KURRACHEE (OR KARACHI)
by Patrick P. de Sousa
Did the subject raise any eyebrows? Yes, that was the original name of
Karachi, my birthplace, in the Sindh Province, and considered to be the
cleanest city in Asia. It was in those hey days of undivided India, the
British Raj, where there was true respect for the law and uniform and
equitable application thereof.
Of course, the Britishers received their royal treatment, but that is
the largesse of royalty!
I asked several common folks (those without any political aspirations or
agenda) after partition, as to whether they thought the new
"Independence" had bettered their lot and received the same answer, that
they would have preferred a status quo, i.e., undivided India under the
British, where they perceived offered greater equity and fair play.
It was in my early teens that Jinnah and Nehru had each carved their
niche, Muslims getting what is now known as Pakistan, including Bangla
Desh, formerly East Pakistan, and Hindus the rest. The minorities, i.e.,
Christians, Jews and Buddhists had to fend for themselves and were
assimilated within the majority infrastructure.
Of course, East Pakistan (Bangla Desh) is now history, and the future
is, and always shall be a mystery.
Karachi had a sizable Goan population. A majority of them lived in
Saddar (previously known as Camp) and St. Patrick's Church (now
Cathedral), had a magnificent marblestone Christ the King Monument which
was an outstanding landmark with a commanding view from across the
length and breadth of that prominent Clarke Street. To the right of the
church was St. Joseph's Convent School for girls and to the left was St.
Patrick's High School for boys. Of course, most of the street names have
St. Patrick's High School, which was my alma mater, had an outstanding
reputation for being one of the best schools for boys. There was strict
discipline -- no sparing the rod to spoil the child. St. Lawrence's
School, Cincinnatus Town, in which area our house was located, then
taught only up through the elementary grades. There were also several
other Parish schools.
Goans also lived in Cant. Area near the railway station, Keamari (the
sea port), Manora Island, Depot Lines, Soldier Bazaar and Cincinnatus
Town. The Catholic Colony 1 and 2 were new developments and considered
to be in the outskirts of the city. After partition, the sprawling city
put our Catholic Colony No. 1 home in the heart of Karachi.
Many streets were named after Goans, such as Britto Road, DeAbreu Road,
and D'Cruz Lane. Goans held top positions in the Customs, Municipality,
Police and Government Offices. They were also Judges, Magistrates,
lawyers, doctors, businessmen, and a Mayor.
The unique Goan tradition of forming Clubs flourished in Saddar, where
one could find clubs from most Goan villages all along one street. Here,
mostly men, could find a reasonable, safe and secure place to live. All
these clubs had a prominent altar for individual or group devotion by
its Catholic members.
During the feast of Christ the King, the entire Catholic community would
gather in St. Patrick's Church. Most Goans in the Saddar area, would
light up and decorate their houses along the procession route with
religious symbols. The exposed Blessed Sacrament was carried under an
elaborate canopy and people knelt in adoration as It processed. A solemn
benediction at the Christ the King Monument concluded this grand
annual event preceded by the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of
Karachi originally had an amalgam of Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsees,
Amils and Jews. However, the 1947 Partition of India led to the exodus
of Hindus and Sikhs and the influx of Muslim refugees or panagirs as
they were then referred to.
In front of our house, it was common place to see Hindus being
disemboweled, and various other atrocities were committed by both
factions within their respective newly acquired boundaries. Our Hindu
friends pleaded with us to give them religious objects, or symbols, like
The Crucifix or Rosary, to display on their neck-chains, and some even
studied our basic prayers.
Many Goans in Karachi cooperated with or shielded their Hindu neighbors
during those brutal times.
The cleanest city soon became a quagmire, as mass migration resulted in
refugees setting up tents or huts on sidewalks, and the lucky or
adventurous ones took over vacant evacuee properties, albeit by force,
because possession was considered as good as ownership.
Our house, once considered to be in the suburbs, soon became the hub
center, more so after Quaid-e-Azam M. A. Jinnah was buried on the hill
directly across our home. It also became the staging ground for
demonstrations, protest marches and open hostilities, where many a
bloody duel was fought.
Based upon reports I get from relatives and friends in Karachi, the
general population is quite pleased and optimistic with the present
regime of General Pervez Musharraf. The Chief Executive even recently
visited his alma mater, St. Patrick's High School, and mingled freely
with the alumni, to the chagrin of his bodyguards.
They see a silver lining in the sky, and my only hope is that whatever
is best for us, may come to be. Yes, Pakistan is there to stay, and it
is a force to be reckoned with. Their Jawans are true Bahadurs, and
there is this martyr spirit or zeal (believing, as they do in One God,
Allah) which gives them quadrupled strength.
But, in the final analysis, nothing can bring back the Karachi, or
Kurrachee, which I knew. There is only nostalgia that will always
flourish and keep those fond OLE times alive in my memory.
On our last visit to Karachi, the metamorphosis was so dramatic, that it
was hard to comprehend the changes from the old era to the new. Yes, men
may come and go, but God's Creation is there to stay.
May the seeds of Catholicism sown by zealous missionaries, and Catholic
Goans who freely trickled down from Goa and contributed to the growth of
Karachi, grow and prosper through the Grace of God. The converts to
Catholicism are, I believe, now the primary mainstay of that heritage.
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