Karachi’s Disappearing Troughs

Before the mid-1920s, almost all transport in Karachi was animal-drawn. Bullock, donkey and camel carts were used for carrying cargo and as transportation for the poor, while the rich moved around in their horse-drawn victorias or ‘gharis” complete with uniformed footmen in attendance. The East India Tramway Company was established in 1885, and a service commenced from the Keamari Jetty to Sadar, and from there to the Cantonment Station. The tram carriages were also pulled by horses.

To cater to the needs of the animal population employed in transport, the city administration established a number of watering and feeding points in the town. City philanthropists and welfare organisations and trusts added to their number.

Most of these water troughs were set up adjacent to markets, parks, places of recreation, railway stations, and the port – anywhere, in fact, where the animal population would have to wait for cargo or passengers.

These Karachi water troughs are beautiful pieces of architecture. Most of them have been constructed of Gizri stone. Some, like the ones at Clifton and the Pahlajrai Revachand Panjabi water trough near the Custom House, are in the Renaissance Revival style. Others, like the one near the Native Jetty flyover, are closely related to Italian Mannerism and would be at home in Rome or Florence. Still others, like the one at Nanakwara Gardens, are a blend of European and Indian elements,
a style which became very popular in Karachi in the late 1920s.

The Karachi water troughs are also a record of the city’s history, its fathers and its institutions, as many of them were erected by its important citizens, or in their memory. Others were gifted to the people by philanthropic institutions. Thus, the Guru Mandir water trough was erected by Byram Edulji in, 1893, “in memory of his late father and mother.” Mr Edulji was also responsible for the construction of the Napier Mole trough in 1900, and the trough behind the Edulji Dinshaw Dispensary in Saddar, which has long since disappeared. The water trough on Mission Road, near the Civil Hospital, was erected in 1927, in memory of the city surveyor, Diwan Dayaram Chellaram Mirchandani, by his wife. Similarly, the Borapir water trough was erected in 1934 in memory of Bahadur Nusserwangi Metha, by the staff of the Nusserwangi Company. The Nanakwara Garden water trough was gifted to the city by the “Dumb Animals Fund” and the Soldier Bazar trough by the SPCA in 1924.

The Karachi water troughs used to be maintained by the KMC till the early sixties. There used to be an attendant at each trough who was responsible for watering the animals and keeping the troughs and the area around them clean. However, troughs are no longer maintained. Apart from three, they have all fallen into disuse, and are in a bad state. The Mirchandani trough is in ruins, and the much of its stonework has been carried away; the Borapir trough is a garbage dump, and the one at Ghori Gardens, which has beautifully proportioned Tuscan columns, has been converted into an ugly public latrine. The Nanakwara Gardens water trough is now pan of a junk shop, and the ones at Lea Market serve as podiums for the ‘khokas’ that have sprung up.

Some of the most beautiful troughs, however, have been totally obliterated. These include the ones at Empress Market, Cantonment Station, Purnani Numaish, Frere Hall, Patel Park (now known as Nishtar Park) and the City Courts. They have been replaced by buildings, public latrines, KMC rockeries, and encroachments.

The three old troughs that still function (at Soldier Bazar, Napier Mole and Guru Mandir) do so because enterprising individuals have taken them over. Taxi drivers pay to have their cars washed here, and tanga and ghoragari walas can water their animals, at a price. The self-appointed caretakers keep the water and drainage systems functioning, but cannot prevent damage to the monuments. At Soldier Bazar, Mohabat Khan, the caretaker, has broken the cornice of the structure and plastered it over. Abdur Rahman, who manages the Guru Mandir trough, appreciates the architecture of the trough and feels that stone is far more beautiful than cement. However, since the stone is being eroded, he has no option left but to plaster the stone surfaces.

New systems for watering animals have now sprung up in Karachi. Wherever there is a tanga stand, an entrepreneur digs or bores a well and installs a hand-pump or an electric motor on it. The tanga walas carry water from here in buckets to their animals. They prefer this system to the old one where the animals were led to the troughs.

It is true that with a decrease in the animal population, and the utilization of hand pumps, electric motors and buckets for watering animals, the old Karachi water troughs have lost their utility. However, they should not be allowed to disappear, for apart from being a record of our city’s history, they are also exquisite pieces of architecture, and Karachi is lucky to have inherited these monuments from its past.

The preservation of old buildings is a difficult and complex affair. The framing, promoting, approving and enforcing of legislation which sets aside existing laws of tenancy and ownership of buildings that are to be preserved, is a prerequisite for it. In the process, there is bound to be opposition from commercial interests, landlords and the developers’ mafia – all that is required is that the troughs should be identified, renovated with the assistance of competent professionals who understand the classical orders, and maintained through a yearly KMC fund. It is doubtful if more than one and a half million rupees would be required for their renovation, and two hundred thousand rupees a year would keep them in an excellent state of repair, even if thirty percent of this fund is misappropriated.

The disappearance of a large number of water troughs, and the dilapidated condition of the remaining ones, once more drives home the fact that no one is willing to own Karachi’s history. It is a city with an orphaned past, whose foster parents have not only neglected it, but permitted it to be vandalized, because of their greed, insensitivity and lack of vision.

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