The kind of people you encounter in Sunday Bazaar

For those of you not from Karachi, Pakistan and who do not know what Sunday Bazaar is, it is a huge open thrift market in the posh locality of Defence where you find anything and everything, from bolts of luxurious fabrics to original oil paintings to fruits and vegetables to wicker baskets to leather jackets to second-hand books of all genres to used shoes and bags to disposed off toys and electronics among many other things my brain refuses to do an inventory for. Essentially a wholesale-cum-flea market which opens on, you guessed it, Sundays only. And for those of you living in Karachi who don’t know what Sunday Bazaar is, what rock are you living under?

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So considering that Sunday Bazaar is a one-stop shop, it is obvious that it would be frequented by all and sundry, but keeping in mind the strange dynamics of this city, ‘all and sundry’ becomes a lot more entertaining than you would expect, especially the interaction, or lack thereof between those visiting the bazaar. Here is a glimpse into the wide variety of our species I have encountered there.

The Tribal Clan

Karachi is a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities, the proverbial ‘greener pasture’ that people from all over the country come to settle in, hence it should come as no surprise when you see flocks of shuttlecock-burka-clad pakhtoon females descend like a blue cloud upon the stalls and begin conversing in rapid-fire Pushto with the mostly Pathan vendors. On the very next stall you might find a small family of fifteen from Hub, Balochistan, who have hired a Bedford truck for their trip to this shoppers’ paradise. They provide a colorful backdrop for the Sindhi clan in their mirrored frocks and scores of children, as they peruse the shiny, gawldun jewellery for the next wedding in the tribe. There is absolutely no shortage of our tribal brethren in this vast space where all of Pakistan seems united for once.

The Celebrities

For the entertainment-starved people here, there might be days when a ray of hope shines upon them in the form of a grimy person covered in the Phase 8 dust, who happens to be famous for some reason or another; well mostly their pretty face since intellectuals don’t really have any mass popularity over here. You might see your favourite TV actor strutting about in Designer sunglasses (which you could find two streets away at a corner stall) and pausing in front of you expectantly waiting for you to ask for their autograph, or you might catch a glimpse of a famous singer haggling with the fruit-wala in a not-so-melodic voice, or you might even see an actress who dared to step outside her house with NO MAKE UP AT ALL! Imagine the horror of seeing her as a NORMAL HUMAN BEING!

The Bookworms

There is a special breed of homo sapiens who have a strange affinity for the written word, and you can easily find them bent over rows upon rows of books at the bookstalls in Sunday Bazaar, studiously ignoring the cacophony of human voices that surrounds them as they withdraw into their book-bound bubble. These people come in all shapes and sizes, belonging to all ages, and chances are that if you saw them in the morning as you entered the bazaar, you will find them in the same shop when you are leaving three hours later, with the only difference now being the presence of a plastic bag full of treasures they unearthed during their long and exhaustive search.

Jbtw I also belong to this category…

The Babyboomers

It is not hard to find this haggard family as the fathers portray Jason Statham-like driving skills, manoeuvring baby strollers through narrow alleys carrying sweaty toddlers dripping ice cream in their wake, while the mothers pacify cranky babies with every form of rattling bling-bling they can gather at the junk corner. More often than not, the babyboomers seem to be on a mission to come, conquer and go as soon as possible, before the baby poops and they have no way to change the diaper in this desert wasteland, so to speak. It is very rare that you see a quiet family of this kind and when you do, you wonder if the zombie apocalypse has arrived because it just seems so unreal.

The Football Fanatics

As you near the footwear area, you find yourself surrounded by complete teams of kitted out teenagers in heated discussions over Nike vs. Adidas, Studs vs. No Studs, Green vs. Black and so on and so forth, extolling the virtues of their favorite player wearing so and so shoes. Sometimes you will find a lone adolescent boy stubbornly pointing at his favorite pair of Nikes while his mother continues to lecture him on the vice of overspending while at the same unsuccessfully tries to convince him to buy a cheap China-made copy which the vendor swears comes from the same Nike factory.

