Visiting Karachi Theosophical Society inspires and entrenches deep sense of loss at the same time. The beacon of religious tolerance and pluralism which provided asylum to citizens of Karachi for more than hundred years is withering away. Someone once mentioned that Karachi is ageing like wine. A friend disagreed and said that its ageing like milk. Blunt but true! Until something is done to revive the spirit of the city. Unless the diversity of the city is cherished and not fought over. In these testing times, Theosophical Society could provide comfort and solace, the way it did after partition. Influx of youth, a little more activism and a possible relocation can make Karachi Society thriving again.
Karachi Theosophical Society was founded in 1896. Annie Besant visited Karachi and Hyderabad in 1896 and delivered a number of lectures. It inspired figures such as Dhunjishaw P. Kotwal, Jamshed Nusserwanjee and Dayaram Jethmal, etc who went on to form the society in the same year. The purpose of the Society was and is to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood, without distinction of race or colour; to encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy and science; to investigate unexplained laws of nature. Karachi chapter’s initial meetings were conducted at a room in DJ Science College. An Englishmen who had his residence at the current location of Jamshed Memorial Hall offered his residence as a meeting place which later was donated for the cause. Mr. Jamshed Nussarwanjee, who was an active member of Theosophical Society, supervised the construction of a purpose built building, with Auditorium, Library and and a lecture room. Exact date is not know but it was somewhere in 50s that the major portion of current structure was built. Over the decades, the Society had been active in linking up with other chapters and inviting guest speakers for delivering the lecture. The activities have dwindled after the sad demise of Dara F. Mirza in 2007. However supervisory staff is ever present to supervise operations of qandeel shcools across the city.
The memorial hall consits of an auditorium, a library, a lecture room and a Montessori school on third floor. The auditorium is spacious and together with an overhead balcony can accommodate 400 people. The 765 sq. foot stage is one of the largest in the city. Apart from hosting theosophical events, the stage has been used by schools and nearby communities for hosting annual cultural activities. The rates are nominal. The auditorium however needs repair and seating needs to be changed. With few modification it can become of very reasonable standard. On the first floor is a lecture and meeting room. Like the auditorium the time seem frozen in there. Most of the furniture and equipment is from 60s. There was a wooden shield, given to Jamshed Nussarwanjee. There was a meeting table and a shelf full of theosophical journals. The lecture room had capacity of around 30 people and here lectures were conducted on metaphysical, philosophical subjects with the objective to uplift moral, ethical and spiritual values. On the top floor is a Montessori school, which was one of the earliest in the city. It was founded by honorable Gool K. Minwalla who was also the founder of the Theosophical Order of Service, the social welfare arm of the Theosophical Society under which ‘qandeel’ schools run across underprivileged areas of the city. On the top is playing area. The chowkidar, thinking of us as journalist, showed us a shopping bag which was thrown out from 10th floor of adjacent building. Please write about it. He said. They don’t even care about little children playing here. Someone may get hurt sometime.
Close to the entrance, on the left side is a reading room and a library which was open to the public till very recently. It has over 10,000 books on philosophy, theosophy, comparative religion, mysticism, ethics etc. The library is still open for public but a lot of theosophical journals have been taken away in order to digitize and make them available on web. The librarian along with Mr. Hamid who is still an active member, reminisced about the glorious days they have witnessed here. The place was a rare gathering place for Hindus, Parsis, Muslims, Christians and more. When asked about the future role of the society. Mr. Hamid said that he hope for more activities and participation. Sanity will prevail. He further added.
Inshallah. God willing.