way we were
Kolachi visits Karachi War Cemetery and Mewashah graveyard – worlds apart in their maintenance and history – and assesses the need for new graveyards in the city
By Shahid Husain
In the lush green Karachi War Cemetery on Stadium Road are buried 642 soldiers who laid down their lives during World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945). Amongst the dead souls are 525 soldiers from the United Kingdom, three from Australia, 105 from undivided India, three from New Zealand, four from Canada and two from West Africa.
The beautiful, picturesque cemetery with healthy trees and beds of roses was constructed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Commission continues to maintain the historical graveyard in a manner that is indicative of its immense love, affection and respect towards the dead.
In the cemetery is also placed a voluminous book that chronicles the details of 25,000 soldiers and pilots who died during 1939-45 War and are buried in different graveyards across Pakistan.
The inscriptions on different graves show that some of the soldiers were very young. D.W. Earney, pilot in Royal Air Force died on 28 December, 1943 at the age of 21; T. Harris, sergeant, wireless operator/ air gunner of the Royal Air Force died on 28 January, 1944 at the age of 23; F. A. B. Brown, pilot of the Royal Air Force, died on the same day at the age of 22; J. Mackinnon, aircraftsman, Royal Air Force, died on 17 May, 1944 at the age of 23 and H.G. Milne, pilot officer of Royal Australian Air Force died on 17 May 1944 at the age of 22. "He died that we might live," says one of the inscriptions.
In sharp contrast to the Karachi War Cemetery are 179 graveyards in the 15-million strong megalopolis Karachi, 69 of them managed by the city government and the rest by different trusts and non-government organizations, besides the ones looked after by the cantonment boards. All of them are in a pathetic condition. Paucity of funds is understandable but a cursory glance at these graveyards show how disrespectful as a nation we are towards our dead.
Some of these graveyards, for instance Mewashah graveyard, is 200 years old and has immense historical significance. "My great grand father Syed Abdul Kabeer Pasha (1715-1865), popularly known as Syed Mewa Shah Ghazi died more than 150 years ago," says Syed Kamal Shah Ghazi, caretaker of Mewashah graveyard.
In the Mewashah graveyard are buried not only the ancestors of Jam Saheb of Lasbella and several people of the Durrani clan of the royal family of Afghanistan but also tens of thousands of ordinary mortals, including Muslims, Christians and Jews.
Situated close to the Lyari River, the Mewashah graveyard comprises of several small graveyards of different communities such as Bohris, Khoja Sunnat Jamaat, Junagarh Memon Jamaat, Sodagran-i-Delhi, Malabar Muslims, Ismailis and Okhai Memon Jamaat.
"Nobody knows how many graves there are in this graveyard but there are four or five dead bodies buried in every grave," says Ghazi. "It was Queen Victoria who gave this piece of land to Mewashah, spread over from Bara Board in Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (SITE) to Lyari, and he handed over its portions to different communities," he adds.
A map of the graveyard made in 1929 by Thawerdas K.M, land surveyor in the British government, shows Dhobi Ghat graveyard, Madho Makadam graveyard, Sewage Farm No 1, Shershah graveyard, and Shershah Village in the jurisdiction of Mewashah graveyard. The road leading to Mugger Peer bisects the Mewashah graveyard.
"Arabs are also buried here and slaves traded in Baghdadi and Shah Baig Lane in Lyari in yester years are also buried here. But since there is no record, nobody knows how many people are buried here," he says. "Previously people would also bury their dead on the roads but I firmly opposed it and had to face the wrath of gangsters," he says.
According to Ghazi, Mewashah originally belonged to Kunar Sharif, Afghanistan. "We still have land there," he points out. "Mewashah was the youngest amongst his brothers. He would attend the Urs on a horse. Once his elder brother said he would take the horse. Mewashah sat on a wall and asked it to move. The wall started moving. People made a complaint with his brother that Mewashah has exposed the interior of the haweli. Mewashah was infuriated and migrated to India," he claims.