The Scavengers

The early bird gets the worm, and the first to arrive at the bazaar are those who look to sweep the arena clear of the bounties it has to offer. You might not even find the Scavengers after noon because they were the ones who probably helped the sellers unpack their wares during the early hours, while simultaneously setting aside everything they find worth a dime. If you have been wondering why you never find the good stuff, chances are that the good stuff is now the property of these hawks and it will never see the light of the sun again. Ever.

The Misfit Aunties

These are the stereotypical Burger aunties who seemed to have somehow teleported from their drawing rooms straight into the midst of this “Durrty Old Peasant Village” in their expensive lawn suits, sleeveless tops, capris and perfect manicures and blowdries. These ladies also happen to be very active at those stalls that sell *cough* fake *cough* Designer handbags, which they would flaunt at the next kitty party when they explain how difficult it was to obtain this last item from Louis Vitton’s Fall/Winter collection on their recent trip to Italy. They would be conversing in English with the shopkeeper who would answer right back in Urdu and somehow a transaction would take place while you remain lost in translation. If you ask them though, they will most likely look very confused as to how they came to be in this place, telling you in their most earnest voice that it is their very first time coming to Sunday Bazaar only because it is so close to their palace on 26th street and they suddenly found themselves free this unfortunate Sunday.

The Farangi

These are typically the children of the above mentioned aunties, who went abroad for higher studies after A-levels. They turn up at the bazaar in tanktops and shorts and flip-flops and bandanas, and stroll about the bazaar likening it to the flea-markets they visited on their road trip across the States, looking over at the mass of humanity they would hold a social dialogue about among themselves in their most native American accents, on issues plaguing the Third World which the American President’s latest reforms will most definitely solve of course. You might even find them clicking away on their DSLRs capturing the ‘true face of Pakistan’ while they go about telling each other not to touch anything cuz germs bro.

The Foreigners

The ACTUAL farangis who are ACTUALLY seeing this place for the first time perhaps would belong to all races and nationalities, the tanned Americans/Europeans still carrying their backpacks around, the Russians and Ukrainians who sometimes are mistaken for our Pathan brothers, the Africans often wrongly accused of participating in the Lyari warfare and the Orientals who seem to be always in such a hurry to get to the next stall. If they are smart, they will escape the claws of the vendors who heap bags upon bags of “Vairry Chheep” things ‘Made in Pakistan’, turning their stalls into souvenir shops making the foreigners wonder how anybody thought things are affordable here.

The k3wL BwØ!z and Gµ®Lz

If during your journey through the maze of Sunday Bazaar, you come across young men whistling, humming, singing latest Bollywood songs, swaggering in tight jeans in unthinkable eye-popping colors, wearing sunglasses with the stickers still on, and hair gelled back very very carefully, then you behold what we call the ‘kewlbwoiz’. They truly believe they are the perfect substitute of Zayn Malik or Fawad Khan, with the right amount of star quality. Their female counterparts are the heavily made-up, high heeled, blinged-out, fancy dressed ‘kewlgurlz’ who treat the potholed streets as their modelling ramp, throwing Kareena Kapoor inspired hair flips left, right and center. They fully believe they have the filmi husn and hoshruba ada that will score the kewlbwoizez affections and they will promptly break their shiny, little man-child hearts by shifting their attentions to the used spiked and long leather boots which they will pair with their denim-patterned tights and diamante-studded ruffled tops; because really who has a better fashion sense than them, hain jaanu?

The Mazdoors and The Vendors

Last but not the least, the natives of the bazaar itself; the shopkeepers who make their livelihoods based on the whims of the buyers, the vendors whose disposition varies as much as the dwarves that Snow White lived with. Then there are the mazdoors, from toddlers to adults, running after you with their woven baskets, asking if you want a porter to carry all your shopping for you; sometimes you’ll have three boys fighting over who gets to carry your onions and tomatoes. Not quite how you daydreamed eligible bachelors competing for your affections but you snap out of your reverie when you realize they are fighting for a right to the measly wage of perhaps 20 rupees, a small denomination note whose absence you never noticed till it started resembling the 5000 rupee note. They add another depth to the characters you meet in this giant labyrinth you navigate through.

