Hitchcockian screenplay, in a pleasant way. The sun has just risen. The sky is cloudless blue. Birds skim over the greenish, mossy water that flows, rather sluggishly, under the bridge. It’s an ornithologist’s delight. You may spot a few kinds of feathery creatures here – mainly kites (of the hawk family), pigeons and crows. They’re headed nowhere, and are flying in a concentric fashion. Some swoop down on the walkway (call it footpath) on an overpass to hold in their beaks balls of dough and pieces of meat that are placed on plastic plates by young boys and girls. You can buy these plates from them, if you want to feed the birds or witness the sight. It’s a daily ritual in an area that’s famously known as the Native Jetty (aka Netty Jetty) Bridge.
There is scant traffic on the bridge but whenever a heavy truck passes by those standing on the walkway leaning over the giant structure to enjoy the scene feel the ground beneath their feet trembling. They don’t budge.
For some inexplicable reason, the Native Jetty link (the original bridge lies parallel to the one that now connects the city to the Keamari region) attracts people with emotional dispositions. You are in love, come to the bridge, it will either augment your passion or douse it. If you are livid or sad… well let’s not talk about being livid or sad.
At any given time, you can notice couples with stars in their eyes trying to enjoy their togetherness at a romantic place. In the recent times though (some say it’s been happening for long) the same site has also been used by individuals with suicidal tendencies. Yes, people have jumped off this facility to put a premature end to their lives for reasons that range from economic woes to unrequited love. The spot presents a strange combination of romance and misfortune, somewhat like a Shakespearean tragedy.
Looking at the old Native Jetty Bridge, and it has become rather difficult to get close to it these days, may not give you the idea how old it is, but if you move towards the Keamari area from M. A. Jinnah Road, you can see an old temple, Lakshminarayan Mandir, below. And after crossing the overpass, you’ll come across the KPT North Lodge, established in 1963. It forks out into East and NMB wharves.
The temple is situated by the seaside and you have to step down, under the vast span of the bridge, to reach it. It’s a different sight, quite difficult to explain in words. Strike up a conversation with Arjun Maharaj, a young man who looks after the temple, and he’ll tell you that the holy place is older than the jetty. However, the latter is also at least a couple of hundred years old, he says.
By the latter half of the 19th century, Karachi had burgeoned into an established city with a flourishing overseas trade. It was in 1854 that a modern port started to become a worthwhile service-provider, and a main channel was dredged with the construction of a mole (causeway) to connect the city to the harbour. Afterwards Keamari Groyne, Manora Breakwater, the Napier Mole Bridge and the Native Jetty Bridge were built. In 1882 work on the construction of the wharves began and in 1914 the Napier Mole Boat and East wharves came into being. As the name suggests, the Napier Mole had to do with Charles Napier, and for a long time there used to be an obelisk that reminded you of the famous governor of the Bombay presidency. It no longer exists. You wonder what Napier would have thought about the stench that these days fills the air under the overpass? It’s more of a garbage dump along the sea, and not too far from it is the temple.
Architect Yasmeen Lari says: “The Native Jetty Bridge was made during Charles Napier’s tenure. He sought to emphasise the importance of the port, and wanted it to be fully established. Also bear in mind that at that point in time Karachi was the closest port to Europe, that’s why the then administration was keen to make it the capital of the country.
“Another aspect that’s worth mentioning about the link is that it connected the island to the mainland. Back then Manora was the old fortified island, from where the British would be bombarded during conflicts. Manora is also important because it denotes the beginning of harbour development.
“As for the obelisk, I think it was removed after independence. Not just that, there were some other important monuments and sculptures that were taken away or dismantled. The one that immediately springs to mind is that of Gandhi’s,” says Ms Lari.
A boat has just zipped through the seawater from under the bridge, disturbing the concentric flight of the birds. They’re now sailing over the heavy traffic plying the bridge in different formations. But they will return to their daily ritual once the water gets back to its usual, sluggish self.
Thanks to Daily Dawn Karachi.