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INDEPENDENCE DAY: THE COLOUR OF MONEY

Updated August 13, 2017

The minute you step into the periphery of the Karachi’s Paper Market the first sounds you will hear are “150 ka do, 150 ka do”[Two for 150 rupees, two for 150 rupees] and then “Germany na Japan, agaya naya Pakistan!” [Not Germany nor Japan, this is the new Pakistan!]

It’s the time of Independence Day celebrations again and for a few years now we’ve found a new way to show off how patriotic we are. The 70th anniversary of the birth of Pakistan is set to be commemorated by going all out — or, for some, pretending it doesn’t exist.

While old city market areas like Bohri Bazaar, Zainab Market, Paper Market and Kharadar are going all out in their décor for the upcoming August 14 celebrations, high-street fashion brands such as Rolex, Outfitters and Khaadi have opted for a minimalistic approach to the event. Small shopowners at Bohri Bazaar are proudly showing off their green-and-white merchandise which they have put up on sale till August 13th.”

August 14th has now become a little about how much you spend on celebrating it

Growing up in a middle class family, I always felt excited seeing people putting up flag buntings, green and white streamers and big and small flags outside their houses, on their cars or motorcycles — and any other place you could think of. That was normal.

It is the one day of the year when nobody minds how much electricity you steal from a kunda connection for the fairy lights decorating the entire street. Nor do your neighbours care how loud you play patriotic songs — whether its classics by Shehnaz Begum, Mehdi Hasan, and Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, a modern take on classics from Coke Studio or pop songs from the ‘90s such as those by Vital Signs and Junoon.

My generation grew up with simple festive décor and patriotic music; children today have so much more on offer in terms of the number of things they can do, buy or wear to show off how ‘patriotic’ they are. One mother I spoke to at the Paper Market talked of how confused she was about what to buy for the August 14th celebration at her daughter’s school.

“There are so many new things in the market and the prices have just increased again. I didn’t even bring her along because she would want to buy everything.” And this is exactly how commercialisation has grown ­— where maybe less than a decade ago most schools would have remained closed on this national holiday, now children have to attend Independence Day celebrations at school, dressed in green and white clothes.

As a result, parents have to hunt for shirts and dresses in the colours of the flag. While earlier decorating was limited to bunting, streamers and flags, now the market offers a wide array of accessories such as flower crowns, bracelets, rings that light up with a small switch, head bands (rabbit ears ones, too), umbrella caps, fake nails, wigs, masks, balloons, hats, Sindhi topis for boys, glasses, key chains, and plastic cards with the portrait of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, banners, sleeves and so on.

According to a stall vendor in Paper Market, the season for themed products starts from June and lasts until August 14 and the number of products on sale grows every year. Additionally, the products from Paper Market in Karachi are also taken to Lahore and other towns and cities in Pakistan.

According to a stall vendor in Paper Market, the season for themed products starts from June and lasts until August 14 and the number of products on sale grows every year. Additionally, the products from Paper Market in Karachi are also taken to Lahore and other towns and cities in Pakistan.

Besides entire markets being flooded with green-and-white-themed products, small roadside stalls have also been set up all over the city. On Bahadurabad Chowrangi one such stall-owner, Rizwan, says he sells fruits the rest of the year but earns more from the seasonal stall he puts up for Independence Day merchandise, and has the most sales between August 12 and August 14.

The markets look festive with themed products such as printed shirts, decorations, embroidered caps, printed T-shirts, hats, beads, badges and flags| White Star
The markets look festive with themed products such as printed shirts, decorations, embroidered caps, printed T-shirts, hats, beads, badges and flags| White Star

The market has been growing year by year. While the whole year, consumers would find products with ‘Made in China’ tags on them, sellers and vendors now proudly shout that the flags and other items are absolutely genuine, “Made in Pakistan”.

Some people may criticise the overt commercialisation of Yaumm-i-Azadi but for many small-business and stall- owners, it has been a blessing in disguise. While some earn enough to get through the rest of the year, most only manage to get through a mere fortnight and have to look for other means of earning.

Abdul Razzaq Qadri has been in the seasonal business of selling patriotic-themed merchandise for 45 years now. “We don’t succumb to the new things the market has every year,” he says. “We make flags and banners by ourselves all year round and then sell them during this season.”

Like everything else, this occasion too has become overshadowed by how much people spend on decorations and accessories and how many sales they are able to make. Very few people and places still retain the old spirit of celebrating independence with just the national anthem and the flag.

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 13th, 2017