Community, Charminar, Chaburji

Community, Charminar, Chaburji
Chintan Girish Modi and Shiraz Hassan

An email exchange about an exiting school project, heritage building and more

From: Chintan Girish Modi  (Date: Sat, Aug 4, 2012)
Subject: Hi
To: Shiraz Hassan

Hi Shiraz

Chintan Girish Modi

Chintan Girish Modi

Hope you and Islamabad have found some respite from the heat and humidity. The weather has been quite pleasant in Mumbai. I think we need some heavy monsoon showers though, else we might have a water problem. It usually rains a lot here. It hasn’t this time round.

Thanks for writing about the old shrines and structures. They are such a stark reminder of times past in an urban culture dominated by shopping malls, restaurants and vehicular traffic. What stinks more than the sorry state of the monuments is the callous attitude of people. It is not uncommon to come across couples etching their names on the walls of a building nearing collapse.

A few years ago, when I lived in Hyderabad, South India, I had an interesting encounter at the Charminar. A security guard caught hold of a couple trying to write their names on a wall with a colour pen. He got them a small bucket of soapy water, and gave them a rag to clean up their scribbles. They were terribly embarrassed but I hope they and the visitors around them learnt a good lesson.

Mumbai too is dotted with some beautiful heritage buildings. I would love to take some photographs and mail them to you but I have been extremely busy the last few weeks. Google might have to suffice for a bit. Do look up these places – Flora Fountain, the Gateway of India, Elephanta Caves, St.

Pic-2Xavier’s College, Afghan Church, St. Thomas Cathedral, Banganga Tank, Babulnath Mandir, to start with. I’d also attribute some of the old world charm of Mumbai to our lovely Irani cafes, started by the migrant Zoroastrians locally known as Parsis. Kyani, Yazdani, Merwan, Sassanian and Britannia are some of the best known among Irani cafes. They serve tea, bun maska, cake, caramel pudding, omelettes and a bunch of other things you won’t find in the new shiny cafes that dish up cappuccino and chocolate mousse. What’s charming about Irani cafes is also the mix of people from different socio-economic groups you find there. The price is affordable, and you do not need to be dressed a particular way to feel welcome. I think that’s great.

What have I been busy with? Well, soon after I got back from Bangalore, I spent a few days recovering from a bad bout of fever, headache and cough. The change in weather from one city to another can be difficult for someone like myself who doesn’t like to be caged in air conditioned rooms without fresh air or sunlight. Being back home made me feel better.

I also had two fun-filled days at Shishuvan, the school I work with. Once every two years, we organise ‘Project Day’. The theme this year was Matunga – the name of the suburb our school is located in. Students and teachers explored various aspects of Matunga through field visits, interviews, surveys, nature trails, treasure hunts, experiments, talks by guest speakers, panel discussions, meetings with representatives from the Municipal Corporation, etc. Two months of creative labour went into putting all this together. It was tiring but very fulfilling. Guess what? We threw it open for the entire city to come and visit. I think that is crucial for schools should not become islands disconnected from the communities they inhabit.

I’m happy that Haroon Khalid, my friend from Lahore who was visiting Mumbai, was able to visit Project Day in school.

As I write this on a Sunday morning, the images that come to mind are of kids and colleagues, happy to be able to sleep longer than their usual hours, waking up with a smile to bite into a late lazy breakfast. Well-deserved, I say! How are things at your end? Waiting to hear.


From: Shiraz Hassan  (Date: Sun, Aug 5, 2012)
Subject: Re: Hi

To: Chintan Girish Modi

Hello Chintan,

Shiraz Hassan

Shiraz Hassan

I’m glad you are feeling better now. Finally the monsoon has started here. We’ve had some heavy rains in Islamabad and the weather is quite good now. I reached Lahore last night, and here it is also raining.

I am planning to travel in coming days towards Kartarpur, Narowal, an important religious place for Sikhs as the samadhi of Baba Guru Nanak is located there. I may also visit the Shrine of Baba Bulleh Shah in Kasur. Also plan to visit Multan and Emanabad. Right now I am in Lahore, meeting old friends and also have some work here.

Really nice to hear about Hyderabad and Bangalore. Especially it’s a nice feeling to know that there are some people who care about historical sites and heritage. The Charminar of Hyderabad is very similar to the Chauburji of Lahore, an important landmark of the Mughal era. The establishment of this garden is attributed to the Mughal princess Zeb-un-Nisa, in 1646 AD, which appears in one of the inscriptions on the gateway. The gateway has four towers; some of the brilliant tile work, which once covered the entire entrance, is still visible. It was surrounded by a vast garden but now there is just a concrete road and smoking vehicles around. It is in such bad shape. Really a waste of historical heritage.

heritage buildingMumbai must be a magnificent city. I hope to visit one day. I have a feeling that it must be similar to Karachi – coastal city, industrial hub, a lot of colonial buildings and crowded roads. Lahore is very similar to Delhi, which I visited last year. Especially the old areas of Delhi are identical to Lahore. But I must say that the Indian government has done a pretty good job in preserving old buildings and heritage, which also attracts a lot of tourists. I hope in Pakistan too, concerned departments wake up to serve this cause.

How are things at your end? Do you have an interest in reading? I am very interested in fictional literature. I have read many giants of Urdu literature including Saadat Hasan Manto, Ismat Chughtai, Munshi Premchand, Krishan Chandar, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi and others. If you know about complementary Hindi literature then suggest some Hindi writers.

One of the reasons I like Lahore is that it is a city of book lovers. You can find a lot of people reading books on roads, public transport, in parks and restaurants.

Lets see how things go this week. I am excited about my road trip. 🙂

Take care, Best Regards


Shiraz Hassan (@shirazhassan) is a journalist, photographer and researcher in Islamabad.
Chintan Girish Modi (@chintan_connect) is a schoolteacher, writer and researcher in Mumbai.

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