"Mewashah hated the British colonialists and was arrested on the orders of Queen Victoria. As he was being taken to Kala Paani on a ship, he asked the officials to allow him to offer prayers - he was denied. Suddenly they saw that Mewashah was offering prayers on the surface of the sea. A big fish appeared from somewhere and brought him here. At that time the place where you see Lea Market today was under water," he says. "When the incident was reported to Queen Victoria she said Mewashah was not an ordinary mortal. Then he was invited to London respectfully and the British Army was told never to infuriate him," he says.
Some of the other graveyards in Karachi, established prior to partition, include Malir Cantonment graveyard, Manghopir graveyard, Shah Aqiq graveyard, Meeran Pir graveyard, Mai Gangi graveyard, Hussaini Bagh graveyard, Ali Bagh graveyard, Bohra Daudi Bagh graveyard, Bostan Siddiqui Kachi graveyard and Karachi Christian Cemetery (Gora Qabrastan) but almost all of them are in depleted condition.
Then there are graveyards that were established after Partition including Liaquatabad graveyard, Azizabad graveyard, Paposhnagar graveyard, Sakhi Hasan graveyard, Golimar graveyard etc. But since Karachi has evolved into a mega city with over 15 million population, existing graveyards are not able to provide necessary space for burial. In fact, old graves are used for burial of the newly dead.
Many graveyards have been encroached and markets and residential colonies built on them without any let or hindrance. In fact some graveyards have disappeared altogether. For instance, buildings have been constructed on Bara Imam graveyard on Nishtar Road and Rexerlane graveyard. The sole exception is the Wadi-e-Hussain, a graveyard established on Super Highway in 1999 that is the only computerized graveyard in the city.
With city's population increasing at the rate of 5 per cent per annum compared to 3.2 per cent per annum national growth rate, essentially due to internal migration, the establishment of new graveyards has become all the more necessary but it seems that even after death, people have to face a crass class society. This is very much evident if we compare Karachi War Cemetery with other graveyards.
Funds are available neither for the establishment of new graveyards nor for the maintenance of the old ones. The city Nazim admits that the city graveyards have exhausted their capacity but we are bent upon burying the dead in old graves, depicting callousness, disrespect and indifference towards the dead.
Dr. Shaukat Zaman, district officer, municipal public health, City Government says data is not available about the people buried in Karachi daily but 528 acre of land has been acquired on the Super Highway to construct "model graveyards." He says as far as maintenance of the graveyards is concerned, it is the responsibility of gravediggers but bye-laws have been made for the maintenance of the "city of the silence."
"The number of graveyards in the city should be tripled," he says.
– Photos by Athar Khan, Zahid Rahman and
Hina Mahgul Rind
By Sabeen Jamil
Gone are the days when slums, guns and bhai log were the only distinguishable characters of this part of Karachi. North Nazimabad now has far more respectable things to identify with. Travel through the Shahrah-e-Sher Shah Suri, the road stretching from the famous Matriculation Board Office Chowrangi to the Sakhi Hasan Chowrangi, and one can observe the boom of thriving consumerism in North Nazimabad.
The said road has four roundabouts in all, with markets on each side of the road loaded with stuff alluring enough to make people step out of their cars and shop. From branded shoes to designer clothes, from American fast food, Mexican, Chinese and Italian flavors to the desi spicy kebab paratha, to electronic gadgets – the stretch of the road has enough charms to lighten the burden of one's wallet very easily.
However, things were not always that dazzling. A decade ago, the area was quite deserted with skimpy options for consumers. Residents of the area had to travel long distances to Tariq Road, Bahadurabad, Defence and Clifton to keep pace with changing trends in apparel and growing number of eateries mushrooming on the other side of town. Hyderi and Paposh had a monopoly in clothing and Delhi Muslim, Donisil and Mr. Burger, along with some small snack bars, had domination in food. The area famous for its katchi abadi, lower middle class group and upheaval during '90s failed to attract local investors rather, "A great number of investors and inhabitants moved out of North to posh areas in Karachi and Lahore," states Najib Ahmed, an estate agent. Security was a top issue for North Nazimabad in the '90s, when Karachi was in the midst of a violent political and religious storm.
