A man of many parts

Jamshed Nusserwanjee, a great benefactor of Karachi and Sindh, is remembered on his birthday

Jamshed Nusserwanjee was born in Karachi on January 7, 1886 in Karachi. He was fondly remembered on his 134th birth anniversary celebrations for his high ideals of service to humanity, love for mankind and for his extra-ordinary contributions to Karachi, Sindh and Pakistan.

Nusserwanjee is known as “the maker of modern Karachi” and as a true son of the soil.

He was a member of the Sindh Legislative Assembly and served Sindh well despite pressures from the Congress. Jamshed touched the lives of the people of Sindh, particularly the poor peasants. He was the pioneer of the co-operative movement as well as founder of the co-operative banking system in the province.

Through this movement, he was able to do good to the illiterate, inarticulate peasants who had become victims of the ruthless bania money-lenders and cunning zamindars. The peasants scattered throughout the province had only heard Jamshed’s name as their saviour and they sent their love and gratitude to him. The evidence of their feelings for him surfaced in the first election in 1937 to the Legislative Assembly of Sindh to which he was elected.

His most significant contribution to Sindh was to act as a catalyst in the building of the world’s largest irrigation project — the Sukkur barrage. Sukkur barrage today irrigates 7.63 million acres of land, which forms approximately 25 percent of the total canal-irrigated area of the country.

The idea of Sukkur barrage was conceived by Mr CA Fife in 1868. A feasibility report was also worked out by him. But no action on the project took place for 55 years. It was through the vision and efforts of Jamshed Nusserwanjee that, finally, the project came to fruition in 1923. At that time Lord Lloyd had initiated and launched the Bombay Reclamation scheme. Sindh formed a part of Bombay and when the governor visited Karachi, Jamshed called on him and told him that there existed a ready-made scheme for harnessing the Indus and that it had been shelved to rot. He explained to him the merits of the scheme, of which the governor was unaware. Lord Lloyd was impressed with the proposal and the idea of Sukkur barrage became a reality.

As a young man, Nusserwanjee was elected as councillor of the Karachi Municipal Corporation. He displayed such a profound civic sense and concern for the welfare of the people of Karachi that within a few years he was elected as the president of the corporation.

As a young man, Nusserwanjee was elected as councillor of the Karachi Municipal Corporation. He displayed such a profound civic sense and concern for the welfare of the people of Karachi that within a few years he was elected as the president of the corporation.

He was the first mayor and the president of Karachi Municipal Corporation. During his Presidency and mayorship, Karachi turned from a fishing village to a well-planned city and developed economically and socially. Karachi would soon be seen as the cleanest city in the subcontinent.

Under his guidance, a small city turned into a well-planned metropolis and the cleanest city in the East. Its broad streets, lights, sanitation and water system, shady trees, parks, libraries, hospitals, schools, maternity homes, veterinary homes, transport system water troughs for animals, welfare centres for the sick, the delinquent, the deaf and mute, the abandoned spoke of the city’s progress. At that time the streets of the city were washed twice a day.

Jamshed was a keen scout. He can be rightly called the Father of Scout Movement in Karachi. He was decorated with the most coveted award of Silver Wolf. He also patronised the Sea Scouts. On the occasion of his 61st birth anniversary, a fund was launched by his admirers. A sum of Rs25,000 was earmarked for the construction of a Jamshed Nusserwanjee Landship for the sea scouts just opposite Beach Luxury hotel.

Jamshed was among the pioneers who established the Pakistan Institute of International affairs in Karachi in 1947. Today, PIIA is among the top 20 think tanks of the world.

The Karachi municipality had planned to have a building for its museum. Engineer Mr Jehangir Sethna was given the task of designing the project. When the drawings of the building were submitted to Jamshed for approval, he felt that the centre of the building should not be there. Mr Sethna would not agree to remove the same for according to him ‘The dome adds to the architectural beauty of the building. Without it the building will look quite plain and unattractive’. When the building was completed, a huge crack in the dome was discovered.

The building was found dangerous and a portion of it had to be rebuilt at a considerable cost. “Jamshed was not only a humanitarian of exceptionally remarkable type, but he was also highly versatile and talented. His head was in perfect tune with his heart. His heart guided his head no less than his head guided his heart,” wrote Mangharam Ailmal, an admirer of Nusserwanjee, in a memoir published by Jamshed Memorial Volume Committee.

Jamshed used to give talks on theosophy. When he spoke, the audience would find themselves spellbound. The words would flow from his mouth with rhythmic precision and in perfect diction, leaving an indelible mark of love, compassion, peace and tolerance.

Jamshed was both a mystic and a practical man. He read quite a lot. It was his hobby to purchase books, especially on philosophy and religion. His library was one of the best private libraries in Karachi. He was so fond of books that he had his bed in the library. He slept on a wooden bed without any mattress or covering.

Jamshed left this world to meet his creator on August 1, 1952.

Jamshed Nusserwanjee: A great benefactor of Karachi and Sind