The Karachi I used to know

Published: September 22, 2012

The hustle and bustle of trams in early 1970s. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

Karachi: the fast-paced city of lights. PHOTO: TAPU JAVERI Bright lights surround the KMC building. PHOTO: PUBLICITY Golden era of Karachi: simple yet vibrant. PHOTO: PUBLICITY The hustle and bustle of trams in early 1970s. PHOTO: PUBLICITY
Yesterday afternoon I sat and watched with horror the events on TV, sans mobile phone and only some connectivity via email. Needless to say, it was frustrating, as the main focus of the anarchy was the area around my place of work.
How could humans descend to this level in a metropolis where commerce and 20 million lives function together in a place they call home?
Is this what humans do to their lives, friends, neighbours, communities and fellow citizens?
Having spent two thirds of my life in this city, I know in my heart that I belong here.

But this is not the Karachi I used to know.

I am solely motivated to write this article due to the Facebook group “I sure want my old Karachi back”. The nostalgia felt by the members has made me recall some of those expressed, vibrant memories.

This is my own diary and is not a catch all. It spans the period of mid 60s to mid 70s. My existence revolved around Karachi Grammar School, the hawkers, the eateries, some cinemas and a few sporting memories.

Beginning with the area of Saddar, school was a place of bliss, mainly because of friendships rather than studies. It revolved around a break, when we consumed Coke and patties, the taste of which has never been replicated. Home time was when the hawkers collected outside the school. There was the tek wala, who sold this sweet, gooey sugary stuff made into shapes like birds and musical instruments. Great taste! Sometimes there would be a jungle jalebi guy, and at other times there would be the mouthwatering gol gappas!

If we could not be picked up from school due to transport issues, we would walk down to Empress Market and Trampatta Road. Ah, those jingling warnings of approaching trams, lost forever in the folds of time. Lined up on those hustling streets were the wonderful gannay ka ras (sugarcane juice) and lassi vendors for people to quench their thirst in the blazing summer. Even the prices were amazing; a 50 paisa coin would suffice all.

Annually till March, athletic games were held at Webb Field (now Macro). My neighbours and I would traverse through the old Lines Area to get to the ground. We used to live in PECHS, so we had quite some miles to walk. This routine included a stop at the faluda cart. No faluda has ever tasted like the one that cart had to offer. The tukh malanga in the faluda was great to keep us cool throughout the afternoon practice. On the way back, one would sometimes stop by the a bakery called Sandooq  for low price cakes and pastries galore!

In those days, Karachi came to life at night with a lot of activity on offer. You would see people at parks like Polo Ground, Frere Hall and Hill Park. Clifton, on the other hand, was quite different; high tide used to reach upto the Kothari Parade.

Memory has faded, yet I can recall the cry of “chana choor garam”…a spicy, dry concoction. Sometimes one would go to Playland and have a few games of pinball. The Makranis used to play Foosball and were masters of it.

People would dine out at various places, but posh restaurants were only few. A crowded Bundu Khan remains distinct in my memory. The Chinese ABC restaurant is not like anything I have ever eaten again. James Lee, the son of the restaurant owner was in my class, so maybe I am biased. Vague memories of Burns Road (better known as ‘Banns’ Road), with its dhaga kabab, sheer maal and nihari, surround me, though I was never sure where we would eat, at  Waheed or Saabri.

I vividly remember Hotel Farooq and its succulent chicken tikka. In the later years, Tariq Road surfaced (called the Commercial Area in those days) and restaurants such as Café de Khan, Tung Nan and Silver Spoon for their Kebab rolls became the talk of the town. At that time, some great Bengali stuff was also available at Mishti Mukh. On my first visit there, I ate shaundesh.