Nazimabad when it was developed in the early 1950s was a suburb of Karachi. The area was established to settle Muslim refugees and was named after Khawaja Nazimuddin, the second Governor-General of Pakistan. In late 1950s, when Karachi was still the capital of Pakistan the northern extension of Nazimabad, North Nazimabad, was developed as a residential area for federal government employees.
North Nazimabad remained a no-investment area for quite a long while until 1998 when McDonalds decided to launch itself in Karachi with a branch in the downtrodden North Nazimabad. "Opening our first outlet in North instead of Defence or some other posh area of the city raised many eyebrows," says an official at McDonalds. "It's no secret now about how right our decision was," he adds referring to the thousands of people from the entire city that thronged the outlet for several months.
The success of McDonalds in the area brought the town back in the limelight making investment in the area very appealing. And here we have a new, revamped and trendy North Nazimabad, offering everything to consumers which was earlier unavailable.
Stylish shoes, trendy clothes and exclusive designer fabric, scrumptious pizzas, burgers, flavored sheesha are just round the corner now. And it doesn't end here – it's just the beginning. North Nazimabad offers lots of potential for investors at present and in the future as well. The secret behind this is none other than the large middle and lower middle class population of the large Town, ever willing to consume.
With the recent construction of flyovers and underpasses in the city, towns are now more connected with each other. North Nazimabad town too, along with catering to the need of a huge population (700,000 approximately) in the Union Councils of Paposh Nagar, Pahar Ganj, Khandu Goth, Hyderi, Sakhi Hasan, Farooq-e-Azam, Mustafabad, Shadman town, Buffer Zone-1 and Buffer Zone-11 caters to the people of surrounding towns as well.
Saira Raheel, an avid shopper from North Karachi frequently visits neighboring North Nazimabad for shopping, "They have it all Portia, Bareeze, Threadz, JJ. I don't go to Tariq Road anymore," she exclaims – now she doesn't have to drive long distances to look classy, "We don't have such eateries in our area as are in North Nazimabad." The presence of fast food chains in the town is another compelling reason for her to come here on and off. "North has now become the best area to live in," she adds.
The shops here entertain a sizeable number of customers daily to an extent that brands like Bed and Bath, Indulge and Hush Puppies had to set exclusive outlets in this area to facilitate their clientele here. According to the shop in charge Threadz, North Nazimabad, Muhammad Asif the front line of the town is a posh area and strong in terms of purchasing power and people never hesitate to spend thousands to maintain their standard. "Women in this area are as uncompromising on fashion as any from Defence or PECHS can be. They are always seeking exclusive dresses that no one in their circle is wearing." Giving the buying trend and the potential customers it has (sometimes even 200 customers a day visit Threadz) having an outlet in North Nazimabad "was a golden opportunity."
The area is not just profitable in terms of food and clothing alone, the electronic market in Hyderi and the mobile market in Sakhi Hasan are sharing in in the profit. "Sakhi Hasan's mobile market is next in line in terms of size after Karachi's largest mobile market in Saddar," says Najib and given the development in the area, "It is expected to thrive unimaginably," he predicts.
The City Government recognising the commercial importance of the area has done a lot to add value to North. Signalization and beautification of roundabouts and removal of encroachments on the roadsides during the previous Nazim Naimatullah Khan's tenure were some such steps that added to the Town. "Traveling through this road gives you the feeling of moving through Shahrah-e-Faisal," says Iqra Rafique, resident of Gulshan-e-Iqbal who presumed the Town to be down trodden until she came here. The opportunity to travel through neat and wide roads has really become a luxury in this city.
All thoroughfares and service roads of the town were specially designed to allow movement of large volume of traffic without any interruption. Almost all roads in this area are exceptionally wide. "Even the inside roads here are 50 ft wide contrary to the main roads in Defence that are no more than 40 ft width. The Shahrah-e-Suri alone is 320 ft wide," adds Najib claiming that the city doesn't have a single road to equal this one. Giving the importance of the road, recently the government allowed commercialization on the sides of the road. This has tripled the property value in this area and from Category 2 in the valuation table of the Board of Revenue; North Nazimabad was upgraded to Category A-1 equaling some phases of Defence, II Chundrigar Road, Shahrah-e-Faisal, and Muhammad Ali Housing Society, in 2000 "this entire area is going to be revolutionized very soon."
