Bungalow was centre for Sindh’s protest politics
Hyder Manzil, the bungalow built in 1932 by GM Sayed, the “godfather of Sindhi Nationalism”, will be razed to make way for a plaza, bringing to an end nearly a century of Pakistan’s history.
The 85-year-old heritage bungalow is located on the periphery of the famous Nishtar Park in Old Karachi’s Soldier Bazaar. It will be demolished in just a few days after June 28 when it was handed to a builder. The bungalow was the private property of one member of GM Sayed’s family from whose possession the property has transferred to a construction company.
History of the vicinity
After he was elected the vice president of the Karachi Local Board in 1929, GM Sayed, who hailed from Sann, district Jamshoro, moved to Karachi. He lived in rented premises for three years until, upon the advice of Jamshed Nusserwanji, he was able to build Hyder Manzil.
According to Sayed Zain ul Abdin, a younger scion of the Sayed family, Hyder Manzil was located in an area that essentially fell outside Karachi: Parsi Colony, Amil Colony, Catholic Colony and Muslim Colony.
In the 1920s and 1930s the area was a new, posh locality where scores of GM Sayed’s political contemporaries were also based. In the same lane were MA Khuhro two houses away, Mirza Kaleech Baig, and the Allana family. And just a few lanes ahead were the houses of Nabi Bux Bhutto (Mumtaz Bhutto’s father), and Jamshed Nusserwanji. (It was in the 1970s that most of these occupants moved, once Clifton became the next upscale residential area of choice.)
Navid Amin, an occupant of the only remaining old bungalow on the street dated 1964, prides himself on having been Hyder Manzil’s neighbour all his life. He said that after Hyder Manzil is demolished his house will be the only remaining old bungalow that qualifies as designated urban heritage on the street.
Amin laments the decline in the ethos and aesthetic of the neighbourhood and felt acute grief over the loss of Hyder Manzil, having shared a boundary wall with it for over 70 years. He witnessed its golden period which he marks with the fond memory of GM Sayed’s birthday celebrations in the adjacent Nishtar Park in 1992.
Today, just as with most of Karachi, the neighbourhood is overwhelmed by unimaginative commercial and residential ‘plazas’, and towering apartment buildings, erected in ahistoric, tired and utilitarian designs typical of the city’s present urban architecture.
A marble plaque still reads “GM Sayed Esquire” outside Hyder Manzil which is one of the last few pre-partition Art Deco bungalows in the city. Its older edifice, pictured above, is different from its present form. Architect Marvi Mazhar suspects that it was repurposed from an old colonial bungalow given the evidence of covered-up yellow stone outer walls that the rubble reveals. The internal structure was yellow Gizri stone, a common material used back then.
The Art Deco influence is evident from the central rotunda and the central axis of the boundary wall. The geometrical patterns of mosaic flooring, along with outward-looking windows with shades to cover for sunlight, and the thick load-bearing walls are all common architectural features of bungalows of the time, which are also environment-friendly, Mazhar says.
The manzil has a semi-classical symmetrical style, with a central, classical entryway flanked by two non-ornate but defining columns that celebrate the entrance.
The first floor was constructed 25 years later, between the years 1958 and 1960 to accommodate Sayed’s growing family. It is likely that major changes to the building’s features were made since the present design of the building reflects the architectural trends of the 1950s and 1960s.
Initially there was one (ground) floor, four rooms, aside from the drawing room, kitchen and other utility areas. There were no compound walls and there was a front lawn, as was typical of the bungalows of the much safer, tranquil time.
The picture shows GM Sayed with Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan standing in the front lawn. Bacha Khan was a frequent visitor and stayed there whenever he visited Karachi. As Bacha Khan was seven feet tall, GM Sayed had a simple bed constructed and retained for him.
Pre-partition political hub
Hyder Manzil holds a formidable place in the annals of Sindh and Pakistan’s political history and heritage.
It became the place where Indian nationalists congregated as Sayed, a member of Congress and the Local Board of Karachi and Manjhand, staged anti-colonial demonstrations in opposition to the Simon Commission. Among those who visited were Subhas Chandra Bose, Abul Kalam Azad and Saifuddin Kitchlew.
The house was frequented by the politicians in Sindh who had notably advocated for separation from Bombay and were the first self-styled ‘nationalists’ of the British Sind Assembly. These visitors included Jamsheed Mehta, Jamshed Nusserwanji, Sir Abdullah Haroon, Shaikh Abdul Majeed Sindhi, MA Khuhro, Miran Muhammad Shah, and Hashim Gazdar to name a few.
