As soon as one sets eyes on it, one is sure it is a building from a lost, grand age. With its cream coloured exterior, greenish-grey railings protecting the balconies and superbly-built, imposing structure, Wazir Mansion is definitely an architectural relic in this day and age of concrete monstrosity.
But one does not approach this edifice, located in the heart of Old Karachi, as an architecture student, nor to marvel at its aesthetic beauty. Rather, this grand old building from a grand old time is the birthplace of one Mohammad Ali Jinnah, better known as Quaid-i-Azam, founder of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and we approach in homage, if with no other aim, perhaps to relearn a little of the knowledge we have lost. Perhaps by coming here and glancing at his relics, we can be motivated to realign ourselves, or rather our priorities, to put Pakistan first and learn to live with each other in an atmosphere of civility, tolerance and progress.
Nestled in the shadows of the majestic New Memon Masjid, Wazir Mansion is located on New Naham Road (at least that is what the brochure issued by the Department of Archaeology, says. Stanley Wolpert, in his landmark autobiography of the Quaid, Jinnah of Pakistan, lists it as Newnham Road. The jury is still out on this one.) Outside the building, the scene is not too different from any other bustling inner city Karachi neighbourhood. Lumpy roads, traces of litter, vendors starting their day’s trade and lively school children greet the visitor.
The Quaid was born here on December 25 (Christmas Day), 1876, and this is also the place where he breathed his last on September 11, 1948. The Quaid’s parents, Jinnahbhai Poonja and Mithibai, moved to Karachi from Kathiawar, now in India, prior to his birth and rented out an apartment on the first floor from the owner of the building, Wazir Ali. The government purchased the mansion from the owner in 1953 and declared it a ‘national monument.’
Surprisingly, it is a well-maintained edifice that has a very humble, simple yet practical feel to it. There are no fancy bells and whistles one might imagine in a museum abroad. Instead, one can expect a neat, ordered array of some of the Quaid’s personal belongings arranged in a matter-of-fact manner. On the ground floor is a public reading room where residents of the area can gather to read different newspapers, periodicals and books. As one moves onto the first floor, one can see furniture from his days as the first Governor General of Pakistan, along with the room where he was supposedly born. The word supposedly is used here because lately, it has been alleged in sections of the press that the Quaid was born not in this quarter of Karachi but in Jhirk, located in Thatta district. But most historians and biographers go along with the official line, that he was indeed born right here in this port city of over 14 million souls.
Controversies aside, other items available for public view are the Quaid’s heavy law tomes, as he was a barrister-at-law from Lincoln’s Inn, England. Here also is the bed where the Father of the Nation is said to have breathed his last. According to Mr Irshad, the spokesperson representing the department at the time of this writer’s visit, the months of August, September and December see the highest level of visitors to Wazir Mansion, specially around the time of national holidays such as Independence Day, Defence Day and of course, the Quaid’s birthday. Another thing that our guide for the day observed was that most of the visitors to the building were from upcountry, and that not too many native Karachiites visited the museum.
As the first floor contains mostly furniture associated with the Quaid, the second floor is home to many of his items of personal use, in a set-up not unlike the little museum that can be found at Mr Jinnah’s mausoleum. Among the more striking pieces is a copy of the Holy Quran, a magnificent mini clock tower gifted to the Quaid by the Muslim Marwari Silawata Jamaat of Jaisalmer, furniture that was attributed to the Quaid’s wife, Ruttibai, a blue Ming vase, a little radio and many other items of great interest. Not to be forgotten are the Quaid’s clothes, including his flowing law robes, sherwani and collars, all still bearing silent testimony that the father of the nation was a sharp dresser!
That is about all there is to tell about this monument to a revered man. For students of this country’s history, specifically Quaid-i-Azam’s life in Karachi, visits to Wazir Mansion, Flagstaff House and his mausoleum are a must. Leaving the Mansion, one couldn’t help feel a pang of depression, as one was transported back to the heady days of independence, when the dream was still alive. Still, perhaps visiting such sites can once more set alight the flame of passion that is an undeniable requisite of nation building and strengthening civil society. And it is up to the youth, the citizens of tomorrow, to find this flame within themselves; to do more than just read about Pakistan Studies in school and celebrate Independence Day with green and white streamers. It is the youth’s responsibility to rekindle the dream. And perhaps a look back in time, such as a visit to Wazir Mansion, may be the catalyst required.