This is of course my own experience in the Sunday Bazaar and I have only listed the most memorable types of people I have seen there, obviously not covering ALL those who visit. Well then, Sunday is upon us and I am off to get myself another stack of novels at a bargain now.

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Only A Moment

It only takes a moment

to stop a beating heart

for happiness to leave us

for lovers to part

 

and it only takes a moment

for good times to pass

when memories are erased

and the end comes atlast

 

and it only takes a moment

for joys to turn away

when doom walks in

and life walks away

 

and it only takes a moment

for the men to fall

as the women grieve

for they’ve lost it all

 

and it only takes a moment

for the walls to collapse

as the roof caves in

dust fills in the gaps

 

and it only takes a moment

as blood runs like water

the mother mourns her son

the father, his daughter

 

and it only takes a moment

for a child to pick a gun

when his toys have been destroyed

his heart burns like the sun

 

and it only takes a moment

of sheer insanity

for you to lose control

and your humanity

 

and it only takes a moment

for brothers to be divided

as the protectors face

all enemies united

 

and it only takes a moment

for the first arrow to fly

and so it begins

when innocents die

 

and it only takes a moment

for your city to burn

the roads become deserted

and ghosts haunt every turn

 

and it only takes a moment

when all you knew was gone

all you had, you lost

nothing has been won

 

and it only takes a moment

for evil to reign supreme

when the good has fallen

your soul you can’t redeem

 

and it only takes a moment

for darkness to descend

the spark of life extinguished

we meet the fated end…

 …but it only takes a moment

for a young heart to start beating

the spark of life is ignited

witness a new beginning

(Note: This poem and its Urdu translation were presented at the International Forum of Youth Poetesses, 2013, held in Baku, Azerbaijan by the Great SilkWay International Youth Union.)

