Monday, May 15, 2017


The Indus Valley School for Art and Architecture

The Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi is a singularity. It stands in the midst of Karachi, another singularity, both of them not just survivors, but vibrant survivors of neglect.
Rarely, outside of Karachi, do you encounter a woman like Anjum (not her actual name), who picked up three younger sisters out of nine and moved to Pakistan from India after the war of 1971. The sisters never saw their Indian family again, although their mother sends them home-made achar whenever she can. Anjum rebuilt their lives sweaty brow by tear until now she owns a small house, and her sisters are married and settled in their own homes.
Nor do you meet a person like Bilal (not his real name) who drives a cab, and belongs to KP. He married a girl from a rival tribe in Karachi and daren’t go back again. “Life is hard in Karachi, and I’m in danger here,” he told me. “But there,” he said, speaking of KP, “I’m dead.” Bilal has an income his family survives upon, and although he drives all day in the heat and hectic traffic of the massive metropolis with little to show for it, at least, as he says, he and his wife are alive. He is luckier than many others.
The School of Architecture too is in danger, from the salt sea air that kills the substandard construction material in the buildings around it. It is in danger from the environmental pollution that covers everything in a grey shroud. But where the building stood before, it was dead already.
The group of people who planned to build a school of art and architecture in Karachi using the National College of Art in Lahore as a model were already running a school in temporary premises, while looking for something more permanent. They had also been allotted a piece of land in Clifton.
The website of the Indus Valley School for Art and Architecture (IVS) contains a segment on the school’s history, written by Noor Jehan Bilgrami, herself a designer, and the wife of Akeel Bilgrami, a leading architect and one of the founders of the IVS. She describes the original building as a ‘Victorian style warehouse in Kharadar, built about a hundred years ago by Nusserwanjee Mehta, father of Jamshed Nusserwanjee, philanthropist, social worker and outstanding citizen, the first Mayor of Karachi. The four-story stone structure was to be demolished to make way for a concrete high riser.’ Probably another of the nightmare high rise buildings which may be seen everywhere in Karachi today, rising like malignant growths upon the landscape. ‘This Victorian style warehouse housed one of the first elevators installed in the sub-continent,’ Bilgrami mentions.
Shahid Abdulla, another well-known architect is also a member of the group responsible for IVS. He is the person who discovered the warehouse in Kharadar and realised its potential. In his words, ‘if we cannot move in here, we’ll carry it to Clifton.’
And carry it to Clifton they did.
Stone by each 26,000 stone, every single stone and ‘hundreds of pieces of timber numbered and carefully removed, cautiously transferred and stored before being re-erected at the (allotted) site’ in Clifton. And there the IVS stands today, a proud symbol of a what seemed to be an impossible vision turned into reality by a group of visionaries, with the invaluable help of a team of workers who laboured to make Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture what it is today…an exquisite building, exactly the same as the one that once stood in Kharadar now in entirely different surroundings.
The IVS stands in front of the grand barricaded home of those who do not care surrounded by a neighbourhood that is not cared for, even though it is among the wealthier neighbourhoods of the city. What would be piles of trash ignored by municipal authorities are dispersed and blown in the wind behind the building. In front is the sea into which pours the waste of an entire city and God only knows what chemicals from factories.
The IVS is a ‘registered not-for-profit, private, degree awarding institute managed by an Executive Committee through the Executive Director, under the control of an independent Board of Governors that includes distinguished educationists, artists, architects, industrialists, bankers and media persons, in addition to three members nominated by the Government of Sindh.’
The institute’s similarities to Pakistan are striking. When the group of people who set up this school went to see the original building ‘cobwebs made our entry difficult. Rotting scraps of paper, letter-heads and old photographs covered with pigeon droppings were mementos that we found. It then seemed to us quite impossible that this building could actually be transported to a new location.’ But transported it was, painstakingly and not without immense difficulty, like the people who moved from India to make Pakistan their home, like Anjum who came with her sisters, like Bilal who moved from KP to Karachi and married the girl from a rival tribe. Anjum who never got to see her family again thanks to short-sighted policies on either side, and Bilal who does not get to see his because of the lawlessness that prevails in his home territory, worse in his case than the lawlessness that prevails in his adoptive city. IVS, exists in neglected surroundings amid self-serving non-governance, and thrives despite it all.
IVS provides girls and boys a great non-profit education in a displaced building of exemplary beauty. It is a result of the vision of a few men and women who did not seek to benefit themselves and therefore truly benefited society. It is what Pakistan could have been but is not. It is what Jinnah wanted but could not achieve. It represents a displaced people who moved to a new home in search of something better. The conditions in Pakistan are testimony to their never having found it, but they were resilient enough to carry on in spite of this.
The IVS stands as a testimony to what may be achieved. Even now, given some selflessness and hard work. A good reason to support the IVS and its endeavours in every way you can.

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