As we grew older and were able to drive, we would sneak out of school a few times, depending on our negotiation with the security guards. I clearly remember two highlights of these trips. Firstly, daal kee puri, pretty common nowadays, was available at Commissioner Office, across from Trinity Church. Then there was chullu kee chaat, at Soldier Bazaar. This particular guy would continue cooking the chaat until it became almost like mush. One bowl was a meal in itself.  Occasionally, we would visit Shezan or Café George at Saddar, however, these visits mostly took place in the morning, nevertheless the tea and cake piece were out of this world, especially if you are bunking math.

Pride Of Place was our hangout spot during Sunday afternoons, when sometimes one would either get a jalebi, samosa or dahi phulki from Fresco, near Pakistan chowk.

In terms of cinemas, we preferred Bambino, but in later years Capri became more trendy. There were others like Rex on Victoria Road and Palace at Metropole. I remember watching Blue Max post exams in grade eight and My Fair Lady in 1970 late at night at Palace. In addition, I vaguely remember watching Hatari at Palace in 1964. Soon came the phenomenon of the Drive-In Cinema. I don’t remember any of the movies that were screened, but it used to be exciting to go there. It was located on the Dalmiya Cement Road. I also recall watching this crazy movie called Walking Tall, late at night at Capri with friends. Going to a movie was always exciting and is totally unlike our download culture now.

Lastly, sports. Besides the school stuff there was a lot going on at the National Stadium. Test matches were few and far between, but first class used to abound. Remember Hanif scoring 190 in a match in 1970 after he had retired from tests. The entry was free and approximately 500 people used to come there to watch te game. When it came to Test matches it was difficult. Tickets were not easy and the facilities stretched. I remember the time when Mushtaq got run out for 99 – there were three 99s in that match – vs England in 1973. Also, there was this sad match when Hanif retired in 1969.

The culture of Pakistan then was free and one could move around without fear. No go areas were non-existent; people laughed and enjoyed themselves, besides getting on with the serious business of earning a living. There were nightclubs and discos (I was too young to go to these!) and those who went were allowed to – no one threatened anyone else’s existence.

This was a city in harmony and at one with its inhabitants. We as a city were not rich, but we lived together and were a larger community. I prays that those days come back to us again and our new generation can live like we used to ─ happier and united!

Read more by Sarfaraz here or follow him on Twitter @sarehman 

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Sarfaraz Rehman

Sarfaraz Rehman

The author has worked with large scale organizations like Unilever, Pepsi and Engro Foods in his 28 year career. He has now started an education initiative and writes on various subjects. He tweets as @sarehman

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Jayzee

    A different and it seems a friendly peaceful world.Recommend

  • Zeba1

    I came at a later period to Karachi, but even then some of these places were there. I remember St Josephs and the area surrounding it well. Though we were not allowed to eat from the thelas too often for hygiene reasonsRecommend

  • Saira

    Good account of the peaceful days………. have become a dream now. Sincerely hope and pray that we get the old Karachi back.Recommend

  • Amin Amir Ali

    I wish the same things happen again in Karachi..Recommend

  • Mumtaz Siddiqui

    Aah SAR! you’ve touched my heart, as nostalgia has made my eyes wet. Watching movies at palace cinema followed by dinner at Village restaurant opposite side, watching the movie Summer of 42 and feeling guilty of not telling our parents what movie we watched (in gr.9 :) ,not forgetting the several musical evenings with (RIP)Moin Akhtar performing, at Adamjee hall, Rangoon wala hall, mai aur mairee honda 70, coming back home at 2.00 am was not an issue at peaceful it was.