Moreover, GM Sayed was actively on the forefront of making and breaking governments and coalitions in the British Sind Assembly between the years 1937 and 1947. Meetings over lunches, dinners and tea at Hyder Manzil were a routine affair for Karachi’s personalities of the time: Ghulam Mustafa Shah, Hatim Alvi, Ghulam Mustafa Bhurgri, and the younger scions of Karachi’s Haroon family, Yusuf and Mehmood.
It is no dandhkathha (Sindhi word for fable) that GM Sayed was the mind and muscle behind the Pakistan Resolution of 1943, says senior political worker Agha Qamar when he talks of his forty-year-old relationship with Hyder Manzil. And given that he emerged as the leading campaigner of the Pakistan Movement in Sindh after 1940, his house was the nucleus of the Pakistan Movement in Sindh. This is a likely claim, because the two epicenters of the Pakistan Movement were in fact Dhaka and Karachi as the Muslim League only had an actual electoral presence there. Lahore may have been home of the 1940 Resolution, but it was under the Unionist Party government that did not side with Jinnah’s Pakistan agenda as such.
The erasure of Hyder Manzil thus, translates into the erasure of the role of Karachi in Pakistan’s independence, the role of Sindh in the creation of Pakistan, and the loss of a political epicenter of pre-partition politics in Karachi.
Sayed Zain ul Abdin laments that if the State’s approach to history were more inclusive and reconciliatory to regional narratives instead of championing one, centrist and hegemonic narrative of Pakistan’s creation, Hyder Manzil could have been preserved as a monument of national importance. It could have been an archive or museum of photographs from personal collections of friends and family, Sayed’s keepsakes, books and even the working papers of the Pakistan Resolution of 1943.
Post-Partition bastion of movements
After 1947, Hyder Manzil was essentially the home of the anti-One-Unit movement in Sindh, and a bastion for all political units that advocated provincial rights and autonomy in a Pakistan that was meant to be a federation but was heading in a starkly opposite direction.
Due to this and Sayed’s stance against the One-Unit under General Ayub’s regime, a long spell of Hyder Manzil as a sub-jail was ushered in. It was a center of detention for GM Sayed under the regimes of Bhutto, Zia, Benazir and Nawaz Sharif—till his last days when he was shifted to Jinnah hospital in 1995.
GM Sayed hosted and supported Sheikh Mujib when Bhutto’s PPP and the military junta obstinately refused to accept the 1970 election results that gave Mujib’s Awami League the majority in the National Assembly, essentially plunging the country into a constitutional crisis that led to the secession of East Pakistan. Mujib’s famous jalsa at Nishtar Park was preceded by his preparation and stay at Hyder Manzil.
A noteworthy resistance, of which Hyder Manzil served as a foothold, was the Sindh National Alliance of the years 1987–88. While the house was still a sub-jail and GM Sayed under arrest, he chaired this alliance full of noteworthy figures such as Mumtaz Bhutto, lawyer Hafiz Pirzada, Abdul Wahid Arisar—all from varying political backgrounds and ideologies—to struggle for a seven-point Sindh-centric agenda that ranged from water distribution to the provinces, Kalabagh dam, the unhinged construction of cantonments, the issue of the national language, resource allocation to the provinces.
The Manzil acted as the literal and figurative base for an out-of-assembly, constructively disruptive Opposition. Whether it was language politics or resource allocation, Hyder Manzil had a press statement ready, and a due course of action determined and implemented through organized protest and activism. It provided a platform for those voices of Sindh that were not represented in the corridors of power, owing to their lack of faith or representation in the then non-federal state structure—aggravated by martial regimes and the inheritance of a colonial first-past-the-post system of elections that to-date allows for the alienation of the entire polities of thousands on the basis of often a few hundred vote-count disparity.
The manzil of Sindhi Nationalist Romanticism
It was after the launch of the Jeay Sindh Front post 1972—when Sayed became the “grand old man of Sindhi Nationalism”—that Hyder Manzil became the house that was “always full of people, and whose doors were always open—to anyone and everyone” according to Sufi Laghari, a social activist and member of the Sindhi diaspora in America.
He remembers Hyder Manzil as his shantinagar or abode of tranquility, and recalls his days as a student in the 1980s when Hyder Manzil had a bed and breakfast for anyone who wanted it, Sindhi or non-Sindhi, comrade or not. He often reached the house as early as he could in order to sit right at front when the soft-spoken GM Sayed dispensed his morning lectures on subjects ranging from history to music, to philosophy, arts and poetry.
