Email

Colours and conversation at Meena Bazaar

Updated Jul 11, 2015 03:06pm

As the sweltering heat wave in Karachi subsided, and Mother Nature decided to bless us with days of sea breeze, Eid preparations are back on track. Eid-ul-Fitr is the busiest time of the year for the shopkeepers of Meena Bazaar.

Long forgotten in the news, Meena Bazaar manages to hold a lively amount of devoted customers who do not prefer to go to any other marketplaces in Karachi.

In the Mughal Era, during the days of Nauroze, special bazaars would be set up only for women. These women came to prepare for the 5 to 8 day festivities and the Mughal Kings and Princes were the only men allowed.

It was usually famous among the women of the Harem (Mughal Concubines) and the wives and daughters of Rajput noblemen who put up stalls and sell expensive items.

Following the legacy, Meena Bazaar, located in Karimabad, is known to be one of the most famous bazaar among the local women. It was inaugurated in 1974, and since then it has been one of the most culturally rich and female-centric markets. Items such as jewelry, dupattas, bangles, cosmetics, kolapuris, khussas are some of the popular attractions.

The main entrance to the Bazaar.
The main entrance to the Bazaar.

Unlike the Mughal era Meena Bazaar, this one started as a marketplace which was reasonable and had a vast variety of ladies tailors and beauty parlours. But it was for it stalls of mehndi application that it quickly gained name as the word spread, women came from far off areas like DHA and Saddar. It is still said that wedding preparations are never complete without a visit to Meena Bazaar.

Taking a stroll through the small lanes of Meena Bazaar with my camera, I saw a variety of shopkeepers. Some gazed at me, puzzled, while I crossed a dozen shops without stopping, without bargaining.

Never in my entire life had I seen such a loud cluster of colours, shouting out of its skin to be photographed, to be preserved. It took a while before my eyes got accustomed to the hues of the brilliant yellow.

The hustle and bustle of visitors keeps this place alive till after midnight.
The hustle and bustle of visitors keeps this place alive till after midnight.
A quintessential street at Meena Bazaar.
A quintessential street at Meena Bazaar.

Across the lanes full of colourful dupattas and khussay, flat sandals and chunris.

The vibrant chunri dupattas.
The vibrant chunri dupattas.
Scarves displayed on unique mannequins.
Scarves displayed on unique mannequins.
Meena Bazaar is famous for its crafty dupatta corners. This trio of son, father and grandfather have worked here since 17 years.
Meena Bazaar is famous for its crafty dupatta corners. This trio of son, father and grandfather have worked here since 17 years.

A small shop at the corner fumes the lane up with heat, I draw closer to discover that they dye dupattas. The boy in the grey shirt in the below photograph tells me his father owned this shop and gave it to his brother on his death. Now, he is just an employee.

Skilled men dying dupattas into different shades.
Skilled men dying dupattas into different shades.
Some of the most traditionally designed choorian can also be purchased from Meena Bazaar.
Some of the most traditionally designed choorian can also be purchased from Meena Bazaar.

Also, how can there not be a chai wala at a place where Karachiites work from morn till midnight?

Shabran Ibrahim has been serving tea at Meena Bazaar for the last three years. He gets a commission of Rs.100 on selling 22 cups of tea. Once we were done conversing, he offered me a cup of tea as a gesture of goodwill, saying, "Baji aap thak gai ho geen camera pakre huay".

Shabran Ibrahim at work.
Shabran Ibrahim at work.

I was surprised to suddenly come across a bookstore here. A man from inside, wearing a white t-shirt poked his head out of the shop to ask what type of books I was interested in. Zaheer, at Siddique Book Store works with his brother and owns the one and only book and magazine store in Meena Bazaar. He has been here for 20 years now and mentioned sadly how his customers had dwindled over the years, "Nobody reads anymore".

"Aap ko harr kitaab mangwa kay de sakte hain, publisher se," Zaheer.
"Aap ko harr kitaab mangwa kay de sakte hain, publisher se," Zaheer.

Once I step out, I see an array of accessory stalls. Younger girls never return empty-handed from here. Amidst these, stands a tall Fahad at his stall. He has been working here for five years. He expresses how thankful he is to God and says, "Thori halal kamai ziada haram se behtar hai". He also happily adds how his sales have peaked due to Eid.

Fahad, 25.
Fahad, 25.

I think my most favorite person in Meena Bazaar was the amrood wala, Sabir chacha. Sabir and I had a detailed discussion about his time spent at the footpath of this very bazaar. He has been sitting at the same place for 35 years, and has developed a sense of home among the younger shopkeepers with time. They often approach him for advice and take care of him by carrying his basket of amroods.

Sabir Chacha guides a boy about keeping change.
Sabir Chacha guides a boy about keeping change.

It makes me sad to look around at the old and crumbling Meena Bazaar, dilapidated among all the air-conditioned expensive malls in Karachi; brands appear to have blinded us to soul and history.

Meena Bazar from the top.
Meena Bazar from the top.