Walking through the congested and cramped streets of Karachi’s oldest residential area of Kharadar, locating the building that possesses great national and historical value was not an easy task. Wazir Mansion, the birthplace of the founder of Pakistan, is a three-storey building that stands on the Chagla Street of the busy area. Built with stone masonry in lime and jute mortar, the building is surrounded by ancient residential.
Rashid, the museum guide, received us warmly at the entrance and took us inside for a tour of the house where Quaid-i-Azam has spent the initial few years of his life. After leaving their ancestral village Paneli (now in Gujrat, India), Quaid’s parents moved to Karachi after 1874 and acquired the two-room apartment in this historical building. When Quaid left for London for his higher studies in 1892, his family was still residing in the flat and only rented another house after the birth of Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah.
“A man named Wazir Ali Ponawala bought the building from its owners at some point in 1904, hence, the name Wazir Mansion. The Government of Pakistan acquired the possession of the building in 1953,” the guide enlightens us. The work for the protection of the building that was built during 1860-1870 started under Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904 and the responsibility of renovation and conservation was assigned to Pakistan Public Works Department (PWD). On Aug 14, 1953; the then Governor General of Pakistan inaugurated the birthplace museum.
The museum now consists of a library and reading hall on the ground floor, museum galleries on the first and second floors, and a custodian’s office on the third floor. The museum galleries “house Quaid’s furniture and other belongings that he used in the last couple of decades of his life,” the guide elaborates.
Entering the archaic building through a narrow, arched entrance; we find ourselves in the library-cum-reading room furnished with wooden tables and chairs. The library is stocked with books (both in English and Urdu) about the pre- and post-colonial subcontinent and the struggles of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The books are piled up and locked in wooden cabinets, as the library is not accessible for public any more. The guide tells us “people used to visit the reading room to read daily newspapers, but sadly the supply stopped a few years ago and no one comes to the library anymore.” He further informs us that one is only allowed to go through the books in the library unless they have a formal permission from the authorities.
We continue the tour and move up the incapacious wooden staircase cautiously lined with a thin red carpet. As the guide unlocks the doors to the main room that further divides into three other rooms on the first floor, he instructs us to take our shoes off and to walk only on the carpet. It felt like entering a sacred place. The wood floor of the decrepit building creaks and squeaks as we stroll through the rooms. In the first room, Quaid’s vintage couches sit parallel to each other. Moving on to the most carefully and symmetrically organised room in the entire building, Quaid’s wooden chair, with a neatly engraved Chand and Sitara on its crest rail, sitting on a rug right in the centre of the room grabs our attention. “This is the very chair he sat on, after becoming the First Governor General of Pakistan,” the guide remarks. On either sides of the chair, the room is lined with two sets of shelves packed with Quaid’s collection of antique leather bound law books and reports. “These are set in no particular order, as we have no knowledge about law,” points out the guide. Behind the grandiose chair, is Quaid’s neatly polished writing table. Moving further, the last room on this floor is the one where Muhammad Ali Jinnah was born to Jinnahbhai Poonja and Sakina Bano (Mithi Bai), on December 25, 1876. The room now houses Quaid’s bed, side table, dressing table and a sofa set that he used during the final years of his life.
We watchfully climb up the stairs to the second floor of the museum galleries. With Quaid’s jackets, vests, collars, sash, graduation robe, shoes and walking stick on display in showcases, this room looks more like a museum. Quaid’s monocle eye glass, turtle bone optical frame, glass ink stand with a date calendar, letter head, silver key and lock that was presented to him by Bengal Oil Mills on its opening in 1948, his cigarette case, smoking pipe and ashtray are amongst other valuables from his belongings that are displayed in this room. The extreme end of the room features a sitting area done with dark-wood furniture that was used by Quaid. This section also has some furniture that was used by his wife, Rattanbai (Ruttie) Jinnah.
The museum is the living embodiment of the lifestyle of the most important person in the history of Pakistan. Although some parts of the building require maintenance and restoration, it will be unfair to say that the historic place is completely neglected. The birthplace of the man who is responsible for the independence of our nation is a treasure that needs public’s attention and appreciation. While many do not visit the historic place due to its congested location, others do not even know the kind of collection it houses. •