KARACHI: Jamshed Nusserwanjee was born on January 7, 1886 in Karachi. He is being fondly remembered on his 134th birth anniversary celebrations, for his high ideals of service to humanity, love for mankind and extraordinary contributions to the city of Karachi, province of Sindh and to Pakistan as a whole.
Jamshed Nusserwanjee was not only known as the ‘Maker of Modern Karachi’ but also as a true son of the soil of Sindh.
He was a member of the Sindh Legislative Assembly and served Sindh well despite pressures from Congress. Jamshed touched very vitally the life of the Province of Sind at numerous points and it should be natural that his name was a household word, particularly among the poor, peasant class, since he was the pioneer of the co-operative movement as well as the founder and the presiding genius of the co-operative banking system in the province. Through this movement, Jamshed was able to do incalculable amount of good to the illiterate, inarticulate peasant class, writhing in the tentacles of the ruthless bania money-lenders and cunning zamindars. The peasant, the humble folks scattered throughout the province, had only heard Jamshed’s name as their saviour and redeemer and they sent up their love and gratitude to him. The evidence of their feelings for him was afforded by the first election in 1937 to the Legislative Assembly of Sindh to which he was elected by these people.
His most significant contribution to Sindh was to act as catalyst in the building of the world’s largest irrigation project in Sindh the Sukkur Barrage. Sukkur Barrage today irrigates 7.63 million acres of land which forms approximately 25 per cent of the total canal irrigated area of the country. The idea of Sukkur Barrage was conceived by Mr C.A. Fife, in 1868. A full feasibility was worked out by him. But no action on the project took place for 55 years. It was 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. Sind formed a part of Bombay and when the governor visited Karachi, Jamshed called on him and told him that there existed a readymade scheme for harnessing the Indus and that it had been shelved to rot. He explained to him the merits of the scheme, of the existence of which the governor was unaware. Lord Lloyd was impressed with the proposal and the idea of Sukkur Barrage became a reality.
As mentioned, Jamshed Nusserwanjee is known as the father of modern Karachi. As a young man he was elected 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 president of the corporation.
He was the first mayor and president of the 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 was made the cleanest city in the subcontinent
Under his guidance a small and unimportant 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 and even for animals spoke of the city’s progress. At that time the streets of this city were washed twice a day.
Artillery Quarter was first a large open ground which served as a rifle practice range and parade ground during the British Raj, hence labelled as ‘Artillery Maidan’. It served as a residential area and as a space for artillery practice. Buildings such as the High Court, Sindh Assembly and Frere Market have existed in this quarter since 1906.
There was a dispute regarding the ownership of Artillery Maidan between the Karachi municipality and the government. Jamshed was appointed by the municipality to settle the dispute. A very interesting story is told to us that how Jamshed was able to win a victory through invisible aid and guidance.
According to Jamshed, one day as he was opening a book, presented to him by the widow of Mr Birch, a high government official, whom he had helped considerably, a paper fell off. It related to Artillery Maidan and gave sufficient evidence in favour of municipal ownership of the plot in dispute. The government had taken a stiff attitude and in the absence of any documents, it was adamant in its opposition to the municipality regarding its claim.
Jamshed went to Poona and asked for an interview with the governor of Bombay. At the interview, Jamshed being sure of his ground, refused to believe what the governor told him and was not hesitant in telling him that his government was playing a dirty trick by trying to cheat the municipality of its rightful share in the ownership of Artillery Maidan. He put in the hands of the governor the document which he had obtained in a mysterious manner. It gave a rude shock to the governor. He was much ashamed and expressed his apology. Nay, he was so much pleased that he admired Jamshed’s courage and integrity. As a result of the interview, the government of Bombay acknowledged the claim of the Karachi Municipality. Jamshed was offered by the governor a knighthood, which of course, he refused. His reply was unique: ‘’If I accept your knighthood, I would lose my friends and I love them so much.” The fact is that how could a man who was in direct communion with God ever accept a tinsel of a title, his sole duty and purpose of life being to give his best for the service of others without expectation of any return or reward?
He 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 collected by his admirers. A sum of Rs 25,000 was earmarked for the construction of a Jamshed Nusserwanjee Landship — the only one of its kind in the world — for the sea scouts just opposite the Beach Luxury Hotel.
He was among the pioneers who established the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs in Karachi in 1947.
Jamshed left his mortal body to meet his Creator on Aug 1, 1952. His footprints on the sands of time would remain exemplary forever.
(Compiled from Jamshed Nusserwanjee — A Memorial)
Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2020