All nine of us bid adieu to Mazar-e-Quaid (Sunday Bizarre part 1) and made our way to our second stop on the list. Flagstaff House, also known as the Quaid-e-Azam House Museum, is the building that comes on your left a little before Frere Hall; the building that is mostly ignored by everyone because one is either busy navigating or backseat driving through the bottleneck traffic that forms at Metropole. This route was my daily commute for four years for university, and I myself had blinders on. In my defense, my driver was incapable of following breadcrumbs and I had to keep me eyes peeled to the road.
As we entered the premises my tourist tola left me behind (I am related by blood to all of them) because I was taking the picture below. Information is everywhere! I learnt that the Flagstaff House is a national monument under the Antiquities Act of 1975. Also, that we have something called the Antiquities Act given our deplorable behavior towards national monuments and historical towns for the sake of a better bus route or political cultural festivals.
A little salam-dua with my Khaloo revealed to him that we were introducing Karachi and Pakistan’s history to our Amreeki cousins (12 year old twins), and how we had just visited Mazar-e-Quaid. Embedded somewhere in this little chit-chat must have been some sort of a codeword (Amreeka?) because he gave us permission to take pictures. I took a total of four pictures of my cousins in the three rooms open to visitors. I am not bragging and I’m never going to make those pictures public lest I get arrested for it. The restriction for photography must be a recent development because older blogs and Flickr accounts (imagine that old) boast a whole lot of photographs taken inside the residence.
Pictured below is the cabinet that stores the Quaid’s and Fatima Jinnah’s tea set. According to the guide, the teacup disintegrates if the cup has poisoned tea in it. We lamented how Quaid-e-Azam died of ill-health to which the guide grumbled, “Jaanboojh kar buri ambulance bhijwayee thi. Rastay main bandh hogayee.” I have no idea how much fact and fiction makes up that opinion, but I’m always up for a good conspiracy theory.
The only room entirely accessible is the dining room where a gorgeously carved monster of a table commands the attention of the room. The other two rooms open for viewing are the Living Room and Study Room, however you can’t enter them because there is a glass guarding restricting your entry into the room. Think of it as a three-foot high, tangible Lakshman Rekha (picture above).
As we left, he told us that 60 percent of the visitors are families of Army personnel, 25 percent foreigners and 15 percent are civilians, of which 1 percent are Karachiites. Where is he getting these numbers from? The same people who were in charge of the recent census?
Literally 60 seconds away is Frere Hall, the place famous for hosting the annual Karachi Eat Festival and providing a pretty location to brides and grooms free of cost. I’m not going to say it’s known for its Sunday book fair because I uploaded a picture on Facebook and so many commented about their disbelief and lack of knowledge.
We headed towards the Sadequain Gallery and it exceedingly annoyed me to see some people – namely Owais, Anis and Uzair – had signed their names on the marble plaque. Jahalat aur badtameezi ke sarchashmay. Looking at this, I can’t even bitch about somebody destroying Moen jo Daro for a concert when a regular person can’t even respect a simple plaque.
I was a little prepared for what was in store for us because I’d visited the Gallery before but my two Khalas were totally entranced. I don’t know if they know about Sistine Chapel but they were astounded by the ceiling of the gallery. And I realize reading about something and looking at pictures of it is a drastically different visual experience. I know I was spellbound the first time!
There was a photography exhibition telling tales of the beauty of Pakistan’s North. Speaking of exhibitions, there is currently Arif Mahmood’s work on Italy being exhibited till 9th September. Go on a Sunday so you can enjoy the poor book fair as well!
A walk around the perimeter of the building in the sweltering heat completed our stop at Frere Hall and we rolled up our sleeves to tackle our next and last stop – Mohatta Palace.
I was exhausted by the time the pink establishment came into my view. I trudged out of the car and took in the view while tickets were bought. Admission is free if you’re younger than 12 and 60 or above. The oldest of our lot missed the privilege by a couple of years.
I was here yearsss ago. My school organized a field trip and I believe it was around the time it was acquired by the Sindh Government and reopened as a museum for the first time. As impressive as colonial architecture is, it takes a palace blushing in pink to make you realize the lack of colour Karachi has (if you know me, you’re familiar with my grey sky rants).
And may I state the two things that made me wish Photoshop existed in real life (imagine a Black Mirror episode on this). There is net draped all over the building. All over it. Like a frikkin machardaani! I didn’t find a satisfactory response to my query so if you, kind reader, know the answer to this veiled ugliness, do enlighten me. And then the Bahria Tower and its cranes photobombing the palace! Buy all the old postcards you find because the new ones will have a skyscraper peeking over Mohatta Palace’s shoulder.
They took our phones before walking in to the exhibits; no golden pass for having Americans in the mix. The cartography exhibition ‘Drawing the Line’ transports you into a different world altogether. Ancient maps and their evolution speak volumes about countless voyages and infinite moments invested in stargazing.
The exhibition ‘Paradise on Earth’ houses manuscripts and miniatures from Kashmir, and the details in texts makes me think of the artists and calligraphers as superheroes compared to some of the sloppy typography homework we’ve submitted in the past. The Mohatta tour guide accompanied us in the beginning for a bit. I felt he was there more to keep an eye on us than to talk about the opulent, gold laced manuscripts and various items of décor and utility.
I moved away from a glass case and right next to the A/C was a tall wooden stool with a bottle of Glint and a cleaning rag artistically draped around it. I asked the guy what time period those items were from. He neither got my joke nor translated it as a taana. He very seriously informed me that they use it to clean the glass cases and that (albeit in a corner but in plain sight) is where they store it. “Aur kahan rakhain gai?” *sigh*
The phones are collected from the souvenir shop which is a clever ploy to look at all the colourful goodies that aren’t atrociously priced. Amidst the postcards, coffee table books, mugs and coasters, khussa keychains and actual khussas, there is even a rack of block printed suits, sarees and bedsheet. Most of the merchandise I believe is from Starshine Truckart Gallery who have Facebook and Instagram pages.
We took one last tourist picture with the Mohatta Palace and made our way out. I was intrigued by this column and the peacocks around it. I stealthily tiptoed towards them to photograph both of them but they chose to nibble something off the ground at the precise moment I clicked. I have no clue as to what this column is about, therefore once again if you know anything about it please do let me know. Internet has failed to talk about this structure. I couldn’t even locate somebody on ground to inquire about it as my family had left me behind once again.
All in all, it was a good way to spend the earlier part of a day usually frittered away in snores. We reached Mazar-e-Quaid (Sunday Bizarre part 1) around 11:25 am and as per the last photograph taken at Mohatta Palace, we exited the premises at 2:17 pm. Not bad at all.
The weather was horrible and the sun was furious, but we had plenty to be distracted by. If you look up at a landmark and feel the awe of a stranger, I believe it’s time to visit a few places to refresh the familiarity and ownership of Karachi.
PS: All pictures by me otherwise stated.
PPS: In the light of the messages received asking about the outfit, here’s the breakdown. *feeling more important than I am*