Usually the same time around every year, we seem to render a careless thought to the man who led a diverse army of civilians towards an independent homeland. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah is a man who dedicated his life towards establishment of Pakistan, an independent country for the Muslims of sub-continent, so that they can live a life of respect, peace and freely practice their religion.
Sad is the truth that the vision of that honourable man is as far from the people of this “independent” land as is the sense of gratitude for Quaid’s efforts from the hearts of people of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Religion, although lifeblood for a few, is an obsolete “custom” that people integrate in their lives once they complete 70 years of their lives. Furthermore, we have very conveniently replaced the peaceful environment that Jinnah dreamt of with the Kalashnikov culture, and respect is an object to be forcefully demanded. In a country that has been so heart-wrenchingly defaced 63 years after its establishments, reviving the spirit that led to independence is an impossible endeavour, yet we embarked on the journey and visited the abode of Mr. Jinnah to come as close to as being as is humanly possible.
Being one of the 600 historic buildings officially protected by the Heritage Foundation, the Flagstaff House was constructed in 1980s. It was owned by a Parsi tycoon, Sohrab Kavasji and was later on used as a designated residence for General commanding Officer of Sindh. Mr. Jinnah visited the house in 1943 for the first time and the deed of purchase was prepared in 1944. It was assumed that after retirement, Jinnah will take up residence in this house but unfortunately he did not live long enough to materialize this assumption. His belongings were moved in from his house in Bombay and were prepared to be lived in.
After his demise, Fatima Jinnah moved into his house and lived there in 1968.
When you enter the grand house from Fatima Jinnah road, you are greeted by expansive gardens on either side of the central porch that carries the projecting part of the verandah. Significantly inspired by the Italianate architectural themes, the architect has essentially lavished his attention on the façade facing the Fatima Jinnah road. Besides the two wings flanking the driveway, another interesting aspect of the house is its symmetrical arrangement. This is further enhanced by the semi-circular balconies, which were recently introduced back then and add character to the stonemasonry.
Spread over 10,241 square yards, the architectural ingredients of this attractive bungalow include simple arcading, carved pilasters and sloping roofs using red clay tiles. Finely chiseled and carved features embellish the front façade, while the rest of the building is in a hammer-dressed masonry.
Interior of the house is personalised with Jinnah’s belonging from his other house. Furniture is tastefully crammed in every room, which are, then, connected by narrow corridors. High ceilings bring in the same spacious feel of outdoor to the inside of the house.
The content of display cases inside the house gives you a unique perspective into ones life, an intimate connection with the past when you go through a display as personal as this. You see the writing desk, from where the Quaid wrote to various leaders supporting the Muslim movement, you see the books he referred to when fighting cases in court, and you see the drawing room setting (which we were told is in the exact state till now) of where he greeted both freedom fighters and British lords. You see paintings which he must’ve stared at while deep in thought and you see even the crockery used at that time for both personal and official meals.
All the rooms inside this house bespoke of the great man who owned but never got to live in this subtly magnificent house. In its drawing room on a small table lies a green-colored map of West and East Pakistan. Sadly enough, the military and civil bureaucracy that took hold of the reigns of power after the untimely death of Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah in 1948 failed to keep the country intact and waged a bloody war against East Pakistan in 1971. This culminated in the dismemberment of the country.
On its walls are pictures of Quaid-e-Azam and his illustrious sister Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah. Attached with the drawing room is a beautiful dining room with teak wood table and 10 chairs. The crockery there is from France. On one wall of the drawing room is a pencil sketch of Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah dated August 4, 1963 and signed by Sara Akhlaq.
On the first floor is the bedroom of Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah who shifted here on September 13, 1948 after the death of M.A. Jinnah until she shifted in her own house, the Mohatta Palace (also called Qasr-e-Fatima) in Clifton. Today the Mohatta Palace has been turned into a beautiful museum.
Fatima Jinnah’s bedroom also has a big lantern on its walls that happened to be her election symbol in the 1964 presidential elections. Though she lost the elections owing to rigging as well as the notorious Basic Democracy system that allowed only 80,000 BD members to caste their votes, she mobilized the masses in a great way considerably weakening the military dictator General Ayub Khan. There are three chairs in her bedroom, a table lamp and a picture of Quaid-e-Azam and herself.
Adjacent to this is her dressing room in front of which lies the breakfast room and drawing room. Then there is Quaid-e-Azam’s dressing room with two pairs of shoes, one black and the other brown. In his bedroom is a black-colored telephone set and a photo of him smoking a cigar.