    Fighting between boys was by hand most of the time, and max by sticks/hockey. Taking out knife during fight was the max.scare. Teachers were respected, elders were respected and even the mawali of the neighbourhood would respect the neighbours of atleast that street. Lamb meat was Rs.4.50 p/kilo and cow meat was Rs. 2.50 p/kilo and many many other peaceful, delightful things, scenes, personalities. I wish someone could publish a book with photos with the title ‘ My Karachi that Was’Recommend

  • Parvez

    ….and the subject upper most on your mind had to be the difficult task of deciding if the girls at the Convent were better looking than those at Jesus & Mary and for some odd reason the KGS girls were never in the competition………………your so right life was simple then. Recommend

  • Rehan

    “The culture of Pakistan then was free and one could move around without fear. No go areas were non-existent; people laughed and enjoyed themselves, besides getting on with the serious business of earning a living. There were nightclubs and discos (I was too young to go to these!) and those who went were allowed to – no one threatened anyone else’s existence.
    This was a city in harmony and at one with its inhabitants. We as a city were not rich, but we lived together and were a larger community. I prays that those days come back to us again and our new generation can live like we used to ─ happier and united!”

    Do you know why all this went away? Because the influence of religion became stronger. Remove that influence and you’ll see Karachi become a free, open-minded, liberal and peaceful city again. That is the inconvenient truth most people aren’t willing to be open about.

  • Khurram Zia Khan

    An exceptionally well written article.The way Sarfraz Sahib described Karachi it all goes deep down to heart and refreshed my memories about my city and the good old days we spent here.Yes I spend most part of my life in Karachi,there was peace,harmony,love & tolerance.All these aspects are now lost.As a child I watched Anmol Ghari at Drive-In cinema. A movie starring Noor Jahan & Sudhir.It is sad that we have a huge shopping mall at the corner of Dalmiya where Drive-In used to be.Karachi is sadly turning into a concrete jungle.I think the cinemas burnt in yesterday’s violence may also be converted into big shopping malls.It is sad that we burn our own city and the way things happening, it some time felt as all the city’s decent & educated population vanished and we now have a wild mob around us.Recommend

  • Dr. Amyn Malik

    I may not be as old as you to remember the things that you have mentioned here, but you sir, do bring back some nostalgic memories of the city.

    I used to roam the streets of Saddar once upon a time with my friends and still remember those school days vividly. Recommend

  • Saad

    Karachi ‘that’ I used to know.!Recommend

  • Nabiha Ansari

    What wonderful memories … How I wish we could see that Karachi again Recommend

  • Faisal

    These are memories which give stability. Long ago people started moving out of Karachi before all the 80s stuff caused the slide. Someone explain to me why did that happenRecommend

  • Sarfaraz

    There have been a lot of other memoriies which i have not put in. Also a lot of others on various FB pages have sent me memories of theirs, reminding me I should have put this or that. Unfortunately there i just so much one can put in a blog, otherwise the size becomes unmanageable. But thanks a lot for all the interest. Recommend


    Sarfaraz Saheb – I havent read the article yet and came down straight to the comments to thank you! You held your promise good. :) All smiles here.

    More to follow after I read the purani galli aur kuche ki kahaani. Recommend

  • Sindhi

    The good old days before before those from regions where ghairat and vengeance is a way fo life emigrated here. Karachi of yore is dead. Recommend

  • AbdulRashid Behlim

    I am living in Middle East but early years of my life were spent in the glorious Karachi, Reading this has made my eyes wet. Really long to have back the Karachi i knewRecommend

  • Amer

    People need to understand, burning our own property, buses, police cars etc is NOT equal to the love of the Prophet (May peace and blessings be upon him). Actually, I think the people who were doing all this had nothing to do with the love of our beloved Prophet, they would just out to create chaos, that’s all. Recommend

  • A.Q

    I was born in Karachi and although the era you write about I was 4-5 years old, I have memories of good food, late nights and drive-in cinemas when they were not dangerous. Sitting on the roof of my father’s car and watching the screen. A time when you could actually see the stars in the sky. I have lived abroad most of my life but nostalgia always hits when I think of home. Because Karachi will always be home to me. Nobody destroys their own home. God knows what is wrong with these people. Allah hidayat day in ko.Recommend

  • GhostRider

    If i say something abt current situation i will be called a racist, pseudo-liberal and what not… May we have mercy on ourselvesRecommend

