Aurora Magazine

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The Pioneer Builder of Modern Karachi

Updated 19 Aug, 2020 02:18pm
"Jerome D’Silva: a visionary who saw the emergence of growth and development in Karachi."

Hussain-D’Silva was a name synonymous with trustworthy partnerships and quality housing development projects in Karachi since Independence. Ashfaq Hussain and Jerome D’Silva were friends from their school days at Karachi’s illustrious St. Pat’s.

When D’Silva died in Canada in 2017, it prompted another brilliant Patrician, Shahid Aziz Siddiqui, former Commissioner Karachi to write: “He was an icon in developing Karachi.”

D’Silva graduated from St. Patrick’s High School, earned a Bachelor of Arts from D.J. Arts College, and completed a year of law before pursuing his passion for building and development. Thus, he started his own business venture registering Hussain-D’Silva Enterprises with his partner and school-friend Ashfaq Hussain. They specialised in the promotion, development and management of large scale building, housing, commercial and agricultural projects.

The company came on the market in 1945 at a time when Karachi was in a redevelopment stage; large tracts of land were available for expansion and construction, but credible and experienced builders were few. The Hussain-D’Silva partnership took advantage of this opportunity, pioneered initiatives in town-planning and construction projects and built on a long-lasting reputation that earned the trust of civic authorities and the people.

D’Silva was born in 1923 in a devout Goan Christian family with unblemished values in dealing with people and thanks to a good education to him back up and a time-tested friendship, he was able to set-up his company, win lucrative contracts and deliver some of the finest construction projects in Karachi, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. The company continued to build quality projects well into the 1970s.

In the early years after partition, both D’Silva and Hussain were beginning to make their mark as quality-builders and a trusted business enterprise, and they caught the attention of government departments, large corporations and the diplomatic community in the city. Karachi at that time was the capital of Pakistan and D’Silva was able to reach out to the right people and win prestigious construction projects, such as building offices for government departments and foreign companies. The company also built several residential homes for diplomats and senior executives of multinational companies.

500 Bungalows of Hussain-D’Silva Town, North Nazimabad, Karachi
500 Bungalows of Hussain-D’Silva Town, North Nazimabad, Karachi

They built many landmark developments in Karachi notably Hussain-D’Silva Town in North Nazimabad, a sprawling township of 500 independent houses built on land close to the hills in North Nazimabad. This land was leased to developers and the partners designed one of the first extraordinarily successful residential townships in the city. It was a unique concept for the people of Karachi who were looking for affordable housing in a peaceful environment in a distant location.

The company offered these homes to Karachi’s growing middle-class through loans arranged by the House Building Finance Corporate (HSBC). It was an appealing invitation to prospective buyers; “buy now, pay later” was the message that reached far and wide. Although there was tremendous interest in the project, D’Silva insisted that to make the project viable and successful, it was important to know who the company could trust to pay back the loans on time. Thus, prospective homeowners were short-listed by the Hussain-D’Silva duo through their personal contacts in their respective communities. Soon, Hussain-D’Silva Town became a little oasis of like-minded intellectuals where brilliant minds in education, journalism, arts, the armed forces, poets, writers, and television personalities shared an unusual camaraderie in a clean, peaceful, and environmentally friendly neighbourhood.

D’Silva and Hussain had created a wonder. A concept of community living and inter-faith harmony much before its time and need. The township was the talk-of-the-town with Muslim and Christian residents enjoying the bountiful pleasures of celebrating the community’s special occasions, such as Eid and Christmas and other events.

Within city-limits, Hussain-D’Silva Gardens, a project comprising nine building blocks made up of apartments in Garden West, the city’s first high-rise residential building was an instant hit, with more than 400 families moving into a complex that provided all the conveniences of community living. The buildings were named after Moghul emperors Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jehan, Aurangzeb, Bahadur Shah, Shah Alam and Adil Shah.

Hussain and D’Silva also built six prestigious residential buildings with flats for the officers of foreign banks, airlines and companies on land allotted by the KMC measuring 2,000 to 3,000 square yards.

