Wazir Mansion may be the birth place of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Nothing can be said with certainty about him in this country. Though everyone would love to own the rights to his birth place, his furniture and clothes, but no one would actually care what he was preaching all that time. In Muhammad Hanif’s words “I think a lot of people in this country don’t even know who he was and the ones who know will never agree what he said let alone what he meant by what he said”. Let’s leave this debate for a while and put faith in infinite hope that sanity will prevail eventually.
The Karachi Walla has tried to find it before all alone. I did find it in the end but it was closed for the visitors by then. Read about it here.
However this time around I was well prepared. An efficient escort led our car directly to Chagla Street (baptized now as Barkati Street) where Wazir Mansion is situated. It’s actually a straight drive from the tiny road behind Max Denso hall on M.A. Jinnah road but mind you it could be full of encroachments on a working day. Due to unfortunate Ziarat residency incident, Rangers have been deployed around Wazir Mansion now.
The mansion is not very different from rest of the buildings in the area. It’s just little shiny and well maintained. The most recent renovation was done in later half of 2000’s. It was built in an era when Karachi was booming with opportunities for traders. Most probably in 1860s when American Civil War increased the demand for Indian cotton. Karachi Port was modernized and Karachi was connected to rest of the world via telegraph in the same decade. All of the infrastructure development made Karachi an ideal outlet for excess goods produced in areas as far as Multan and Northern Punjab. The economic activity attracted traders from Gujrat and beyond to established trading firms in Karachi and it triggered demand for residential houses around bunder road. Jinnah Ponja, Jinnah’s father, moved to Karachi after 1874 from their ancestral village in Gujrat, India to Karachi and rented two-room apartment in this building. It was here that Jinnah was born and lived till he left for London in 1892 for higher studies. Later his parents moved to a bigger house (Does anyone know about their next abode?). The mansion is named after a later resident of the building who bought it sometime around the turn of the century.
There was no electricity when we went inside. There is a small reading room on the ground floor and I could see daily newspapers on wooden stands and few books in the shelves. Yaqoob, the caretaker of Wazir Mansion told me that people do visit the museum but most of them are from nearby areas. He was a pleasant surprise. Knowledgeable, Passionate and active. He led us from one room to another explaining each artifact on our way. He politely asked us to take our shoes before entering the first floor, probably concerned about the longevity of carpets. The maintenance budgets are hard to come by for such places and at times the staff has to improvise.
There was still no electricity but the first floor was illuminated by the spring sunshine. We passed silently from one artifact to another. In awe and gratitude. A girl broke the silence. “I wish my husband to be would be as cool as Jinnah” she said. Perhaps one of the few things we can say with certainty about him.