And this is not a random optimistic remark. The local government is trying hard to revolutionize the area. Apart from the uplifting of the inside roads and markets a grand development project at the Paharganj area is under way. The area constitutes of a range of mountains, a natural treasure found only in this area of the city, and divides the town from Orangi town. A road from Qasba to North Nazimabad is being taken out through these mountains with the help of NHI. The mountains are being cut to have a route. "Roads bring progress in the area and so will do this road," shares Mumtaz Hameed, Nazim North Nazimabad town while explaining the need of the road in the area.
The mountains range is an exclusive feature of the town and can serve an excellent recreational and hiking spot for entertainment starved Karachiites. Keeping this in view government plans two farmhouses on these mountains accompanied with electronic rides, canteens and slides. "The maps have been drawn and work on this project will start soon," says Mumtaz.
– Photos By M Farooq Khan
Some people say that Pakistan's K-2 peak, once also known as Mount Godwin Austen, is still growing and is now actually higher than Mount Everest. Back in the mid-1990s, a team of Japanese scientists came to Pakistan and set up an experiment to measure K-2's exact height through a complicated process that involved bouncing a high-intensity laser beam off the moon and back to the top of the peak. After computing the results of the experiment, the team announced that K-2 was indeed growing in height by a few inches a year, but the team refused to confirm earlier press reports that K-2 was now 30 feet higher than Everest.
Us Pakistanis, however, live in the hope that a day will come (though it may take a couple of million years) when K-2 will in fact be higher than Everest and we will be able to lay claim to having the highest mountain in the world. Meanwhile, we console ourselves with the fact that we have the world's most massive mountain in the shape of Nanga Parbat, also known as "The Killer Mountain" because it has taken the lives of more climbers than any other mountain on earth. For good measure, we also have more peaks above 20,000 feet in height than any other country.
In a typical bit of Irish whimsy, the Six Mile Bridge in Ireland is called the Six Mile Bridge because it is (wait for it) 10 miles from Dublin. That's the official reason given by the Irish Tourist Board. But why is Mount Everest called Mount Everest?
The explanation usually given is that the mountain is named after Colonel George Everest, a nineteenth century British surveyor. But Colonel Everest neither set foot nor eyes on the world's highest peak. How, then, did it come to be named after him?
The mystery was solved by the Scottish author and filmmaker John Keay, at the celebration of the "Great Arc" - the weeklong commemoration in Chennai, India, in September 2003, of the 200th anniversary of the great survey and mapping of the Indian subcontinent by British surveyors begun in 1803. Even Keay, however, might have a tough time explaining why Madras is now known as Chennai.
According to Keay, a surveyor called William Lambton began the mapping of India from its southern end. He died after reaching up to the Deccan region in central India. The work was almost completed by his second-in-command, Colonel Everest. But his name was not Everest "as we say it now and as the tallest peak in the world is called," Keay said. Everest, he said, was actually pronounced "Eve-rest."
Keay explained that George Everest reached up to Hapthipaon House, on a hillock near Mussoorie, on the edges of the Himalayas, where the last lap of the Great Arc was completed. But he never set eyes on Mount Everest.
By 1843, when he was near the end of his work in India, he was joined by Andrew Scott Waugh, who was in charge of surveying almost all the major peaks of the Himalayas.
Nanga Parbat, now in Pakistan, is the ninth highest mountain in the world and the westernmost peak of the Himalayas. K-2, the world's second tallest peak, is part of the Karakorams, also now in Pakistan.
According to Keay, Nanga Parbat and K-2 were the northern peaks that the British surveyors had their eyes on. To the southeast of Dehradun and the survey's headquarters was the peak of Nanda Devi.
Surveyed north of Calcutta (now Kolkata) were the Chorno Lari and Kanchenjunga peaks, which already had names. But one rarely visible peak was called XV - it had no name.