For Sindhi nationalists, Hyder Manzil was a source of lifelong inspiration, from where many young Sindhis, especially those from non-affluent, rural backgrounds, often the first in their families to ever receive a formal education, but lacking a sense of cultural belonging and awareness, received intellectual mentorship from GM Sayed. Dr Inam Bhatti from MUET recalls reading about the “legendary” Hyder Manzil in newspapers and pamphlets since a young age, and describes his utter fascination with the place, till he finally visited it in 1988 never to turn his back on it.
The house became a safe house and according to the late Ibrahim Joyo, a “siyaasi ka’aba” of the Sindhi man or woman who had developed a cultural self-awareness through GM Sayed’s ideas. It became a political mecca for alternative Sindhi electoral politics and non-electoral activism and famously served as the launch pad of the Jeay Sindh Front, also eventually becoming the symbolic patron-home to all of its offshoot factions and parties that espoused varying mandates, ranging from federalist to separatist.
It hosted many events in nationalist politics such as the all-Pakistan nationalist alliance of PONM (Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement) in 1999 that fought against authoritarianism and campaigned for a decentralized polity in Pakistan. The alliance consisted of 28 ethno-regional parties and leaders such as Ataullah Mengal, Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Rasool Bux Palijo, Afzal Khan, Syed Jalal Mehmood Shah, and Sindhi and Seraiki leaders with grievances related to their ethnic national-provincial units. PONM’s headquarters in Sindh was Hyder Manzil and its biggest jalsa in 2004 took place in Nishtar Park.
Nationalist political action
From becoming the home-ground of the anti-Kalabagh Dam movement and PONM in the 1990s and early 2000s, Hyder Manzil continued to provide a platform to causes till the present year. It housed the headquarters of Sindh United Party and aside from day-to-day workings, played the role of a house of opposition to a provincial government that complacently operates without the democratic pressures of in-house let alone protest-politics oriented oppositional forces.
In the last ten years, Hyder Manzil has allowed for Sindh-centric policy recommendations to have an audience, be they related to language, census, migration, water division and distribution issues and wider local and national issues.
The biggest achievement, in recent times, to come out of the house was the only political push-through that allowed for the rollback of the PPP- and MQM-led Sindh Peoples Governance Ordinance that advocated a bipartite system of division for urban and rural Sindh. Also at the manzil, the 10-party Sindh Bachayo Committee’s meetings allowed for advocacy resistance against the Order, advocacy of missing Sindhi persons (2014), and the issue of the registration of illegal migrants in Sindh in 2017.
In 2018, President Arif Alvi visited for an electoral alliance between PTI and SUP.
The news of Hyder Manzil’s sale and demolition has been met with shock and surprise all over Sindh.
Marvi Mazhar, who is patron of the Heritage Bungalows Project, stresses that a house whose heritage value extends to both its built environment and cultural and historical significance, needed to have been acknowledged by the Ministry of Culture and Antiquities in Sindh. The ministry’s monitoring mechanism has lapsed and Mazhar blames it for the lack of a “three-medium conservation” practice between the department (government), property owners, and profit-driven builders and developers.
“Local vigilance, although essential, does not have a grassroots presence in Karachi, and only civil society members and organizations are playing their limited part in pointing out the demolition of heritage buildings,” she said. “Where is the Culture Department in all this? And why is it not, at least monitoring, if not actively listing heritage properties and giving their owners credits and tax breaks for keeping and maintaining heritage properties as is the practice all over the world?”
Moreover, why did the Advisory Committee to the Heritage Department that is chaired by prolific intellectuals of Karachi never list Hyder Manzil as a heritage building? And if it is listed, then how and why did a heritage building receive an NoC for demolition?
The demolition of Hyder Manzil at the hands of builders could have been stopped regardless of the sale of the property only if the Antiquities ministry had been doing what it is actually meant to do: preserve heritage in the face of threatening development trends.
Considering there is no incentive given to owners to preserve their heritage-status possessions, the Advisory Committee to the Heritage Department could have at least regulated the NoCs they give out for the demolition of properties in Old Karachi. If government ministries keep failing to regulate building activity, then given the astronomical monetary worth of properties like Hyder Manzil, all of Pakistan’s physical history is likely to be measured and sold off in land value.