• 18 Nov - 24 Nov, 2017
  • Mariam Khan
  • Spotlight

Time did stand still for almost a decade on M.A. Jinnah Road. And the proof is the majestic Moorish dome of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), which holds the gazes of passers-by in a lock. Once the teller of time, the KMC clock tower was out of order for over a decade, making the beholder forcefully peek into their wristwatches to keep a tab on the moments ticking by.

Shunning the glory of the Anglo-Mughal structure, that was set into marking time in 1935, the clock tower is a landmark which was and still is used to guide many in finding their way around the area.

A guide and a time-teller, this history’s guardian was left worthless of its golden needle as the grandeur of the clock was left barren from its religious marker – spelling out minutes and hours, for it stopped working – until a saviour stopped by.

After the rust-laden lock of the wooden door to the clock tower was unbolted, the neck automatically gazed up, and up it kept looking. As if a magnetic tug is what the feet were facing, steps soon followed the trail of the stairway; for MAG’s team started climbing the spiral staircase along with the man who fixed the KMC clock.

Each step taken was following the path of history, one that goes back to 1935, when this very tower was added to KMC building to commemorate King George V’s visit to the subcontinent.

The clock maker, who has set the clock ticking, Saleem Ahmed Khan Zuberi, tells us the clock is based on three floors. “I found it (clock) in a dead state,” he talks about the condition of the clock when he first came across it.

As MAG’s team reaches the third floor, where the ‘heart’ of the clock rests, it seems as if Martin Scorsese would soon be heard saying ‘cut’ from either of the corners of the humid room.

We felt like Hugo Cabret from Hugo, stepping into the room where filtered light was falling on the time-worn floor.

Zuberi marks out how he had fixed the missing glass on the dials himself. When it was not in working order, the KMC clock was an abode for pigeons. “What you now see is a very clean space. Previously there were pigeon droppings everywhere,” Zuberi shares the state of the place which he cleaned himself.

To peek at the heart of the clock, one had to step up on a frail wooden rung. A wooden casing, which is in its original state has cogwheels inside working on one another, with axles that are held together by frame plates of the clock which is a part of the red and

emerald mechanism.

The time machine, chiming machine and striking machine is what Zuberi points out next.

As we are being tutored about the workings of the ancient time teller, the entire tower comes to life as the clock gonged. As sound circled all of us in its enchantment, a whoosh followed by a loud hiss is what stops us in our tracks – astonishment wrapped in a hair-raising moment, is what the quarterly chime resulted in. “There are four bells which chime at every quarter of an hour; a part of the chiming machine, known as Westminster Chimes which gives a signal every 15 minutes,” Zuberi shares the quarterly mechanism which is the most common clock chime melody where four bells chime after every 15 minutes.

“The striking machine has gears, called counters, which count the number of times it has to chime at the passing of each hour,” the clocksmith talks about the striking system.

The main pumping organ of the KMC Clock is the time machine. “It is responsible for the functioning of the four needles on all the four faces of the clock.”

To work on it, Zuberi first set out to look for a diagram of the archaic timepiece. But, with no such guiding sample available for reference he set out on a mission. On the Mayor’s orders the clock was to be restored. “Since the clock had missing parts, it did take time for us to understand its system,” he remarks, sharing, “we have replaced (parts) as per need like the needle and the dial.” According to Zuberi about Rs. 5 to 6 lacs have been spent on the clock’s restoration.

Being a manual clock, Zuberi has to wind it every day. “I stop by each day for its winding,” he makes it known, marking out that each weight is about 25-30kg that needs winding.

The clockmaker has also kept a small clock in the room so that there is no difference in the time. “Every day I check the time, wind the key and slightly oil the lever and escape wheel,” he tells me about his daily regimen. One winding makes the key last for about 7-8 hours. But since the clock is old, the clockmaker winds it every day. “One winding can last a week, but since it’s old I wind it every day.”

Working near the Empress’ lair, Zuberi has been trained in clockworks at Citizen and Seiko. “Every time I would pass by the Empress Market, I would look at its clock tower and wonder about the machine it has in it; why doesn’t the clock work and why doesn’t it have a needle?” and for Zuberi it was like a dream to be working on a clock fixed by the Swadeshi Electric Clock Company of Bombay.

The last time the clock was fixed was 25-30 years ago as Zuberi puts across. “I have heard an old man would come from Hyderabad who repaired the clock before me and restored it to a good working condition.”

But he laments that there needs to be a department which looks after the clock. “I know till the time I’m looking after it, it will keep working,” he talks about the constant vigilance it needs and winding, and compares it to the Big Ben and how it has its own caretakers.

As we make our exit from history’s marker, Zuberi secures the latch, and the KMC clock is set ticking for another day. •