Across My Universe – III

On my quest to reach my destination I race forward on the jugular vein of Karachi’s roadmap, Shahrah-e-Faisal, a road if blocked, could bring the whole city to a standstill and flood every street to the west with cars trying to make their way across town. I smile at the irony of the warning signs on the boundary walls of military force’s protected areas on either side of the road saying “trespassers will be shot on sight”, wondering about those trespassers who shoot on sight instead. But as a civilian the armed force’s business is none of my concern so I shall go on with my life as I always have, with their presence always on the periphery of our existence, often encroaching, never retreating.
I have reached the famous Metropole Hotel roundabout, a place once a jewel in the crown of Karachi, the hub of social activities now considered immoral by the confused conservative masses fed the doctrine of hate for liberalism and social advancement. Could I actually believe the stories my parents tell me of foreigners, celebrities and socialites drinking and dancing, gaming and gambling in this dilapidated building? Some of its hollow, half-boarded windows like melancholy eyes hiding memories of its glory days in their dark depths, now home to pigeons and their nests, their droppings like salty tears dripping down the broken facade, making it look like the sad face of an elder bruised and beaten by changing times and replaceable rulers, an elder who has much to tell but none who would listen. The offices inhabiting it and posters of foreign airlines adorning its walls are a cruel reminder of the days non-stop flights brought westerners to its welcoming doors. No, I find it too hard to believe such days existed, or maybe I cannot accept that my unfortunate generation never has and never will experience the golden days of the place I call home with no happy stories to tell my children.
With these sad thoughts I pass by the Frere Hall, a hauntingly beautiful and surprisingly intact reminder of the British rule. A library I always wanted to visit, a place I feel my unread self unworthy of stepping into, telling myself that one day I would have read enough books to not feel intimidated when I enter through its doors, another fear stopping me from going because I might never want to leave its high ceilinged rooms and lush green lawns. Perhaps tomorrow I will go, perhaps this weekend, perhaps never.
I keep going straight, past more sandstone buildings whose architecture hints at the British influence, now old and crumbling as weary passengers of time carried away by the elements, making way for steel and glass behemoths that overwhelm the subtle beauty of the old structures that none now have the time or patience to pause, observe and appreciate anymore. What we can observe is the graffiti on the walls near this bridge beyond which the new world awaits; walls that peek out from behind yellowed posters loudly announcing political rallies done and gone, and where there are no posters along the side one could see spray painted advertisements for witch doctors who have cures for all ailments, physical or spiritual, ranging from “mardana kamzori” as a euphemism for male impotency, to finding your soul mate, just a call away. Beneath this bridge there is a juxtaposition of the rich majority and poor minority, a church that hints at the presence of this local community given airtime on national TV only on Christmas or when the fundamentalists burn their houses down.
I descend the bridge into the utopia where suddenly you see big shiny cars driven by drivers whose salaries are a fraction of what the kids they drive around get as pocket money from parents who search for happiness in money and an elevated social status. Here, the more traffic rules you break, the more it hints at you being above the law. Everyone is headed towards their own illusion of an oasis that shimmers and beckons towards supposedly greener pastures. Maybe my vision is bleak, limited and weak, but this slow and steady spiral into decay, this rat race that leads to a moldy piece of cheese at the centre of this maze is one from which we cannot escape.
I stop at the red light at the crossing of Teen Talwar, literally Three Swords; three tall marble columns each representing Unity, Faith and Discipline as the qualities the founder of this nation wished to see in his people. This once proud remembrance of our country’s formation is thronged annually on our independence day and forgotten on the rest, or when some political leader requires a landmark where he could gather his followers. I feel the faint stirrings of that spirit of patriotism that drove me to salute every passing policeman as a child, only to have it crushed as I realize this abused structure now means nothing more to this generation than a phallic symbol to form the punchline of some political joke.
It makes me wonder if I’m an idealist, with an undying faith in the goodness of my people, one who would not, could not, accept that every man here is evil, but is a victim of his circumstances. It makes me wonder if I would accept the measly bribe handed to the traffic warden by the sahib in his car if I was in that warden’s old and cracked dusty black boots. Would I have broken the rules and appeased the warden with that money if I was sitting in that car instead? The truly scary part of being in this place is that there is no easy answer to this question. Maybe I am a cynic after all.
I bypass the high street of the city where designer stores line the cramped streets jammed with big, expensive cars and jeeps. The irony is not lost on me. I feel claustrophobic, not sure if it is the pollution from depleting fossil fuel these vehicles are burning, or an existential crisis on some metaphysical level that I’m suffering from. I race to get out and find open space, unintentionally challenging a youth in his souped up sports car who races past me, momentarily ecstatic at having “smoked me”. This race with a random stranger is a battle not of cars but of egos, occasionally there might even be the show of the middle finger to the loser, who would subsequently look for another stranger to beat and show the finger to. It is a vicious cycle, making us all adrenaline junkies living in fleeting moments. The sheer lack of any progressive, healthy activity makes us anxious to become the bystander of any event, incident or accident. We like to stop and watch as two men fight each other over a bump on the fender, we like to squeeze into the view of the cameraman in hopes of coming on TV while the reporter struggles to remain relevant covering bombings, we like to ransack the city along with namaloom afraad who may have a different agenda behind their violence but all we want is an outlet for our frustration, we like to beat up a robber caught red handed because this criminal represents every other criminal that we encountered at least once in our lives.
I now pass between mansions through a small diversion courtesy some real estate magnate who rips the thoroughfare to build a golden city smack in the middle of a heritage site. A fifteen second blur of slums on either side and I break free into little America where the “burgers” live, where cars number more and clothes cover less, where nannies raise children and the mothers attending charity events for other underprivileged children would not be caught dead speaking their mothertongue because Urrdew is like…so ugh. School kids here wear their uniforms to elite(!) fast food restaurants where everyone should kiss the ground they walk on because nobody else could possibly afford to go to such a premium institute. Their younger siblings do not understand what a playground is because they are too absorbed in Angry Birds and the gadgets it runs on.
As I pass the tomb of a famous holy man I see those who have nowhere else to go for their prayers, I see malangs dancing in a trance, and I see those climbing the stairs for whom being religious is fashionable. Hypocrisy and pretence are necessary weapons if we wish to be respectable, making me painfully aware of how I self-righteously mock the citizens. I see the sea and the homes facing the sea. I see the peeling paint and exposed bricks, I see the patterns on the walls where sewerage pipes leaked, I see rust and decay of men and materials.
I step onto the sandy beach of the Indian ocean that claims lives on special occasions; I am suddenly calmed by the noise of waves breaking on the shore, distanced from the cold reality, a cliche as old as any. So many identities in this city, so many faces, so many stories that would never be told because no one would stop to ask if the frowns on the faces hide pain beyond the ordinary, if they have gained what they lost or lost what they gained. We all are fighting our own demons, we all are cogs in this machine that grinds us down in the guise of daily life. We live the extraordinary everyday; it is a blessing that we get to live everyday. We look half a man but carry the burden of more. We seem apathetic but feel to the core. We curse this place and embrace it every second. We are my city and this journey across my universe has come to an end.

