Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jewels of Karachi

Adnan (hubby dear) is a theatre student at NAPA (National Academy of Performing Arts). NAPA is based in one of the most amazing buildings in Karachi, the Hindu Gymkhana. For those of you who want to know a little history about the place, read on:

'Designed by the first-known Muslim architect Agha Ahmed Hussain, it was the first public building in Karachi to boldly adopt the Mughal-Revival style. The choice of architect and architectural language is even more interesting because it was commissioned during a period when Karachi did not seem to be affected by communal tension rippling in the subcontinent. The Hindu Gymkhana was a club for the Hindu upper classes who formed a strong commercial elite in Karachi in the years before Independence in 1947. The Hindu community and Seth Ramgopal Gourdhanandh Mohatta contributed money for its construction.

The plan and massing was based on the tomb of Itamad-ud-Daulah (1628) in Agra. The building is small in size and consists primarily of a hall and some smaller rooms used for administrative purposes. Stone for the two-foot thick walls was acquired in Bijapur. The roof line is defined by delicate massing of cupolas and balustrades directly influenced by Akbar's Fatehpur Sikri. The octagonal corner towers framing the projecting central jharoka or porch are capped with chattris (domed kiosks). Smaller chattris highlight the corners of the projecting porch that carry the drooping bangladar roof used in Emperor Akbar's period. The projecting chajjas are supported by ornamental brackets. The cupolas of the chattris are reinforced concrete and the walls are dressed in Gizri stone. Some of the carved elements are of Jodhpur stone'.

Hindu Gymkhana is one of those places where time comes to a stand still. It stands in the noisy city center; surrounded by honking cars, rickshaws and mini buses, as an oasis. When I first sat on the rooftop I felt as if I had entered an enchanted place, something out of 'Tilsm Hoshruba'. As if a group of 'parees' (fairies) will appear and start dancing. The walls whisper of bygone eras and it feels as if the spirits of the people who came to spend their leisure time at the gymkhana are still around. There is music playing in a room while in another there is a heated discussion on politics taking place. What all must have happened here during the partition days? These and many secrets are embedded in the walls of the structure and they will remain there till the end of time.

I am no good at photography and so I might not have done justice to the beautiful structure of the Hindu Gymkhana. When you see these pictures and you are in Karachi, do take out some time and visit this place. You won't regret it!
[On a personal note, this building is very dear to me because it was here that hubby dear went down on his knees and asked for my hand!]