Husn e Bazaar-aan

Saddar is the heart of Karachi. Whenever my father goes hazy over the days when he would walk from Manora cottage (ancestral home which by some weird family conspiracy was sold off and is now a block of flats) to Urdu bazaar and back before breakfast, he almost manages to convince me of a time when Bandar road and Empress Market might have been places worth living in or near to. With trams, and cinemas showing ‘The Guns of Navarone’, and sha’ers and artists on every corner, everybody knowing everybody over a cup of kehwa at one of the tea houses… seems surreal doesn’t it? Most of this must be fantasy tinged memory, but old black and white pictures do depict a Karachi that is safe, clean and (can you imagine this?) sparsely populated.

But khaer, times change, people move on and move in, and while moving in they get married and have 12 or so children who then have 7 or so children each (seven because the family planning ads finally get through their skulls); and if you continue this generation after generation it explains how this city is the quagmire of people that it is now. Khaer, we were talking of Saddar, and though it’s nothing like my father’s memory, it’s still a pretty fantasy tinged place.

For one, you can find everything in Saddar at insanely cheap prices, and amazingly large amounts. It’s unbelievable the amount of materiel they can fit in their 20 by 20 feet shops. Ask for anything: say yellow and green striped felt (no, I did not ask for anything that gaudy- it’s just an example) and the sales guy will squeeze between rolls and rolls of parachute, felt, Rexene and plastic, climb over 25 borian, jump onto a ledge and then disappear, returning 5 minutes later with eight or nine samples of green and yellow striped felt.
And two, it’s still Saddar, with its ancient looking, angrez ke zamaney ki buildings interspersed between ugly commercial blocks of cement. Because when you peer into a gali you can see life going on as it probably did 50 years ago, it all smells and looks like early independence years. I don’t know why; maybe the spirits of puraney muslim leegis still sit where all the old tea houses were and talk about the British Raj.

I love Saddar and all its creepy crawly streets filled with thousands of people not really doing anything at all but still pretending to be so busy, and the smells and the dhuan. Dumb things to love, but Karachi is like that. Like the guy who’s hopelessly flawed and unsuitable in every single way but you still can’t think of anyone better than him. You have to be insanely in love with Karachi to take some of the shit she spews out every day. Like the power outages, the icky people, the sewage problems and the traffic- oh my God- the traffic.
You may arrive in Saddar safe and sound, but you can never leave. It’s Hotel California without the pink champagne on ice. And when you try, they (as to who ‘they’ are, I can’t say) command every rickshaw, bus and motorcycle in the area to block your path. And then proceed to asphyxiate you.
And right about now is when your father starts cursing those manhoos immigrants from everywhere else in the country who control public transport but don’t feel the necessity of giving a driving exam or following any traffic law whatsoever; and banks who lease cars out to every Rashid, Ahmed and Saqlain without caring about the effect it’ll have on the already miserable traffic situation in the country. At this point, your mp 3 player or iPod is your best friend.

It’s funny how no matter how many times you go to Saddar (and not just M.A Jinnah road or Zaibunnnisa street) but inside the galian into the many markets that lie within the area (Sarafa bazaar and Khori Garden etc), you’ll find something new and- how else can I say it- nostalgic. Things that remind you of how old Saddar must have been; like the Jinnah cap house and the nameless breakfast café where we had the best Paratha in the city. If ever a place had atmosphere- it’s Saddar.

8 Responses to “Husn e Bazaar-aan”
  1. Absar Shah says:

    Oh yes! I’ve been lost in the streets of Sadar too! I remember we used to go there to get some chemicals for making our circuit boards when we were doing our robotics project back in college. And man we used to get lost! In fact, once, I got the headlights stolen off my car while I was roaming the streets 😛 THAT, can only happen in Sadar 😛

    Very beautifully written, by the way, especially this part: maybe the spirits of puraney muslim leegis still sit where all the old tea houses were and talk about the British Raj.

  2. SAWJ says:

    My mother tells me she used to walk all the way from Nazimabad to Habib Girls School with her grandfather and I say yeah, right!

    @Absar: Remember those RF PCBs and VCOs?

  3. Safiullah says:

    Yeah, loved the article, Karachi will always be my home and Saddar is no doubt the heart of it. I used to go to Saddar by bus back in the day, it was a one hour ride through the traffic and all and man it used to be a trip. There was a time when I was considered a PhD on Saddar in my family (darn for me that I still am.)

    Happy times…. Then I got a car and all hell broke loose.

  4. SAWJ says:

    “All hell broke lose…” How accurate! 😀

  5. Hira S. says:

    It can happen in Golimar and Liyari as well. Karachi rules.
    By the way thanks 😀
    Nazimabad to Habib girls?? That’s a bit much…
    What happened when you got a car? And the bus is the most practical way to get to Saddar. It saves a whole lot of hassle. Been to Sarafa bazaar and inside Boulton market?

  6. Safiullah says:

    Sure, I used to buy cartons of juices and chocolates at dirt cheap prices in bulk from bolton.

    I also used to get surgical goods for the hospital from the area near St joseph…

    Then there is the burns road where the food is absolutely fabulous (and cheap).

  7. Absar Shah says:

    @Hira: And so can it happen in Sher Shah. Actually, there people can strip all the part from the car and leave you with only the chassis in a matter of 30 minutes. That’s why we always left one friend to guard the car whenever we went there 😛

    @SAWJ: That was a different project. When did we ever go to Sadar for the RF PCB? And don’t mention the VCOs – you sat on your behind the whole time! 😛

  8. SAWJ says:

    @Absar: I sat on my behind, are you f kiddin me? I got those damn VCOs solded to the bloody boards man! And I meant these boards, not the RF PCBs. Sorry for the switch. 😀

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