  • Munis

    I’m aged 24 and it seems like another place that I have lived inRecommend

  • Hamza

    Never seen a Karachi described here…it would be worth saving if possible…Recommend

  • Sarfaraz

    To Bruised Indian it was a pleasure… others have stated very similar sentiments. It is interesting that the rioting was done by mobs which came after the main two rallies had already passed and gone…since I work in the hub of the PIDC area and so we have live accounts from the people around. So clearly there is a section which just thrives on creating anarchy…Really cannot see any method to sort this attitude out other than the strong arm of the law. Which unfortunately was not present.
    Anyway thanks to all of you for the comments.Recommend

  • Ali S


    This guy went to Karachi Grammar School and grew up in PECHS in the 60s and 70s. There lies your answer. There are pockets of Karachi that are still very much like that, but they’re not where the middle-class person or commoner belongs.Recommend

  • Akhter

    yaad-e-maazi azaab hai ya rab
    chheen le mujh se Haafiza mera

    Aur agar nahin chheen sakta tau
    Lauta they mujehay Karachi mera

    Wishful thinking :(Recommend

  • Sarfaraz

    @Ali S: Nahi Ali sahib, i have walked and roamed most of Karachi…on buses, on foot, in rickshaws…the very lines area i walked through to go for athletics is now the most dangerous area no go area. Benaras Colony and Orangi were very poor but were no problem. Played plenty of cricket and hockey matches all over Karachi. I had relatives who arrived from Bangladesh who were totally broke. karachi welcomed them and they lived in Orangi, in extreme poverty and today some are well off.

    Also might be different. In those days there were many who were middle income and some I distinctly remember came on foot or on rickshaws, as they had no cars at all. But we got on and money was a lesser distinction, because there was much less of it around…

    Things have changed…ask the guys who are 50 years old and live in Nazimabad, or Fed B area, or Korangi and Landhi. They will tell you. I know i meet so many all the time.

    But anyway my purpose here was nostalgia…Recommend

  • Sarfaraz

    @Ali S:
    Also, i had shia, sunni, punjabi, pathan, sindhi, parsi and christian friends…never made any difference..dont think one can say that now..Recommend

  • Sane

    Great account of Karachi’s old days. Was full of love and harmony. Can the good old days be bought again? what’s the cost?Recommend

  • Ramlah

    The influx of so many different people, afghans and pathans and mullahs in particular have ruined the peace of the city, not to forget all the bloody political consider karachi to be given to them in inheritance by their abba jee’s. It frustrates me so much, so so much to see karachi like this!Recommend

  • Bisma

    wish we could go back to the same Karachi! wish i could show my children the Karachi we used to live in…wish…wish…wish
    This artical brought back most pleasant memories of my childhood! Thank you Sarfaraz for this wonderful piece of writing! Recommend

  • Human

    SO TRUE , We ate drank together , played together , studied together ,
    We celebrated Christmas ,Eid , Nourose , diwali together .
    All has Faded away . we all Pray to have those beautiful days Back Recommend

  • Glenn Ryall

    Great article, my dad and uncle usually mention about their days in the past with the fluency and excitement you have proposed in the post. Just a question were you not interested in Music back then? Recommend

  • Sarfaraz

    @Glenn Ryall:
    Dear Glenn, I was…both eastern and western music…and there was a lot of stuff on radio. I remember the Beatles visited in 1965, and there was rampage at the airport. I believe there were bands playing locally and at the various nightclubs, discos etc These I was too young to go to and by 1977 I had left Karachi. So, hence did not write about it, as it was not a ‘so to say” public experience for me.I am sure there are others who know a lot more on that aspect and can comment. In my years of living abroad, I have managed to play the guitar and see the likes of Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, Springsteen, Neil Young, Simon & Garfunkel etc live at various times.Recommend

  • rafiq

    and then india planted MQM…………..Recommend