KARACHI: As Najma sits on a plastic stool next to her little stall with her toddler son, who is constantly blowing the green vuvuzela in an attempt to make his mother completely deaf, there are several customers making a beeline for the Independence Day memorabilia that she is selling on a footpath on main Korangi Road.
There are printed Pakistan flags on sticks fluttering all around. There are the Pakistan as well as Azad Jammu & Kashmir flags along with lots of flag buntings, balloons, green hats, star and crescent T-shirts, headbands for girls, bandanas and broad ribbons to tie around the forehead too, wristbands, bangles, tinted green goggles, stud earrings, badges and stickers.
Najma says that she is only minding the stall until her husband returns. And where was he? “At the wholesale paper market to replenish supplies,” she provides. “The more we sell the more supplies he can buy and bring from there,” she says, adding that Majid, her husband, otherwise works as a plumber’s assistant.
“He takes a break from his other work every year for about two weeks, from August 1 to 14 to sell Jashn-i-Azaadi decorations. We live nearby in Mehmoodabad,” she says pointing across the road in the direction of her area of residence.
Najma’s is not the only stall or cart selling Independence Day memorabilia. There are plenty of them also in the commercial area nearby and all over the city, here and there. Nothing costs below Rs50 and from there it goes up to thousands. The flags are the most expensive, especially the bigger ones.
“But you only buy a flag once. Then you can fold it and store it to bring out each year around this time. So it is like an investment. Every year they become slightly more expensive, too. So it is best you buy one now,” argues Mohammad Ali, a young man selling flags near Bilawal Chowrangi in Clifton.
Still, if one was really looking for variety as far as all these things were concerned, one had to visit the wholesale paper market on Hassan Ali Effendi Road for oneself for that was where all the action actually was. The head office of VIP Flags, the ones who supply most of the printed national flags to the market, is also located there.
Even the overflowing gutters and stagnant water on the street couldn’t keep the customers away from the busy street. Of course, many of them were the ones coming to buy things in bulk to then resell at their individual stalls but there were others too there who bleed green. Looking at the condition of the place and the tremendous rush in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, the police had also made the street a walking zone. There were no cars allowed to drive through anymore. But it was all worth it for the variety available at the Paper Market was nothing like what was on offer at the stalls set up all over the rest of the city. And it was reasonably priced as well.
There were plain as well as glass and plastic bangles with glitter. A dozen bangles were selling for Rs50 only and they had them in all sizes, from infant to grownup. The masks and hats were also selling like hotcakes and there was huge variety to choose from like there was for the goggles, badges and hair clips. And they only cost from Rs10 to Rs20. The only problem was that the salespersons wanted you to buy more than one.
“But I only need one pair of green goggles and a hat,” argued one young mother with a salesman. But then after giving it another thought she did buy more stuff than she had initially planned to buy. “It’s alright. I have so many children in our apartment building who would really love to have these wonderful things but won’t get a chance to come all this way. I’ll just gift them something or the other. Their mothers will be so happy,” she said before helping herself to a packet of shining green stud earrings, bangles, badges and masquerade masks along with a dozen different pairs of green goggles.
“On second thought, I just may set up my own stall in our building courtyard,” she laughed before helping herself to more of the cool stuff.
Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2020