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Cotton Exchange, Karachi

The Karachi of the former half of the 20th century mostly had buildings either classically designed or indicating a revivalist trend. There is one significant structure that is referred to as a fine, fine example of Art Deco style. And that is the Karachi Cotton Exchange Building on McLeod Road (now I.I. Chundrigar Road). Once on I.I. Chundrigar Road, it would not take much time to appreciate that this structure has characteristics unlike the usual pre-independence works of construction. Since it is made in a style whose origin does not date back a century or two, the Karachi Cotton Exchange Building looks pretty much current (or contemporary). Yet, it is not. Isn’t that beautiful?

It was in the 1860s, (some suggest even before that) Karachi began to expand commercially. The city was largely used as a port by merchants belonging to Bombay (now Mumbai) from where they could ship products manufactured in Sindh to Europe and vice-versa. Gradually, Bombay companies set up their local offices in the city which resulted in the establishment of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce. Soon the town became a business hub, particularly with reference to cotton trade. It is believed that the founding of a home for the cotton trade in Karachi was a strong evidence of the city’s commercial importance.

Before 1927, the cotton business was regulated and controlled by the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and the Karachi Indian Merchants Association. As the trade increased, the Cotton Association was formed on April 20, 1933. According to a document, in 1933 cotton arrivals in Karachi totaled 1.6 million bales. In 1936, the site where the Karachi Cotton Exchange Building stands was purchased.

The structure to date looks the same from the outside. The facade is as impressive as it was at the time of its inception. The interiors have not changed a great deal either, but tiny bits of wear and tear are evident. Still, the untouched furniture, the slow moving ceiling fans and the old pictures that adorn the walls of the building keep the atmosphere authentic.

[Source: Karachi Legacies of Empires by Peerzada Salman]

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