The new Itwaar Bazaar (Sunday Market)
Itwaar Bazaar has always been what people in the West would refer to as a flea market. It was always an innumerable number of stalls under tents on a large dusty ground in Karachi. Every Sunday a lot of people converged on the one in DHA to browse, buy books, clothes, fruit, vegetables, trinkets, household goods – in fact almost anything and everything. Many of the regulars referred to it as a treasure hunt. Visitors from out of town were taken on visits to Itwaar Bazaar because it was a unique experience and although sometimes the heat and the dust got to you, for many Karachiites it became a haunt at weekends – a place where they would loiter and shop and often run into friends and associates. My friend Afia always said it was the best way for her to unwind.
Does this look like what I have just described? If it isn’t, the reason is that they have upgraded Itwaar Bazaar. They have cemented the walkways, put up some fancy overhead covers to protect you from sun and rain. These are mostly made of windsheeter material with a few being of fiber-glass. I think the intent also is to put up directional signs so people will know where to go for particular items of food, clothing or household goods – in other words, a large outdoor supermarket.
They call this progress. But is it? A first view of the makeover made us comment “But they’ve taken the soul out of the place. It is now akin to any other cemented shopping experience.” It has lost its intrinsic charm and the sense of mystery that it has always had. What will they do next? Aircondition the place?
Maybe we are over-reacting. Maybe the old place was too dusty, too informal, too disorganized, too difficult to navigate in. But that was part of the fun, wasn’t it? It was a treasure hunt – the intent was not so much to shop but to loiter, to discover, to hang out, to just while away some time – and of course end up buying this and that. It was the informality of the place that gave it heart. This place looks like a touristy flea market. It has lost its essence, the original flavour, and the intricate natural connectedness it had.
Will we stop going there? No. Will we get used to the new swanky Itwaar Bazaar? Sure we will. Will we start to find reasons to say that in some ways this new Itwaar Bazaar model has its distinct advantages? Of course we will. One that we came up with on our visit was that because of the paved walkways, people in wheelchairs, and those with prams, would now be able to come here too. Had they wanted to achieve this purpose, they could have tried either thicker carpets, paving stones or cobblestones rather than cement. But ‘they paved paradise, and put up a parking lot’
We will begin to accept these “improvements” and will perhaps over time forget the orignal Itwaar Bazaar but for the moment, I miss the old place. It has for me lost its comfy, homely feel. Does everything need be organized? Can’t some things be allowed to just naturally evolve and co-exist in the cemented surroundings which have become a part of our “civilized” environment?