‘Dil Dil Pakistan, Jaan Jaan Pakistan’ blare the speakers around me as I make my way to the cramped and crowded street of Paper Market at Pakistan Chowk, where numerous vendors have set up stalls, ahead of Pakistan’s 70th Independence Day, selling special green and white merchandise to pay homage to nationwide celebrations.
This market is Karachi’s wholesale hub for decoration items and it takes a festive ambience by the end of July and continues till August 13th. Temporary stalls are set up on both sides of the street in front of shops at the market, hence making it difficult for pedestrians to walk and shop. Flags of all sizes, chand-sitara T-shirts, hats, bangles, badges, wrist bands, goggles, balloons – you name it and it's all here, and it's all green.
This is where you can witness the patriotism that seeps into the blood of every Pakistani. “I bring my kids here every year and buy them whatever they like,” says Mujahid, who is a milkman by profession. Despite their socio-economic status, people come to this market and buy things as a gesture of love for their country.
“I am here to buy Pakistan,” says a six-year-old boy holding a flag in one hand and his mother’s dupatta in another. His mom brushes his hair and smiles at his innocence. “I am going to buy a green dress and jewellery. I want to look the best at my school’s function,” says Hania while choosing from a variety of earrings and bangles made of green and white beads.
What caught my attention and made my heart swell with pride was the fact that people from all professions and religions have their stalls in this narrow street and they all function in exemplary harmony and brotherhood. More than a dozen women from the Hindu community set up small stalls on the ground, selling bangles and hair clips. “Everyone here is helpful, I have been coming here for the past two years and have never faced any problems,” says a middle-aged Hindu saleswoman clad in a colourful sari, wearing thinly lined red sindoor on her forehead.
I also came across young men who study and/or work at respectable institutions throughout the year and come to this market once a year to make some money other than their regular income. “I am a Sociology student at the University of Karachi. I set up a small stall in order to gather money for my books and other expenses,” says Kaleem, who sells balloons. Fawad, another salesman, works at a pharmaceutical company in the day and joins his friend at the stall post work hours. “I am helping my friend, we are trying to raise money which we plan to use for charity purposes,” he enlightens me on their plans to spend their earnings from the stall on underprivileged children on Eid-ul-Azha.
“We set up the stall every August and each one of us has fixed spots but the stalls are increasing every year,” says Ahmed, who has set up a temporary stall of clothes. “The demand for clothes is increasing. Earlier we used to sell clothes for kids only. Now the manufacturers are making clothers for Independence Day for girls and boys as old as 18 years and people are buying them,” he goes on about the new trends in the market.
“People like to bargain a lot but we don’t do that here because we sell everything on wholesale rates,” says a 70-year-old shopman, who owns a small stall of flags and badges. “The stalls that you see in different parts of the city take materials from us, so their prices are high,” he further adds. “The business is increasing every year, more fancy items are making way to the market and people love fancy stuff,” says the salesperson at the adjacent shop. Speaking of fancy stuff, green and white bunny headbands were the fanciest of them all.
Huge flags covering the street from both sides, patriotic songs playing on multiple speakers and people from diverse backgrounds buying and selling goods to demonstrate their love for their beloved homeland – all bring out a national fervour and a spirit of patriotism in the hearts of passers-by. My visit to this sea of green filled me with an intense nostalgia of childhood memories and a profound sense of nationalism and like many others I ended up buying a badge for myself.
Happy Independence Day!