Hussain-D’Silva Park, close to the Clifton Prominade
Hussain-D’Silva Park, close to the Clifton Prominade

Hussain-D’Silva Park, consisting of 33 luxury flats facing the sea in Clifton, close to Playland and Jehangir Kothari Parade, was another prestigious project of the company. This complex was demolished a few years ago to make way for the 62-storey Bahria Icon Tower. The company even moved beyond constructing residential accommodation by building 50 farms in Malir with the help of an agricultural expert. Both partners believed that “people trusted us, and we worked hard to maintain that trust,”

The pioneering work of the Hussain-D’Silva Construction Company gave Karachi a host of memorable buildings, such as the first government barracks near the Sindh High Court in 1946, a significant proportion of the houses on Martin Quarters in 1946 and the residence of the Indian High Commissioner in Clifton. In the 1950s and 1960s, projects in the pipeline included Hussain-D’Silva Markaz with 288 flats on Bunder Road, the Godhra House shopping and residential complex near the City Courts, Saddar House with 336 modern flats on the fashionable Victoria Road (now Abdullah Haroon Road) and Hussain-D’Silva House, a 20-storey office building at the junction of Bonus and Strachan Roads (now Fatima Jinnah Road and Din Muhammad Wafai Road). The company also had plans for a Hussain-D’Silva Funfair Amusement Park in the National Park area with two amusement zones, the Kiddieland and the Fun Valley.

The futuristic Bohri Bazar Re-Development Project, Karachi
The futuristic Bohri Bazar Re-Development Project, Karachi

D’Silva was a visionary who saw the emergence of growth and development in Karachi and planned projects which were at par with the best in the modern world. One of his favourites, but which did not materialise, was the Bohri Bazar Redevelopment Project, the largest such project in the city at that time. It comprised of 940 shops on three levels, linked by arcades, bridges, staircases and escalators; a six level department store 100 open stalls, storage rooms, outdoor and indoor cafes, offices in high-rise buildings, including a 20-storey tower, a 100-room hotel in another 20-storey tower with a roof-top restaurant, a three level car-parking structure, 500 flats in high-rise buildings, community and recreational facilities, underground vehicular transit facilities and other amenities.

One of the main reasons why the Hussain-D’Silva development projects were a success was because D’Silva was a stickler for perfection and believed, not just in quality construction, but went out of his way to study the environmental impact of their projects involving roads, civic amenities and population growth in years to follow.

The partners pioneered many new ideas of housing and development for the ‘first time’ in Pakistan, such as hire-purchase of houses, flats for the middle-class in high-rise buildings with modern amenities, farms for town-dwellers on the outskirts of the city, multilevel shopping plazas, redevelopment of neighbourhoods, amusement parks and departmental stores.

Roland de Souza, a former chairman of SHERI, who worked tirelessly in the 1990s to contain illegal construction in the city says that “Jerome D’Silva was among the well-known Karachiites of his time and he dedicated his talent and resources to deliver outstanding development projects. His success in Karachi from a humble beginning to becoming a major housing developer took place long before the city fell into the hands of what is now known as the builders’ mafia.”

The adherence to professional and ethical principles in the construction business practiced by people like D’Silva is more or less on a precipitous decline; the influx of people from all over the country, uncontrolled growth of katchi-abadis everywhere and flouting of construction laws, has made Karachi a gold-mine for unscrupulous builders. A change is a difficult proposition, but it can come, sooner or later, before people of the calibre of D’Silva and Hussain are reborn to rebuild a city that has fallen from grace.

From what has been gathered from his family and friends, D’Silva was a kind and gentle person, always loving and giving and making an impact in the lives of others. His family continues with his legacy in Canada, but Pakistan has lost one of the pioneering builders of modern Karachi.

Another interesting facet of D’Slva’s life was that he enjoyed the talkies and produced a few Urdu movies such as Badha Adhmi which won a Nigar Award. He also supported the arts and sports; including the musical Trial by Jury at the Metropole in 1960 and the Hussain-D’Silva Hockey team which won major tournaments in the city. He was also engaged in promoting joint production of international films for world markets; and had envisioned building a large deluxe hotel of international standards in Pakistan.

Menin Rodrigues is a corporate communication consultant, writer and