Across My Universe – II

As my journey continues, I overtake Qingqi trikes carrying ten passengers in the space for five and am roused from my deep thoughts by its puttering predecessor, the small but readily available rickshaw. I think about the times I’ve travelled in this three-wheeler with no doors, hiding my purse from passing motorcyclists/possible looters and trying to tame my hair that my fluttering dupatta is never able to contain. Bedhead has nothing on Rickshawhead. But I actually like the longer rides I’ve taken where its engine’s tinny whine drowns out all sounds and its violently trembling chassis numbs my senses enough for my mind to push all thoughts about trivial everyday activities aside and blank out in peace; a peace shattered by either aggressive honking by those angered by the rickshaw proudly going the wrong way, or the arrival of my destination where, an amateur at haggling, I surrender the twenty rupees I couldn’t lie about not being part of the usual fare to this point.
That’s another talent a person is either born with or not, the art of skillful bargaining, a talent I sadly do not possess, neither am I proud of it because it points to a future where I won’t be able to eventually buy a car from the saving that I could do by haggling for every ten rupee note at every fruit/vegetable vendor’s cart during the regular grocery shopping, every free yard I may persuade a cloth seller to include in my unstitched suit purchase, or every extra mile ahead of the stop I mention as my drop off point that I push public transport to take me to save on my fare. In my city this skill is key to economic survival, a skill I see my mother use so efficiently when she announces with unquestionable certainty that tomatoes are priced 20% less at every other vendor’s shop in the city but she won’t go there because this location is more convenient. This is a confidence born of experience and knowledge. I see my sister-in-law use it in another highly effective manner when she takes the item in question and proclaims it hers for a price she deems worthy of it and suddenly the seller finds himself unable to argue with one as sure of herself as my bhabi. And then there is me, whose belief in the general goodness of humanity, faith in justice and overall exasperation with the idea of an argument leads me to hand over the money for the first price quoted by the lucky guy who gets to sell anything to me. It’s a strange flaw in my character where instead of considering it my right to ask for the remaining amount back I feel too embarrassed to take back what’s actually mine and pacify myself with the thought that it is a charity that might just grant me sainthood.
I’m pulled out of my reverie by the traffic jam caused by the long line of cars idling on the main road outside a filling station, hoping to fill up on CNG before it’s too late and the CNG stations close down for the next day owing to shortage of gas supply in the country. Everything here is erratic, from fuel supply to electricity to the stock market to the temperaments of the people who need all these things. It shows in how they live, also in how they behave on the roads; mullahs driving fast straight ahead because that is the path of the righteous, motorcyclists swerving in out of tiny gaps as if they spent their childhoods winning at Tetris, some small hatchback drivers who graduated from motorbikes yet still believe a car operates in the same way, buses which have the accelerator built into the seat because once the driver sits the bus doesn’t stop till its lack of wings is the only thing preventing it from flying, also that particular class of car owners we label “nayi corolla waley” who retain plastic seat covers and AFR number plates in the delusion that theirs is the very latest brand new car on the road and they are the true Dominic that the Fast and Furious franchise needs, these drivers are usually the ones who think every stretch of road is a quarter mile drag but end up hauling the totalled remains of their precious vehicle because they were and always will be Mr. M. Bashir etc. And then there are the VVIPs; the ones who can’t yet afford Prados so they let the national exchequer pay for a few, who have haari toiling on their fields but they choose to live in the cities where they can actually spend their inheritance with a flourish, trying to one up their neighbour in defence who’s doing the exact same thing. But the one entity that instills fear in every man, woman, child and dog on the road is the female car driver; an individual who remains the butt of every driving joke yet retains the power to get any man beaten up by “ghairatmand mard hazrat for actually pointing out her mistake. As long as the misogynists criticise women drivers, the feminists will support women’s right to wreak havoc on the main roads, but the female driver will always remain a mysterious object that everyone wants to look at, maybe even touch and tease, but never get hit by.
Not to forget the pedestrians who are every driver’s worst nightmare, and come in a wide variety ranging from handholding supposedly straight men walking on the sides, kids playing cricket or football on the roads because their playground is a victim of landgrabbing, whole families with mothers carrying-slash-dragging their offspring across while always forgetting the one child who stops in the middle of the road thinking it best to go back to heaven. And then the shadowy burka-clad ladies who suddenly imagine themselves invisible AND invincible once the burka is on. One can only watch them in incredulous wonder as they float across the roads as if granted the power to walk on water and be immaterial. None of which is true of course because all they are, are a demonic version of Harry Potter’s dementors. Funny thing about these pedestrians is they would curse the same once they’re behind the wheel for doing the exact same thing they themselves must have done numerous times.
Self-serving selective amnesia is a national characteristic I suppose, just as I am presently choosing to ignore my own contributions to this culture by blaming everyone else. I am no better than the passenger in the car next to mine, nor is he better than me, yet we would each like to think that only we are privy to some secrets of this universe, the chosen few awarded certain privileges that we have no clue of but would still like to boast about.
Such are my thoughts as I finally break free from the jam after inching forward long enough to mentally compile this blog post. And the journey is still only half-done. I must continue.

