Atmosphere: The instant you walk through the BVS school’s entrance gate, you realise there’s something delightfully anachronistic about the place. There are trees as aged as the stonework, towering over the boundary wall facing Abdullah Haroon Road (formerly known as Victoria Road). The building is Spartan yet eye-catching in character – like a Greek god. You lift your head to appreciate the façade and read ‘Bai Virbaiji Soparivala Parsi High School Established in 1859’. A little below it is inscribed the date of its construction, ‘1905’.
You roam around the spick and span premises, climb up and down the wooden staircase, stick your neck out through the semi-circular openings… and feel like a person on a guided tour of a historical place that’s kept its identity unsullied. Fascinating stuff! Though there’s another block, built in different phases, right behind the main building, it matches up fine with the architectural fundamentals of the original piece of construction. Genesis: In 1859 the Parsi Balakshala came into being. In 1870 Seth Shapurji Hurmusji Soparivala, a generous man, donated Rs10,000 worth of a building to the Balakshala, suggesting that the school be named after his wife Bai Virbaiji. This Gujarati vernacular The photo that evokes many a good memory: Lt-Col Mack P. Soparivala presenting a guard of honour to the institution was formerly opened by the commissioner of Sindh, Sir William Merewether. Five years later, an English teaching section also started functioning.
As it usually happens with quality institutions, the number of pupils started to rise and in 1904 a piece of land on Victoria Road was chosen to construct a new building. Moses Somake, the architect of gems like the Mules Mansion, the Karachi Goan Association Hall and Edward House, was asked to come up with a design for the purpose. He did not disappoint. On Oct 10, 1904 Seth Khurshedji Soparivala, the eldest son of Seth Shapurji, laid the foundation stone of the institution that has now assumed celebrated significance.
In 1947, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah requested the authorities concerned to allow non-Parsi children to study at BVS School, and the then principal Behram Rustomji obliged.
Architectural features: The arched doorway, Corinthian capitals and tall pilasters of the BVS building make stonemasonry look like a colossal work of art. An extra storey that was built in 1923 using the same Gizri stone lends a slightly different touch to the edifice.
Architect Yasmeen Lari says: 'It’s a well-designed, robust and strong building. It has delicately carved features in its capitals, and a triangular pediment emphasises its entrance. I think two things must be kept in mind here: (1) pollution caused by vehicular traffic (because that damages the stone); (2) and the issue of rising damp into the walls, which has a detrimental effect.
'Both problems can be taken care of. To counter the former the city authorities should come forward and adopt measures like growing more trees around the area, and to tackle the latter intercepting trenches can be made.'
The current principal of the school, Mrs Parakh, says: 'We’re constantly in touch with experts. They give us useful suggestions to keep the building in shape. Owing to the issue of the busy Abdullah Haroon Road, we don’t have an afternoon session. Traffic wardens do a decent job during students’ home time.'
Mrs Parakh is proud of another vital aspect of the teacher-pupil rapport. 'We inculcate in our students the importance of ‘going green’. It’s not just the historicity of the institution that the children are conscious of, they’re cognizant of the environment as well. Since they’re aware, they can’t vandalise.'
It’s a profound thought, ‘if you are aware, you can’t vandalise.’ Perhaps that’s one problem which is nibbling at Pakistan’s soul. Most of us are not ‘aware’, so we tend to ‘vandalise’. And with education comes awareness – a prerequisite for wisdom.
Epilogue: It’s midday. You think visiting the BVS School was eventful enough. You’re wrong. There’s never a dull moment on Abdullah Haroon Road, for it’s not like one of those streets that follow like a tedious argument. It’s an absorbing place to be at, if you have enough time to spare.
There’s a deafening hubbub. People are haggling over secondhand cellphones and brand-new washing machines. Traffic constables are doing their utmost to make sure private vehicles aren’t parked or halted in the area. They want the traffic flow as unhampered as possible, and the vicinity to be clean as a whistle like the historic piece of stonemasonry in the midst of it all.