You go around the backdoor, and visit a large courtyard. Somake’s work on the Flagstaff House was confined to the main double storey bungalow, while the annex was added to the premises at a later date. Here you see stables for horses, parking garages and the servant quarters.
Along with being Quaid’s house, there is another reason that adds to its significance. Even though she lost, Fatima Jinnah contested for government from this very house, thus another historical anecdote was scribbled from these premises.
History in Present Times
Till 1985, Quaid’s house remained a neglected property since Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah evacuated the house. It was aggressively contested over by commercial organisations and public sector offices because of its location. Located in the most exclusive area of Civil Staff Lines, amongst skyscrapers and multi-storey plazas, Flagstaff House only got the due respect and recognition after the incessant pleas of Heritage Foundation to Government of Pakistan to acquire the house.
It was later renovated and declared as a national monument. Forceful persuasion on Foundation’s part led to acquisition of the house but maintenance is still a concern. In recent times, there have been issues like lack of water, to which consequences have been scorched spacious lawns. Furthermore, this lovely piece of stonemasonry is covered in pigeon droppings despite attempts by the caretakers to keep the house in its full glory. Javed Ahmed Khan, who is in charge of the Quaid-i-Azam House, says: “We clean the place daily and are aware of the fact that it’s made of stone. So when we clean it we wash it with salt-free water.
“While the museum is open to the public, mostly students from different schools visit us. And why not? The museum has a lot of historical objects related to the Quaid on display,” says Mr. Khan.
Which is another sad fact. Despite being of such commendable significance, it is only visited by schools and students instead of being frequented by people of the city. Its historical significance qualifies it to be a part of the essentials that make up Karachi yet rarely anyone ever mentions it, let alone visit.
In recent times, however, our entertainment industry has realised its usefulness and has transformed it into a popular venue for shooting commercials, dramas and music videos.
In the end, a visit to this house makes one realise that, apart from being an exceedingly intelligent individual, Mohammad Ali Jinnah had a sharp aesthetic sense. The elegant dresses that he wore, the classy hats that he put on, and the linguistic panache with which he communicated with friends and colleagues endorse this observation. It also mirrors in the buildings he chose as his abode. And we, as a nation, should pay tribute to the father of nation by preserving his home and sharing with the new generation its importance.
Ms. Yasmeen Lari, the first female architect of Pakistan and founder of Heritage Foundation Pakistan, shares the experience of renovation of Flagstaff House back in 1985: “During the 70s, the building had been declared dangerous by Karachi Development Authority and there were many proposals to demolish it and construct a multi-storey plaza in its place, cutting down the historic trees and usurping the open space of the estate.
“During the mid-80s when the conservation of the Quaid-e-Azam House Museum (earlier, the Flagstaff House) was carried out by Heritage Foundation, the masonry was examined and most of it was found to be in good condition…” she reveals.
“The Heritage Foundation fought hard for its preservation since the property belonged to Quaid-e-Azam, which he had bought a few years before Partition.
“After Ms Jinnah’s demise, many of the Quaid’s belongings were stolen from the Mohatta Palace. Fortunately, the Heritage Foundation and Federal Department of Archeology were able to retrieve from the Mohatta Palace his extant personal possessions.”
“There should be regular activities taking place on Quaid-i-Azam house premises. These days we don’t exactly know when it’s open to the public. Even if the timings are mentioned somewhere; they need to be properly highlighted. Also, there should be programs for schoolchildren on a sustained basis, where they could be engaged in fruitful activities and not just roam around the place.”
Flagstaff House is Somake’s first known building that is both modest and charming. He was a little known architect back then, who had a habit of signing his buildings by inscribing his name in an obscure place that could be found with little effort. In the case of the Flagstaff House, it is etched on an inner face of the porch. Somake’s work on the Flagstaff House was confined to the main double storey bungalow, while the annex was added to the premises at a later date. Somake lavished his attention on the façade facing the Bonus Road, which was the main thoroughfare at the time, probably due to a tight budget.
Being an expert herself, Ms. Lari praises the work of the Somake in the following words:
“As far as Moses Somake is concerned, there’s not an awful lot of information available on him. He was Jewish for sure. But more research is required to discover aspects like where he was educated, what his inspirations were, etc. He may have been trained somewhere in India. The marked feature of Somake’s architectural designs is that he uses the stone in a robust manner which gives it a strong character. It’s not pretty carving that does the trick for him. His work stands out,” says Ms Lari.