Growing Up In Depot Lines, Saddar

Growing up in Depot Lines, Saddar

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By Menin Rodrigues

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The 117 Depot Lines compound was a large tract of land in proper Saddar, originally
(pre-partition) owned by Edulji Dinshaw. After the 1965 War this piece of land was
designated as Evacuee Trust property and all families living here paid our rents to the
Commissioner’s office.
The west side of the compound faced Empress Market and the East towards St. Patrick’s
High School. It was a gated community. The two front main entrances (one facing
Preedy Street and the other opening up on Mansfield Street, were sandwiched between
Saddar Dawakhana, a dispensing pharmacy of herbal medicines, owned by our
neighbors who we called Delhi-Wallas. The boys went to St. Pats.
There were four residential blocks in this space, 117/44 (nearest to the market), 117/45
(where I lived the first 21 years of my life), 117/46 and 117/47 (nearest to St. Pat’s).
There were many large gated communities in that vicinity, the nearest separated by a
lane, was the Katrak Compound where there were many 3-storey buildings with
multiple flats for Parsis only. The old Katrak Hall and Billiards Room was also here.
Most residential neighborhoods in that part of Saddar leading all the way to M.A. Jinnah
Road had open spaces where hundreds of residents enjoyed playing a variety of games,
cricket, hockey, football, netball, badminton and whole lot more. Competitive matches
between compound/block teams on weekends was a common sight. Kite-flying was a
spectacular sight, the open skies were full of colorful ‘guddies’ and chants of ‘bo-ka’ata’
everywhere as professional kite-flyers thronged these compounds, 117 Depot Lines was
no exception. Tens of boys ran after getaway kites.
117 Depot Lines was cosmopolitan in nature, a mix of communities, mostly Goan/Tamil
Christians but there were Parsis, Punjabis, Pathans, Katchi and Gujrati speaking
families too. The compound was famous because many teachers from the nearby St. Pats
and St. Joseph’s schools lived here. The most interesting aspect of community living
here was that we all lived as one big family! Many could speak each other’s languages
and we all celebrated each other’s special occasions. Good old Karachi!
Christmas, Eid and Navroze were the centerpiece occasions of our living together, each
family celebrating the season joyously by sharing food and visiting homes. During Eid,
the entire compound was festive with people going for Eid-prayers and hordes of

vendors lining up to offer colorful balloons to the children. During Christmas eve, the
popular St. Patrick’s High School Band would go from compound to compound to play
Christmas carols and popular marches; neighborhood groups of girls and boys went
carol-singing throughout the nights. It was a brilliant sight, Depot Lines and most of
Saddar areas (Little Goa) were lined up with twinkling Christmas stars adorning family
homes. On Navroze, we eagerly awaited the BVS Parsi School Bugle Band come to the
Katrak and nearby Parsi compounds in the wee hours of the morning. Though I couldn’t
go out at that time of the night, I would simply stay awake all-night on my bed and listen
to the first sounds of the bugles. Its so wonderful, I can still remember the tunes they
played.
Imagine a Pathan girl and boy playing with the rest of the children, games like 7-Tiles
(Pittu), Skipping ropes, Rounders, and all of them conversing in a choice of languages,
English, Pushtu, Urdu and Konkani. Yes, the kids in the Pathan family spoke Konkani!
Isn’t it amazing? Some of us would jump the wall and go to the nearby Parsi compound
and play cricket, marbles and fly kites though it was a restricted compound. So,
understanding Gujrati was not very difficult, given the fact, that the Parsis were quite
colorful and generous in their choice of words.
In the 1970s the compound was converted into a parking lot for the newly introduced
Yellow Vans (the old Ford and Toyota versions, later to be called Yellow Devils) and
which eventually became their auto-mechanic workshop. The beautiful cinder/mud
compound where we played our sport had become very dirty, diesel-oil spread
everywhere and not very safe for the old residents. Earlier in the 1960s during the Ayub-
era the compound was also converted into a Bakra-Pir and for some years as Storage for
Fruit Boxes and their 4-wheel carts. We moved from here in 1977 but retained our
house.
After the 1980s, the 117 Depot Lines compound met with many snags, the government
didn’t quite know what to do with it. Being near the Cantonment, the military estates
took over the compound in the late 1980s; they apparently wanted to demolish the old
houses for a new residential complex but were in a quandary displacing senior and frail
residents of that place, living there since the 1930s/40s. They kept jawans in the
compound for several years until the mid-1990s when it changed hands with the City-
Government. They wanted to construct a major 100-feet wide road connecting Preedy
Street, running through the 117 Depot Lines compound, part of the Katrak compound,
through the Lines Area and curving north onward to the Round-about east side of the
mausoleum.
The 117 Depot Lines compound still survives but stands divided between the road, all
blocks are intact but disfigured, except one which was sliced a vee-bit to make way for

the road. It’s in a mess now, a hawkers’ paradise but a gold-mine! I hope and pray that
residents who are still living there get a fair share of what is to become of 117 Depot
Lines in the future.
TAILPIENCE: The most unfortunate part of this whole episode (a tale from another
time and era) and a trauma for the residents was the intrusion of privacy in 1975 by an
ordinary friendly hawker who came to park his cart (thela) inside the compound and
eventually bull-dozed his way to occupy a good portion of the compound towards the
Empress Market side. Those who have seen the premises lately will know what has
happened to the once-pristine 117 Depot Lines.

About Amin H. Karim MD

Graduate of Dow Medical College Class of 1977.
This entry was posted in Karachi Neighborhoods. Bookmark the permalink.

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