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.