There was a time when Jeeps were only owned and maintained by the either the Landlords for a visit to the lands or shikari’s (hunters) or contractors engaged in construction/mining in remote areas. With the introduction of Pajeros and Land Cruisers a more comfortable approach to the wilderness was available to the not so outdoors kind. Pakistan Army, the single largest possessor of Jeeps gradually phased out the American Legend and replaced its fleet with Toyotas, the auctioned Jeeps found their way in the driveways of enthusiasts, sparkling and shining rebuilt by a few master professionals.
Only a few mechanics specialize in re-building Jeeps in Karachi like Ghani, Late Dawood whose son now manages the workshop, Laloo, Noor Mohammad and Ustaad (Teacher) Shafi. Of these Late Dawood and Noor Mohammad were apprentices of Shafi, and like countless other apprentices, having learnt the skills and the ability to manage their own workshops ventured to start a new life, of course, with the blessings of their tutor – quite unlike the colleges, technical institutes and Universities conferring Degrees and Diplomas to successful candidates- they started their careers as mechanics. Dawood progressed to achieve International fame in rebuilding vintage Jeeps and restoring some of the finest, now in the collections of the rich and famous.
In their 40 odd years of professional lives they further passed on training and skills to countless number of students most of who are excellent mechanics themselves repairing cars and public transport vehicles, however, Shafi, like Dawood and Ghani mostly rebuilt Jeeps or other 4X4 vehicles.
My first encounter with Shafi was almost twenty years back when I had a 1974 Jeep with a 4 cylinder petrol engine. Driving back from the beach one day I took the Mirza Adam Khan Road and saw five or six jeeps parked outside a workshop, without thinking twice I turned into the gate and stopped, there were people working on Jeeps and all of them were sort of stunned at my behavior of trespassing that imaginary line, looking at me not moving, as if frozen. I stepped out and asked who the mechanic was, and a simple looking elderly man approached me and said; ’aaaan bolo’ (yes what can I do for you). I said my vehicle was a gas guzzler and the carb needed adjustment; ’pachaas rupiya oaenga’ (it’ll be fifty rupees) he replied without even looking under the hood what the problem was. I said I needed the work done not how much it would cost, and again it was the same reply in the typical Baluchi accent, I nodded in agreement. Ever since I have had millions of conversations with him covering a vast range of subjects; Jeeps, technology, space travel, National Geographic and Discovery Channel, drought, rainfall, politics, love affairs, family matters, boozing and prohibition, offroading, and movies; here I must mention his favorite actors; ’Butt Lungbaashter’ and ’Crack Dugluss’ were heroes of his era and the best movie ever made is ’Mecknas gold’.
Over the years Shafi has rebuilt over hundred Jeeps all according to the individual choice of customers ranging from heavy truck owners using jeeps for carting truck spares in case of breakdowns, hunters who normally are serious offroaders use Jeeps for their hunting trips, non 4X4 enthusiasts who just for the sake of having a Jeep for an occasional drive along the Beach Avenue on weekends, people either living or working on exploration, mining or construction projects in remote areas of Sindh and Baluchistan. Then there are these groups of people who are constantly out to discover shrines of Sufi saints in the most inaccessible and remote parts and religiously visit one or the other every Thursday evening, the further the shrine is away from civilization and the harsher the terrain the higher in esteem is the saint with no dearth of stories of miracles. And finally, there is a group of people like me who feel limbless without a Jeep, who have been rendered incapable of driving even the best luxury car available, their existence synonymous with Jeep and who venture out of cities once in a while on camping and offroading trips, in short for my type of customers, Jeep is a necessity and Shafi fully understands our requirements.
Having passed his knowledge down to his two sons, Ayub and Omar, It would take a lifetime for them to equal the experience and wisdom of 45 years of Shafi’s life, successfully rebuilding some of the finest Jeeps in Karachi. Standing, looking out through the 2nd floor window of his comfortable retreat with glazed eyes, he once said; ’kaisa zamana badal gaya hai, bohat achaa waqt guzara hai mae nae is shehr Karachi maen.’ (How times have changed, I have lived a full life in this city called Karachi.)