Written by Shaheen Nauman, Researcher at HWK, PCCC. and Project Coordinator HWK.
Sarnagati Building is an impressive red sandstone abandoned building around Pakistan Chowk. It was built in early 30’s. According to the present owner Mr Jitendra Shahani, ‘'It is an earthquake proof building with solid foundation. In its initial building plan it was supposed to be a seven storey building. The red stone used be brought from Jaipur on ships & after 1947 this supply of stone stopped because of that only three storeys were built’’. Since Karachi was the capital in those days, several ministers had their offices in this building. Once the capital changed to Islamabad, in early 60’s the first floor was rented to British Council at Rs 2000 per month. As this library was centrally located in the city, many renowned people of today were its members, like Rumana Husain, (a writer and story teller), Lynettee Viccaji , (an educationist). After British Council Library, Geographical & Historical Society established a library under Dr Hamida Khuro, a politician and a historian, twice served as Sindh’s Minister for Education.
The second floor housed an Art Studio for emerging artists and an Art school, “Sarnagati School of Art” before 1947. We know from references left by late Sughra Rababi, (1922 – 1994), after her graduate studies at the Sarnagati School of Art in Karachi she went for post-graduate studies at the Rabindernath Tagore’s Shantiniketan Fine Arts University in Bengal. She was also a contemporary of Abdul Rehman Chughtai.
Presently, second floor serves as an office for the Shahani Associates. We found the office, to be a huge hall with very beautiful well maintained original ceramic floor tiles very breezy and well lit by the windows, overlooking the Pakistan Chowk. The office was part of the three halls lined with shelves of books & the walls adorned with family pictures & a large portrait of (late) Mr. P.K Shahani, an MPA of Sindh Assembly in 1975 & MNA in 1977 and the first Chartered Surveyor of Pakistan and his Academic Certificates. These halls were filled with ancestral books, passed down the generations & were from late 1800, when British ruled this area. There some historic furnishing also present such as wooden screens/dividers from the old library. These screens have wooden panels that have intricate floral designs which appears to be a hybrid between kashi kari and wooden fretwork
Ground floor had printing press & publishing house. The headquarters of Sindh Sudhar Society was also here. It oversaw the launching, publication, circulation and distribution of first quarterly in Sindhi language of ‘Ismat’ & ‘Saraswati’ which were readily available to the students living in the area mainly at Sevakunj and Meetharam Hostels. Sarnagati is written in English & Sanskrit language on the semicircular facade of the building. Sarnagati is pronounced, “Sharangati” which means, “Relief”.