Moti Bazaar is at least 120 years old. It sits in the heart of Rawalpindi city, and is visited by shoppers from across the Potohar region, Azad Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “From newborns’ clothing to anything you would need for a wedding, you can get everything at Moti Bazaar – that’s what it’s famous for,” explains a trader from the market, who is also the spokesperson for the supreme council of Rawalpindi traders.
The market was named after a local resident, Moti Lal, who opened the gates of his haveli to orphans and women who escaped the satti ritual during the 1880s. Moti Lal’s haveli still stands in the middle of the market, but is now used as a government school for boys. The building originally served as a Kanya Ashram, and gradually, women at the ashram began selling homemade clothes and handicrafts.
With the passage of time, those few shops turned into a bustling marketplace that has spread to the adjoining streets.
Home to over 1,400 shops, this is what is now known as Moti Bazaar.
The market is known for items most often bought by women: stitched and unstitched fabrics, wedding attire, cosmetics, jewellery, baby clothes, wedding decorations and more. Mohammad Hussain is a tailor who has worked at Moti Bazaar for over 35 years. “The bazaar has changed a lot over the last three decades,” he recalled. “Back then, the bazaar had a small number of shops and a lot of customers, but now there are a lot of shops, the bazaar is expanding, but the customers are decreasing.”
Moti Bazaar is made up of around 12 markets, with narrow streets that connect various roads and lead to one central location. Each street has its own, unique variety. If one street is known for its selection of shoes, the other is famous for wedding dresses; if one carries unstitched fabric, the other bangles and jewellery.
“The bazaar has a unique history. It is known primarily as a women’s bazaar, since most of the shoppers are women and women’s items are available here at lower prices than at other markets,” Malik Naseer, the general secretary of the Moti Bazaar traders union, said. But according to Mr Naseer, this also creates a unique problem for the market’s shoppers and sales people: women pickpockets.
“Moti Bazaar has narrow streets, which are usually overcrowded. We have cases, almost daily, where women pick pockets. Even if we catch them red handed no one is interested in registering a case against them,” Mr Naseer said. “We expect the government and the police to provide a mechanism through which such wrongdoings are snubbed.” Sheikh Awais, a young shopkeeper at a traditional dress shop is from the third generation of a family that has done business in Moti Bazaar. “My grandfather started this business here many years ago. He imported traditional clothes from Sindh and southern Punjab, and since then we have done well here,” he said.
“After my father, my brother and I took up the business.”
“We lived in the UK for over two decades, but we came back to shop for my daughter’s wedding,” a shopper from Gujar Khan, Mrs Qureshi, said. “There are many other markets and malls where we can get a lot of things, but I think wedding shopping is incomplete without a visit to Moti Bazaar.”
Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2016