maaliki keeran waaro keer kon’hay.

Article By Akhtar Balouch

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Jamshed Mehta speaking at an event held in his honour by the KMC in 1936.

‘Ownership’, as defined by Oxford English Dictionary is ‘the act, state or right of possessing something’. In Urdu, it translates into Milkiyyat, while in Sindhi the alternative is Maaliki. When someone, something or some place is considered abandoned or ownerless, the Sindhi people often say: Adaa! Hinjee maaliki keeran waaro keer kon’hay.

What Karachi is going through right now is quite an image of that Sindhi phrase. Although we hear a lot of people owning Karachi, rather claiming to be the only ones with a sense of ownership for it. However, the people who cared for this city without a breath’s break before the partition are left without any maaliki themselves these days.

The roads that were named after these great founding benefactors of this ever-expanding metropolis have been rechristened, while the statues erected in their honourable memory have either been damaged or taken away, or stored somewhere in dungeons like junk with no value. It is one of these founding fathers of the city whom we are to talk about today: Jamshed Nasarwanjee from the Parsi community is also remembered as the Father of Karachi.

The man’s full name was Jamshed Nasarwanjee Rustamjee Mehta. He was born in 1886 in Karachi and died on August 08, 1952.The story of his services to the people of Karachi begins from the year 1915.

Gul Hassan Kalmati writes in his book Sindh Jaa Laafaani Kirdaar (The Immortal Characters from Sindh) of a time in 1919, when influenza spread wildly in Karachi. It was Jamshed Nasarwanjee who worked tirelessly day and night for the well-being of the people of the city, thus becoming known to almost all the Kolaachi bay’s inhabitants. In 1922, he was elected president of the Karachi Municipality, an office which he occupied till October, 1932.

It’s fair to say that his long tenure as president of the municipality was proof of his love for the people of Karachi. From what people have said about him, Nasarwanjee truly loved and cared for human beings, and even an animal in distress would not escape his eye.

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Jamshed presiding over a KMC meeting.

Renowned author Ajmal Kalaml wrote in his book Karachi Kee Kahani(The Story of Karachi) about Jamshed Nasarwanjee in the words of Pir Ali Muhammad Shah Rashidi:

“Once around 1930, I (Ali Muhammad Rashidi) was walking down the Bandar Road (presently the M. A. Jinnah Road). I saw Jamshed Mehta walking a donkey to a veterinary hospital, while his driver followed him in his motor. I could not resist following him to the hospital to see what was going to happen next. In the hospital’s corridor, I saw Jamshed observing closely while the vet fixed up the wounded donkey.

Jamshed would repeatedly tell the doctor to be cautious and not to cause the creature any pain. When the poor donkey’s wounds had been bandaged, Jamshed told the vet that he animal be kept under care until it recovers completely, and instructed the donkey’s owner not to drag the poor, wounded creature to work. To ensure this did not happen, he asked the donkey’s owner to collect whatever daily wages he earned off the donkey from him, until the donkey was fit for work again. In fact, Jamshed paid the man beforehand to affirm his words.”

That’s how donkeys and other animals were cared for back in Jamshed’s days. Today, in the same city not a single passer-by would bother to take a long look even if a man lies in a pool of his own blood, let alone help the injured get to a hospital. Professor Inayat Ali Khan, a well-known poet, has written the couplet best fit for the present ignorance of Karachi’s people: “That no one stopped [even after] seeing the mishap / Was an incident bigger than the accident itself.”

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Jamshed Mehta with the poet Rabindranath Tagore and others.

A book published by the Jamshed Memorial Committee says that in his prayers every day, Jamshed would ask the following:

“O lord! I pray to you every morning, every day that make use of me, lord! Make me selfless, O lord! Keep me transparent! O lord, I pray only this that make me your source.”

Founder of the separatist Sindhi movement ‘Jeay Sindh Saaien’, Ghulam Murtaza (G.M.) Syed writes in his book Janub Guzaaryam Jann Seen(Those Who I Spent My Lifetime with) that Jamshed Nasarwanjee participated in the movement of separating Sindh from the Bombay Residency. Although he understood that in a separate Sindh he would have to rely on Hindu voters for his political career, he did not worry about that.

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Jamshed Mehta with Gandhi. — Public Domain Photo

After Sindh was separated from Bombay, Jamshed contested elections from the Dadu district in 1937 and won. He was elected member of the Sindh Assembly as an independent candidate, which he remained for a long time.

Since he was primarily elected by Hindu voters of the region, he was expected to side with the Hindu members of the Assembly whenever they favoured or opposed the government, at their will. A man of principles, Jamshed resigned from the Assembly instead of becoming part of such a lobby.

It was an important episode in the politics of Sindh. Many Muslim members of the Sindh Assembly would ignore the national interest in light of their personal interests. After the partition, when he saw that there was no place for a just and honest as well as non-Muslim political worker in national politics, he retired from his career.

Jamshed Nasarwanjee would mostly sweat over public health, especially maternity issues and the health of the mother and child.

He took the initiative himself and built a maternity home near Jehangir Park in Saddar, naming it after his mother, Gulbai. It was not the only maternity home that we should thank him for, but that list is for another day, another blog.

He never disliked politics but had a clear stance that violence in politics is unacceptable. In fact, his entire life is shaped by the belief that only politics can bring positive change in society. Deeply inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Jamshed was of the view that no violent act can be a solution to any problem.

Jamshed Memorial Committee published a book on the man — ‘Jamshed Nasarwanjee: A Memory in 1954’. The book describes one interesting incident. Before Partition, a countrywide strike was called against the British Raj in India. The strike had its effects on Karachi, too, where not a single shop would be seen open.

In order to render the move unsuccessful, local police raided a locality in the city and arrested a child. In a moment’s notice, throngs gathered to protest against this act of police brutality. The police threatened to open fire if the crowd did not disperse.

Right then, Jamshed appeared and put himself like a wall between the police and the protestors. He addressed the police and said if they wanted to open fire, the first bullet should pierce through his chest, but he would have the child freed in that very instance. Jamshed’s courage overcame the situation as the police backed off, letting the arrested child go. Seeing this, the mob, too, dispersed. That was our Jamshed there!

In the same book, Hatim Alvi writes that when Jamshed had taken over the Karachi Municipality, the city had just nine miles of proper roads. However, when he vacated the office, Karachi had 76 miles of shiny, smooth roads.

At the time of the partition, Karachi did not have any damaged roads, the article claims. Today, the picture speaks for itself. Hatim Alvi also tells us that the proper supply of clean drinking water to Karachi began during Jamshed’s period in office.

Alvi goes on to relate that when the area surrounding the Artillery Ground was supplied with water, the law of the time was that all government buildings would pay seven per cent of the building’s total construction cost as water consumption tax. In those days, Chief Court (former Supreme Court, present Sindh High Court) had been newly constructed in the area. It was also being supplied with clean drinking water. Since the construction of the court had cost three million rupees, the seven per cent tax amounted to be a huge sum of money. The bureaucracy was not ready to pay such heavy taxes. When Jamshed came to know about it, he cut the water supply to the chief court.

The bureaucracy was speechless when they heard the news. An officer was immediately sent to Karachi from Bombay. It is said the matter was resolved after negotiations. I think back in those days there was no law for contempt of court, nor could a court take a suo moto notice of a matter. Good old days, I’d say.

 

Article sent to us by Soonu.