Be it institutions like The Mama Parsi Girls’ Secondary School or infrastructure such as the M.A. Jinnah Road, the Parsi community has significantly contributed to Karachi’s history and heritage. It is no surprise that one member of the community, Jamshed Nusserwanji, a businessman and the first mayor of Karachi (elected in 1933), earned himself the title of the Father of Karachi. Under Nusserwanji’s supervision, Karachi thrived as the cleanest city of the East, with a special emphasis on trade, commerce, and banking. Not only did the metropolis move towards modernity and development, but it also became a more inclusive space for all ethnicities and religions. Jamshed Quarters is an estate which stands as a symbol of this harmony. Initially, serving as a residential complex for Karachi’s growing middle class; the neighbourhood has recently attracted attention for a different reason.
Originally owned by Mrs. Haribai Motiram, and later purchased by Hanifabai Haji Gani, one of the houses located in Jamshed Quarters, near the Quaid’s Mausoleum, has been renovated by The Dawood Foundation (TDF) into a public space called TDF Ghar. Initiated in 1960, TDF was conceived as an educational foundation, whose main focus was to support and promote educational initiatives in the fields of Science, Technology and Research. TDF is the charitable arm of the Dawood Hercules Group, currently led by Hussain Dawood. While the organisation has been deeply involved with the construction of schools and colleges over the years, the team is now moving towards more creative initiatives, to reconstruct social and spiritual value amongst our people.
In line with TDF’s aim to initiate projects which will allow individuals to groom themselves and thrive as a community, TDF Ghar serves as a platform for the people of Karachi, especially artists, to come together and connect with the city through their words and their work. ‘Our focus was on opening a space that can cater to a wider audience from various backgrounds,’ shared Hiba Zubairi, Communications Team Leader at TDF. ‘Informal learning spaces play an important role in helping society in using the right to speak in a constructive manner. People can share their ideas and materialize them for larger benefit of the public. Incubation centres and other similar projects are gaining popularity because of their inclusive nature. TDF Ghar, will connect the visitors with the rich and vibrant history of Karachi, while giving them a place to talk and discuss ideas.’
While TDF Ghar’s history is inspiring enough to pull Karachites towards the public space, the house itself is also warm and inviting. With an entry fees of a mere Rs.50, the building covered with yellow tiles welcomes you by instantly enveloping you in a bubble of nostalgia. Serving as the ‘Living Room,’ the first room of the house is a spacious chamber, with multiple doors leading to various sections of the house. Furnished with collector’s items, this museum of sorts consists of a gramophone (which actually works!), chess boards, classic high-ceiling fans, chandeliers, a crockery cabinet, and a mini library. A special treat for history-enthusiasts exists in the same room in the form of a Remington type-writer, an Anglo-Indian Roll-Top desk, and books with spines serving as reminders of the pre-partition era. An Anglo-Indian Vanity dressing table, known as Singhara, also stands in the room as a symbol of the furnishing style and the Islamic designs which were popular in the previous centuries.
The doors of the Living Room open into an open space, called the Sehan Café, where visitors can relax with their friends and family, over a cup of tea or spend a quiet evening working on their own while being surrounded by lush green trees. The café is decorated with lanterns, marble-top tables and Irani bentwood chairs. A flight of stairs leads to the second storey where three empty rooms called Numaish Halls, have been designated as multipurpose venues, meant for art displays, large meetings, workshops, or talks. Finally, a second flight of stairs leads to the most appealing spot of the building. Surrounded by plants, which add a sea of colours to the otherwise simple structure, the rooftop is a wide space directly looking over the Quaid’s Mausoleum. In the evening, specially, once the sun has settled down, the rooftop becomes a perfect spot to enjoy a panoramic view of the tomb on a breezy night under the stars.
What is truly commendable about TDF Ghar is the way it has been designed and the close attention to detail. From the mosaic tiles which fill the ‘Living Room,’ to the frames which hang next to the stairway, each corner of the house has a story behind it. A perfect blend of the past with the modern era is also projected at the Ghar. While the main gate leads to a display of tables and chairs with wooden walls and a Wi-Fi connection, the same route ends up at the back gate of the house where a traditional Sindhi Jhoola, called Peenjho, rests under a large tree.
The TDF team also deserves to be commended for not forgetting Jamshed Nusserwanji in the process of renovating the house. Not only do the aims of TDF Ghar, such as the inclusivity and equal opportunity for all, match those of the former mayor, but the different parts of the house contain subtle dedications to him also. One such example is the ancient hand-crafted tiles which embellish the rooftop, paying tribute to Nusserwanji’s career as a tile merchant.
The Dawood Foundation has done a remarkable job in creating a space where enthusiasts of multiple disciplines, be it art, history, literature, or photography, can gather under one roof. If more organisations follow suit, Karachi has the potential to yet again become a metropolis which protects culture and heritage; a beautiful city where the past meets the present.
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