That's still the case with some peaks over 20,000 feet high in the Karakorams. There are so many of them that the Survey of Pakistan still hasn't got around to naming all of them. These nameless peaks are known only by their survey-coordinate numbers.
By 1847, there was debate raging on which was the highest peak in the world, said Keay, who was in Chennai to give a series of lectures on survey history.
Keay told reporters in Chennai that he came to Kashmir in the 1970s, basically to fish. "That the controversial Colonel Everest had never even seen the mountain that had his name first dawned on me then," Keay said.
In the 1980s, said Keay, he was collaborating with Indian historian S Muthiah on a series of films made by Britain's Grenada television on geographical surveys, and it was during his research on the roots of the great survey of India that he really stumbled upon how Everest was named.
"Waugh, then superintendent of the Great Trigonometrical Survey, as it was called, and surveyor-general of India, decided to get peak XV calculated and measured accurately" several years after Colonel Everest returned to England.," said Keay.
According to him, "It was Waugh's team of Bengali mathematicians, led by Radhanath Sikhdar, based in Kolkata, which worked out the final height of the elusive XV," which is visible only when the clouds stay away.
In March 1856, said Keays, Waugh wrote a letter from Dehradun to his Kolkata office, in which, discussing peak XV, he wrote: "In testimony of my respect for a revered chief, I have decided to name this noble peak of the Himalayas Mont (sic) Everest (pronounced Eve-rest)."
There were objections in London but Waugh overruled all opposition, saying Mont Everest (soon called Mount Everest) had become "a household name" even as India began fighting its first battle of independence with the British, said Keay.
"Waugh was indeed magnanimous," said Keay. "He could have taken his own name for the tallest peak in the world. He did not. No one remembers Waugh in India today."
No one remembers him in Pakistan either, where the debate about which is the world's tallest peak - Mount Everest or K-2 - is still going on.
Waugh's name hasn't gone entirely unrecorded, though. According to Indian press reports, there is, in his name, a small field, somewhere in the far-eastern corner of Kohima, marked as the site where an invading Japanese army first set foot on Indian soil during World War II.
The famous Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner stunned the climbing world in 1978 when he and Peter Habeler became the first to scale Mount Everest without bottled oxygen. "I am nothing more than a single, narrow, gasping lung floating over the mists and the summits," Messner wrote of that experience.
Today, more than a hundred climbers have repeated the feat - extraordinary, given that an unacclimatised person taken from sea level directly to the summit, five-and-a-half vertical miles, would pass out in about three minutes and die in roughly ten more from lack of oxygen.
"Everest is climbable over time," says Rob Roach, an altitude physiologist. "You can, however, torture yourself on many levels by trying to climb it."
As Michael Klesius noted in an article in National Geographic, "Frostbite is always a hazard on a mountain where the temperatures often plunge to single digits and winds can exceed 90 miles an hour. Dehydration can beset a climber, who exhales more than a gallon of moisture a day in the parched air. Pulmonary or cerebral edema can strike quickly, often fatally. And temporary blindness results when the brain's visual cortex doesn't get enough oxygen."
As if all this weren't bad enough, ultraviolet radiation, which strengthens by 4 per cent per thousand feet, can also damage corneas. Any of these ills can lead to falls, the cause of the greatest number of deaths on Everest.
For all Everest's perils, however, Nanga Parbat remains the world's most dangerous mountain.
The great Austrian climber Herman Buhl was the first to scale Nanga Parbat, back in 1953. His feat was all the more remarkable because the last stage of his assault on the summit was a solo climb, the other two members of the summit team having turned back when a blizzard struck.
I had the great good fortune to meet Herman Buhl at the house of my uncle Major-General Shahid Hamid in Rawalpindi in 1953, a few weeks after the Austrian's conquest of Nanga Parbat. I was only a schoolboy then, and you could have bowled me over with a feather when my uncle told me that the man sitting across from him in his study chatting away like anybody else was none other than the legendary mountaineer. Of such moments is life made.
