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May 4, 2009

Hussain-D’Silva Town gives way to squatter settlements


May 4, 2009


Kanwar Khalid Younas, a resident of Hussain-D’Silva Town, is mourning the loss of his neighbourhood. He has been living there for over 30 years, but today, he is forced to consider leaving it.

“It has lost all the glory it had,” he said. The Hussain-D’Silva Constructing Company gave Karachi its entire pavement and road network in 1947 along with a host of memorable buildings, such as the first government barracks near the Sindh High Court in 1946, a majority of houses on Martin Road in 1946, the Hussain-D’Silva Apartments near Gandhi Garden, Hussain-D’Silva Park, apartments in Clifton and the residence of the Indian High Commissioner in Clifton.

But the company is most famous for building Hussain-D’Silva Town in the early 50s, one of the first well-planned neighbourhoods in post-partition Karachi. With almost 450 houses situated by the hills in North Nazimabad, Hussain-D’Silva Town was a dream come true for the emerging educated middle class, who could afford a bungalow through easy installments paid to the House Building Finance Corporation (HBFC).

Together, partners Ashfaq R. Hussain and Jerome L. D’Silva strove to personally draw people — mostly Muslims and Goan Christians among their own social circle — towards it by arranging for loans.

Far away from the city centre, the area in question was previously undeveloped, but Hussain and D’Silva sought to change it all with their cottage-style houses, wide roads, parks, quality sewerage system, schools, and places of worship for both Muslims and Goan Christians. “Goan Christians and foreign nationals made up for 50 per cent of the population,” said Younas, who has been living in the town since 1965. “They added to the beauty of the colony, especially at religious festivals.”

Younas remembers the Xavier sisters in particular, who would play the guitar at home every evening and march along the streets on Christmas Eve with their fellow

Christians, singing carols. Other long-time residents have equally fond memories of Hussain-D’Silva Town. “We used to have our evening tea by the hills every now and then,” said Naz Khalid, who lived in the town at a time when its commercial value was equivalent to that of any upscale locality in Karachi today.

This sense of contentment, however, came to an end in the early 70s when people from all over the country came to Karachi in search for a living. The change brought with it squatter settlements cropping up alongside Hussain-D’Silva Town which, according to Younas, is the fault of the successive authorities. “They failed to provide people with accommodation,” he said, “slamming the administration of the time. Because of this, squatter settlements grew all over Karachi in general, and by this town in particular.”

Other residents of Hussain-D’Silva Town agreed with Younas’s assessment, adding that the influx of people has increased the crime rate and a steady deterioration in the housing and sanitation conditions. “They (people) come and live in squatter settlements, cut down trees, encroach on water and sewerage lines, and harass women,” lamented Younas.

A majority of the people who once lived in the town have left as a result, and, according to Younas, the remaining few are also about to pack their bags for good. “The commercial value of housing in Hussain-D’Silva Town has been reduced to half of what it is in the adjacent areas,” confirmed an estate agent.

Younas is filled with regret to see how the town has degenerated from the widely praised project Hussain and D’Silva worked so hard on. “It used to be progressive and had an international outlook, but because of lack of planning by the city’s authorities, it has lost all its glory,” he said.

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