A Visual Treat: Karachi in the 1940s

Posted on February 27, 2011
Filed Under >Adil Najam, History, Society, Travel
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Adil Najam

Links to this historic video from Karachi as it was in the 1940s (not much after 1942 but probably well before 1947) have been floating into my email inbox recently. I now have had nearly a dozen readers suggest that this would make a good post for All Things Pakistan.

I agree. It is a most fascinating and quite rare glimpse into what life was (as seen by a British colonial soldier) back before 1947. It is a remarkable video precisely because it is done by an amateur and not for a newsreel. It is remarkable also for the many thing it shows that one had not seen before. And for all the things that it does not show. Obviously the soldier doing the filming was traveling through Karachi and onwards towards the Middle East. One would love to learn so much more about what he saw and thought of the lands he traveled through. But what little one sees here is itself a treasure trove.

I realize that some of you would have seen this already. If you have, and if you are like me, you might want to see it again and maybe share your reaction and thoughts on this. Those who have not already seen this, I hope you find it as interesting as I have.

14 Comments on “A Visual Treat: Karachi in the 1940s”

  1. Waqas Sajjad says:
    February 27th, 2011 9:01 pm

    This is brilliant right? I found this last week and shared it – what a gem!

  2. Ehtisham says:
    February 27th, 2011 9:16 pm

    Very nice find. Enjoyed it so much.

  3. ShahidnUSA says:
    February 27th, 2011 9:44 pm

    Are you sure if this is Karachi? The city seems so calm and peaceful?
    Hmmm Overpopulated or not I think the” jungle day” should be celebrated only one day just to honor our ancestors.

    I would give Karachi to British Police supervision any day. Question would be if they would take this task or would wanna to discipline and manage this god forsaken city’s mess willingly.

    If my memory serves me correctly,for the last 20 years, I twice came in contact with the California police. Once a moving violation and the other was as an eyewitness and both times I was impressed with their handling of the situation, professionalism, decency, tidy and good looks
    and pleasant behavior.
    So much so that I am tempted to commit a minor crime just to meet them??? No! that was a stretch.

  4. Samdani says:
    February 28th, 2011 2:11 am

    How the world changes and how quickly.
    Although I am not sure that world was better. It was cruel and unfair and the poor are not there because they were not supposed to be there. In many ways I actually think that despite everything things are better today. At least our miseries are in the open and not locked up or swept under carpets.

  5. Sanjay says:
    February 28th, 2011 2:59 am

    Lovely! Some questions for the cognoscenti:

    1. What’s the provenance of the commentary? Is it from the BBC?

    2. Why are BEST buses running in Karachi? (See 1:48 mark.) Is that perchance a Bombay scene spliced in?

    3. Are the phrases in Devanagari script (at the 3:00 and 4:40 marks) Sindhi?

  6. Owais Mughal says:
    February 28th, 2011 4:45 am

    The buildings looked much cleaner and grand in this video. e.g. the Cotton Exchange, Frere Hall, old State Bank etc. That stood out for me.

    One could also see glimpses of old Karachi tramway.

  7. Owais Mughal says:
    February 28th, 2011 6:22 am

    The tram shown in time stamp 1:32 to 1:43 is a authentic Karachi tram. I can see the domed top of Karachi Municipal Corporation in its first scene. I can also cross reference and identify this tram and its serial number 130. You can see the photo of tram # 130 in one of my earlier posts on Karachi Tramway here. At one point in time, it had the route to ‘Saddar’ Karachi.


    Sanjay, I think you are correct that the double-deckered tram coupled to single trailer tram in time stamp 1:44 to 1:51 and with marks of ‘BEST’ is not Karachi tramway. I can see electric conductors on top of it and Karachi never had electric tramway or double-decker tramway in operation.

    I don’t want to make any excuses for the person who created the video but my speculation is that during editing they found a small clip of unknown Indian tramway and put it together with Karachi clips. The double-decker tramway scene (1:44-1:51) is most likely from Bombay.

  8. Owais Mughal says:
    February 28th, 2011 6:53 am

    Interesting to see people wearing Turkish caps – which were somewhat common in India and then Pak till 60s – in the tram scene (1:32-1:43)

  9. Owais Mughal says:
    February 28th, 2011 6:57 am

    Time Stamp 0:18 to 0:21 is Eduljee Dinshaw Dispensary located in Saddar Karachi.

  10. Owais Mughal says:
    February 28th, 2011 7:05 am

    @ Sanjay

    The phrase at 3:00 is devnagri and not Sindhi. Sindhi is written with Arabic letters.

    The phrase at 4:40 is Sindhi. As you can tell it says Karachi Cantt in Sindhi. Even today several public buildings in Sindh say the name in 3 languages except devnagri has been replaced by Urdu script. e.g the railway stations across Sindh have their names written in English, Urdu and Sindhi on the signboards.

  11. Azra says:
    February 28th, 2011 7:26 am

    Enjoyed this. Seems like the soldier was playing with his camera on a long trip. It could actually be that he was in both Karachi and then in Bombay. Certainly was in Egypt later. Great find.

  12. Athar Saeed says:
    February 28th, 2011 2:38 pm

    Video is very precious and rare. It has captured that how the life was in 1942. Unique experience!
    It must have passed from different sources and finally reached the internet. Finding that how this video actually came out of the video camera of movie maker and reached the global village (Internet) is another interesting thing to know.

  13. fuzair says:
    February 28th, 2011 8:34 pm

    Thank you for posting this clip, and Owais’s earlier clip about Karachi trams. I remember riding them occasionally with my mother and aunts in c.1970-71-72 when we’d be in Karachi for summer holidays. IIRC, there used to be one that would take us to Gandhi Gardens (Zoo). Karachi has changed so much–and for the much, much worse–since those days. My mother’s memories of pre-Partition Karachi are growing dimmer now but this brought some of her tales to life!

  14. Alf says:
    March 4th, 2011 4:50 am

    What a wonderful treat. Enjoyed this very much.

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