Being a transgender in the sub continent means living a life that is stripped off of any dignity or respect and many a times for no fault of their own. That's the sentiment that comes across if you ever get a chance to have a chat with Muskaan. A hijra, Muskaan is quite charming and unlike the loud mouthed ones that abound the city, this one is polite, courteous and a whole lot flirty, batting eyelashes so very often and flashing her perfect dentures. She was amused at the idea of being interviewed but finally sat down for a little chat.
Hailing from the city of Sufis, Multan, Muskaan came to Karachi with the hope of getting away from the ridicule and stigma, but the grass wasn't any greener on this side. Chances are that you might bump into this smiling queen on Boat Basin and once into the conversation, you would burst out laughing at her quips. And then there are her latkas, matkas and jhatkas that can give any Bollywood or Lollywood belle a run for her money.
Smart and sensitive, Muskaan is a pleasure to talk to...
Kolachi: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Muskaan: I was named Javed by my parents. I used to live with my family but then opted to move out because of the stigma. My brother very often tells me that I should just sit at home. But instead of being dependent, I prefer to earn my own living. I used to be a dancer in Multan. A lot of money was showered on me by my admirers but I left it all and moved to Karachi.
Kolachi: What do you like the most about Karachi?
Muskaan: The cool, breezy evenings! And Abdullah Shah Ghazi's Mazaar. I often go there and feel at peace.
Kolachi: What are your thoughts about Karachi?
Muskaan: Yahan insaan ki qadar nahi! No one is bothered really and it's sad to see that at times people value petty thing more than the other person's feelings.
Kolachi: What makes you say that?
Muskaan: Since the time I have moved to this city, I have experienced and come across things I could never have imagined. People do not value others. From harassment to being robbed and then bugged by cops, I have suffered a lot. And I don't think I am the only one.
Kolachi: How do you find living away from your family?
Muskaan: It's tough. My mother and youngest sister really adored me and I do miss them a lot. Since the time I have moved to Karachi, I have made it a point to spend a month with her. I do a lot of shopping from here and very often I do send money back home as well.
As for being here in Karachi, I share the house with another hijra. Our Guru lives close by and we gather at her place every day. Time flies, often filled with loneliness.
Kolachi: Have you ever fallen in love?
Muskaan: I am a human being, I have feelings too. It might sound odd to you, but I have been in love, with a man in my neighbourhood back home. It took its toll on me though. He still lives there in Multan while I had to move to Karachi, just to get away from it all.
Kolachi: How much do you earn in a single night?
Muskaan: At times over 500 hundred and at times nothing. But I do give a fair share of my income to the policewalas to avoid being caught on false charges. That is scary, dealing with policemen and the goons of my area. Better give them some money without resistance than face the torture and lose all the money. I don't go home till its morning, because I fear I may get robbed and may even be killed.
Kolachi: How do people treat you?
Muskaan: Well, generally people are good especially the newly weds. These couples do not hesitate in handing out money and if I tell them that I want food or a milkshake, they buy me one too. But the boys here are strange and scary. They poke fun at us and yet are eager to have our "services". Saying yes means trouble, saying no means trouble; it's a tight rope that I walk.
Kolachi: How do you find Begum Nawazish Ali?
Muskaan: Ah! Well he is over rated. Flirting and behaving coquettishly is okay but I don't think he will last a long time. The act will stop some day.
Kolachi: But don't you think that having him on air has sort of paved way and made your type more acceptable?
Muskaan: No, he has only filled up his pockets. No one has ever done anything for us. I am 25, and still do not have an NIC. People know that we exist, they accept our existence but we just don't have an identity.
Kolachi: What are your future plans?
Muskaan: Well, someday I hope to go for Hajj with my mother. I wish to get out of all this and maybe set up some small boutique or something. Live a more peaceful life hopefully.
As she sips on the tea, she once again flashes a million dollar smile and tells me how much she enjoys dancing. Taking a look at the clock, Muskaan hurriedly gets up and says that she has to get ready for a party she has been invited to, "I like the music and the crowd and yes dancing all night long is fun!" With that she saunters away.
Trying to find an identity in this city is difficult – not just for Muskaan but also for anyone who is trying to make it here. If it gives from one hand it takes away from the other – such is Karachi's character.