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Soldier Bazaar: Where Karachi lives up to its diversity

Published Jul 27, 2015 02:55pm

Soldier bazaar, near Jamshed Town in the Garden East area of Karachi, houses a beautiful, diverse society where people with all sorts of backgrounds coexist and support each other.

The majority is Muslim, but mixed in them are Hindus, Christians and people belonging to all sorts of ethnicities – Punjabi, Kashmiri, Sindhi, Muhajir, Balochi, Parsi, Memon, Gujarati and others.

As a street photographer and story writer, I had long wished to observe Soldier Bazaar and its community firsthand. Finally, this June, I got the chance.

It was a hot day, and we were on our city tour with the 'I am Karachi' team to explore the city's landmarks. As we entered the Soldier Bazaar area, it became fairly clear that this was a low-income area, and the market was full of second hand material.

During our discussion with the locals there, Faheem, a chicken shop owner told us, "There is no mobile snatching and robbery in Soldier Bazaar. You are free to roam on the streets at whatever time of the day, no one will dare loot or even touch you. This is one of Karachi's most peaceful societies."

Carts selling secondhand clothes at Soldier Bazaar.
Carts selling secondhand clothes at Soldier Bazaar.
Fruit vendors in the market.
Fruit vendors in the market.
Fruit vendors in the market.
Fruit vendors in the market.
Faheem Malik at his chicken shop.
Faheem Malik at his chicken shop.
Sugarcane juice being poured out.
Sugarcane juice being poured out.

It was noon and our team was buzzing with excitement to document this fantastic bazaar. We roamed the streets freely, cameras in our hands, with shopkeeper and pedestrian warmly welcoming us and happily telling us about their lives in the area.

I decided to start from a sugarcane juice stall, which is the most preferred summer drink in the locality.

On the right side of the road, beside the stall of the sugarcane juice, is a big building where we sat sipping the sweet beverage, wondering how old this building was. That is when some people sitting at the floor of the building called us and introduced us to the owner.

It turned out that the building was owned by one Imtiaz Khan, who was the only son of Bahadur Khan, who worked for the British in 1929, selling grass to earn a living.

Imtiaz is still living his life peacefully in Soldier Bazaar, seemingly unaffected by all the change around him. For him, if things are bad in the country today; they will be better tomorrow.

Palette at the old building.
Palette at the old building.
Imtiaz Khan, building owner.
Imtiaz Khan, building owner.
Locals sitting with cattle in the afternoon.
Locals sitting with cattle in the afternoon.
An old building behind the market of Soldier bazaar.
An old building behind the market of Soldier bazaar.

The locals sitting on the traditional takhts (beds) welcomed us into their lives, sharing their tales. According to Imtiaz, people come here to relax. Some also bring along their cattle to feed them.

Gulistan Muhammad Shafi Road is the starting point of Soldier Bazaar, where the footpath is occupied by either beggars or vendors. As I walked on these streets, I found a little girl trying to break some nuts with the help of a stone; it was endearing to see how occupied her task kept her.

The main building of the front market is an old one. There is also a church here named St. Lawrence. The priest allowed us to come inside and take pictures of the beautiful building.

Slum girl Pooja on the streets of the bazaar.
Slum girl Pooja on the streets of the bazaar.
Main road from where Soldier Bazaar begins.
Main road from where Soldier Bazaar begins.
The St. Lawrence Church.
The St. Lawrence Church.
The St. Lawrence Church.
The St. Lawrence Church.
Inside the St. Lawrence Church.
Inside the St. Lawrence Church.

There is also a Hanuman Temple in Soldier Bazaar, which is around 1500 years old. An old lady sits at the tunnel-like entrance, her eyes hazy and her face wrinkled, she is history's living witness.

She was hesitant to talk to us at first but gradually opened up. According to her, all spiritual literature that comes in from India is first distributed in this temple, after which it is sent out to other temples in Sindh. We were not permitted to photograph the temple for security reasons.

Ganga, the old lady of the temple at Soldier Bazaar.
Ganga, the old lady of the temple at Soldier Bazaar.
Entrance to the temple at Soldier Bazaar.
Entrance to the temple at Soldier Bazaar.
Inner view of the entrance, where Ganga has her small shop of idols.
Inner view of the entrance, where Ganga has her small shop of idols.

As our photography walk neared an end, I realised there were still so many interesting places I hadn't visited in Soldier Bazaar. I hope to save those for a second visit; another chance to discover the lives of the friendly communities of Soldier Bazaar.

Moyyedi Manzil aka Lal Building.
Moyyedi Manzil aka Lal Building.

—All photos by author