During the last days of Ramazan, in the run-up to Eidul Fitr, markets across the city are usually bustling with people of all ages, bargaining to get the best price for their special clothes and accessories for three days of festivity, struggling to find their way through a swarm of fellow shopping enthusiasts carrying bags of all sizes, shopkeepers luring potential clients with discounts and deals, brightly lit makeshift mehndi and bangle stalls lining each market unable to tend to every customer.

This is pretty much the scene in all corners of Lahore as Eid approaches. However, this year, something’s amiss. Most markets and bazaars aren’t as jam-packed as they’d be just a few days prior to Eid, shopkeepers appear disappointed at the footfall and customers complain of high prices being a deterrent to shopping with ease.

Unwilling to identify themselves, a woman and her elderly mother hurriedly walk out of Rang Mahal, disheartened at the prices they say have doubled over the last couple of years. “Instead of shopping for the whole family, we can now only get clothes for our children; we can forget about ourselves this time,” she told Dawn, an hour before Iftar time, when this market inside the Walled City is usually brimming with people, but this year seems a shadow of its former self.

Muhammad Fayaz, a resident of Badami Bagh waiting for his wife outside a shop in Kashmiri Bazaar with a minor child, reminisces about the times when they could easily get clothes for all their five children, which isn’t possible anymore. “Inflation has only increased over the years. Prices have more than doubled and it’s very difficult to shop now. Now we’re only thinking about managing whatever least we can for our younger children,” he bemoans.

Traders maintain that the rising prices people complain of are a result of the high rates they are charged in the wholesale market and for raw material, because of which, this year, they’re seeing a 50 per cent dip in business.

“The number of shoppers you see here has declined by around 50pc as compared to the previous few years for all kinds of shops, be it bangles, clothes, jewellery, shoes. In the last two years, it was Covid, but now it’s inflation. For us, costs have almost doubled, our profit margins have decreased and we’ve been compelled to sell at low rates, but even then, people are not buying,” said Shiraz, who sells children’s readymade garments in Rang Mahal.

He says the rising inflation has dented people’s purchasing power because food prices have increased, so they choose to fulfil their basic needs than spend on new clothes. “People can compromise on clothes, but not on food. Families who’d buy dresses for all their children are now getting for just one or two.”

Ask him about the teeming bazaar despite a fasting day and the hot weather, he says customers are thronging markets, but not really buying anything, or enough. “People are coming in but hardly anyone ends up shopping. This cramped bazaar used to be full of families that you couldn’t move a muscle at this time a few years ago; this isn’t even half the crowd,” he explains.

Mohsin, a salesman at a shoe shop in Kashmiri Bazaar, echoes Shiraz’s remarks about losing half the business and the public spending on food. He also feels their wages aren’t enough to fulfil all their needs. “If we get business for our bosses only then we’ll be paid. You may see people around but they’re not shopping; shopkeepers around are sitting idle. Inflation has increased to unprecedented levels. If a daily-wager makes Rs1,000 a day, will he get grocery for home or clothes/shoes? Please help increase our wages. Covid has just been an excuse because even during the lockdowns some traders did business. Despite Eid being close, this market hasn’t seen a worse time than now.”

With Eid less than a week away, the situation over at the happening and more urban Liberty Market is eerily similar. Salesmen and shop owners await clients, customers grumble prices are shooting up with each passing year. Despite being one of the most lucrative times of the year for any business, many mehndi and khussa sellers could be seen sitting idle, checking their phones, watching videos, chatting with each other. Anything, but entertaining customers, because there aren’t any.

A family of five told Dawn that price of every essential Eid-related item has increased, and by Liberty’s standards there weren’t enough people around. “Purchasing powers have decreased,” one of the family members remarked.

But Muhammad Sultan and his family feel inflation is a worldwide phenomenon that has only seen a rise over the last three years. “Despite this the purchasing power hasn’t decreased and people are still shopping. People are usually going to markets much later at night. The number of shoppers as compared to the last two years is much more,” Sultan and his wife feel.

Rabia Khan, a medical student, has also seen large crowds shopping in Liberty and its adjacent markets despite high prices because one could get items on a budget too.

But Muhammad Dilawar, who’s set up a bangle stall in Liberty’s narrow Dupatta Gali, shares the same sentiments as his fellow retailers around.

“People are rushing to markets but eventually can’t afford to purchase much; they window-shop and if they find anything in their range they get it otherwise they move ahead. People haggle about the past and present rates. With the thinning of the crowd, our business has dropped by at least 50pc. Until a few years ago, it was difficult to move around in these lanes because of the flurry of activity here but now we are free, chatting, having tea. Customer isn’t satisfied with the rates,” he rued.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2022

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