Across My Universe – I

This is a journey across my city, the fifth, or perhaps the sixth most populous city in the world. The statistics don’t matter, it’s what I see and what I live with. The people I brush shoulders with unwittingly, unwanted touches with a wrinkle of my nose, squeezing my existence to pass thru a shred in the fabric of humanity that is bursting at the seams. This is my city of crime and punishment by the criminals, of war and peace not found by the warriors, of pride and prejudice of the all classes of society, this is Karachi the lifeblood of my country and of me.
I am sitting in an air conditioned car, setting off from one corner of this concrete jungle to the very edge where sand meets sea and towering corporate headquarters of multinationals jut out from the ground, standing guard over the restless waves crashing against the walls of reclaimed land.
I certainly am one of the lucky ones protected from the blinding sun in my shiny black car, an elite in one neighbourhood, a pauper in the next. Middle class has its own pros and cons, that of easy negligence by the policy makers and constricting restrictions by everyone else. It certainly has its benefits when I find I could blend in with the jet setting crowd holding designer bags buying more designer bags in shopping malls, as easily as I could with the masses in a flea market, wearing rip-offs of designer lawn suits and a chaadar over my head. I am lucky because I get to choose what class I could represent whenever I wish. That is more than what seventy percent of the population could hope for. Someone with a different perspective might consider me unfortunate in this respect; I suppose the twenty million or so perspectives residing here are what make this city survive the brutal reality of daily life anyway.
I cross the amusement park that opened for elites ages ago but with it’s decay it came alive as a playground for the masses. The typical route every new source of entertainment over here takes, be it a restaurant, a mall or a cinema. What once would be frequented by the latte-sipping, capris-clad crowd would become the haunt for those who come here as an upgrade from sea view, while those upscale eateries make way for cheap fast food stalls whose menu lists items like “franch frice” and “brost chikan”.
I ponder these changes as I pass by shops that used the ampersand as if they had an Epiphany that calling their shop Milk & Milk or Cool & Tasty would bring in more sales, three separate small stores called Bismillah Superstore, a questionable Good Luck Men’s Salon, a few pathan hotels where the taste makes one forego their doubts about the dubious ingredients, and those shady small nooks with tinted windows, nestled between bigger shops, that could either be shisha-offering hangouts for college drop-outs playing snooker or offices for estate agents.
I realize I have only come a few kilometers away from the start. There is much to see yet in this city, much more I must put into words as I continue my journey.