“And that’s Zia Mohiuddin’s office. Would you like to say hello to him”
I was at National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) and Fawad Khan, a talented actor and a proud graduate of NAPA was showing me around. Gregory Thompson, a British theater director who was in Karachi to direct Shakespeare’s THE WINTER’S TALE in Urdu at NAPA had dropped me an email asking if I had documented NAPA and Hindu Gymkhana. I had not and had no excuse so I asked him the favor to introduce me to someone at NAPA and he looped in Fawad, who happily agreed to show me around.
We entered Zia sb’s office. He was sitting behind his table going through morning newspaper. He looked fragile but his voice and handshake was firm and determined. I thought I would be overwhelmed by his presence so I started speaking about the purpose of being there and all that jazz. He listened to me patiently. I realized my mistake soon. I was in front of the great actor and orator and should have been listening. I stopped. I realized I was overwhelmed with his presence. He then spoke about the recent play and its reviews in the newspaper. He also added a bit about the dwindling corporate sponsorship. Myself and Fawad were listening to him keenly. We left his office after few minutes. I wanted to thank him for his immense contribution to the film and theater and arts in general but I could not have possibly done the justice.
We stepped out and Fawad showed me the place where Arshad Mahmood sit. He was not there. A priceless piece of memorabilia lied on his desk. His photo with legendary Faiz Ahmed Faiz! There was a group of actors sitting in that compound rehearsing for a play.
Fawad showed me the library and the rooms where NAPA classes for dance and acting took place. The walls were decorated with the printed material related to plays. Between those confined spaces, Zia Mohiuddien, Talat Hussain, Rahat Kazmi, Khalid Ahmed and other greats taught craft of acting, directing, script writing and others.
We climbed the roof through a narrow staircase. Fawad told me that they had hosted few events at the top also. There were few rooms where they conducted music classes. I could see a talbla set and a piano lying in one of the rooms. We climbed down and headed to the newly constructed theater on the other end.
The construction of that theater became a controversy as soon as the construction began on the premises. The original building of Hindu Gymkhana which was handed over to NAPA in 2005 by then President, General Pervez Musharra was a protected heritage site under Sindh Cultural Heritage Protection Act. NAPA was accused of violating the law which restrains anyone from modifying the premises of a heritage site.
The landscape of Karachi is dotted with umpteen sites of cultural and historical importance which are in a state of decay due to lack of funds and interest. It was fortunate that NAPA brought back Hindu Gymkhana into public sphere again. If Govt. indeed desires to protect such sites then they can easily find dozens of other landmarks which require its immediate attention. NAPA is taking good care of Hindu Gymkhana.
We walked through the auditorium. Fawad showed me the gallery, makeup room, storage room, wardrobes and the lighting room. It was a privilege. He told me that I could have attended a dance performance by Joshinder Chaggar had I come a day earlier. He told me of years that he had spent in those premises and stories he has cherished with his buddies. He showed me a small hut which had served as a canteen before. There was a small room on the top where a janitor was taking siesta. Zia sb’s portrait was hanging from a wall. We climbed down and went to canteen where we had a chilled drink in front of the imposing facade of original gymkhana building. It looked as if it belonged to a building in Mughal Emperor Akbar’s Fatehpur Sikri.
The original building of Hindu Gymkhana was constructed in 1925. It was designed by Agha Ahmed Hussain. It was meant to become a center of recreational activites for elite Hindu denizens of Karachi and was named after Ramgopal Gourdhanandh Mohatta who contributed handsomely for its construction. The stone for its construction was brought from Bijapur. In a brilliant aricle, Akhtar Balouch revealed that an area of eight acres was leased for the purpose which has been encroached upon by various govt. institutes and others.