Bahadurabad Market & Kokan Park

Bahadurabad market is bustling with human activity. Rickshaws trickle up and down the roads as cars huddle near the shops. Pavements are lined with plastic chairs and tables seated near various food outlets. It is cramped and humid, but once in a while a cool wind will blow, carrying scents of various masalas all distinctly local. Smoke will occasionally rise from the barbeque grills and tandoors, an advertisement more effective than any billboard.

The streets spill with waste and people from every crevice of every corner. Small block-like frames lit by a single bulb stand independent of other structures selling cigarettes and chewing gum among other items. No one is without purpose; some are here to shop, some to sell and some to beg. The only sound is a cacophony true to a living creature. It is quite like staring at a Jackson Pollock painting; anything and everything is happening or is about to happen in every possible direction you look at.

There is a very interesting locality that thrives here. Upon delving deeper into the market, one finds different languages (predominantly, Sindhi) and accents in conversation. The main form of interaction would at first sight seem to be between the customer and the salesman, but this is not always the case. The exchange is mainly a formality for interaction; people buy what they wish but choose to stay longer to mingle amongst the crowd.

On approaching a food truck that served dosa, a conversation ensues with the owner which gave me vital information that coincides with the history of this place.

“This truck has been here for 15 years, and so have I. My eldest son works at the station now, while I just take care of the customers with my youngest.”

Dosa is an ancient Tamil dish that came here with the Hyderabadi muslim population after partition. It is thus a piece of history that has attracted customers from various parts of Karachi, as the owner informs me. By the time the talk ends, freshly made dosa is served, accompanied by a fruit-flavored drink popularly known as limka. The scent is warm and inviting while a dangerous cloud looms over.

There are moments where one feels like an intruder, but it has little to do with my interaction with the populace around me, and more with the lack of it; I am one of three women in a male-majority area. Examining the street shows that the only space women have claimed for themselves is within cars and air-conditioned restaurants alongside their spouses and children.

The excavation furthers towards the main market near the famous Charminar Chowrangi, where an agitation settles in. Cars are on the move here, honking away at passersby and rickshaws. The smell of fuel and burning rubber dominates the atmosphere. A constant however, is the humidity and excess of commotion. What cuts through it all however, is the monument that stands proud in the middle of the roundabout; a structure of brick and clay surrounded by shrubs of greenery, all intricately composed to captivate.

The Charminar Chowrangi is a replica of the Charminar monument/mosque in Hyderabad, India. It feels to be an integral piece of architecture that unites the migrants in their loss, in their sacrifice and in the hope of settling a new home. It is a historical reminder in the very center of Bahadurabad that nostalgia to the air that surrounds it, and in its sentimentality and homesickness, there is beauty and homage to its people. This crucial piece of the past has stood here for 10 years now.

Further delving into the streets, excitement thrives in every dead end. Small tuck shops are selling fried street food in narrow stalls next to cloth merchants and tailors. Here, a vibrant splash of color finds the eye; every shopkeeper is busy engaging with potential buyers, rolling out pins of bright. A surprising shift in dynamic occurs; women are the primary customers, shopping independent of male escorts, while the salesmen do their best to sell their product. But these women are not easily deceived; their knowledge in textile and rates is second to none, so every once in a while, a heated debate can be overheard without even trying. Here, inside the fuss and animation, women have claimed a place for themselves where they commute without hesitation.

When returning from the market, I decide to take a rickshaw towards Kokan Park, a place known for its communal activities. During the ride, several waste bins line the pavements, which remain unrelieved for what seemed like a couple of days. The noise of the rickshaw overrides all conscious effort to listen to the sounds of the area, while the thick smell of petroleum swallow all other aromas.

Kokan Park is an anomaly in an area like Bahadurabad for many reasons, but mainly because of how clean it is. Even at an hour like 9 pm, it is easy to distinguish the lushness of the grass unpolluted by plastic or paper. A track runs along the park’s boundary where men and women can be observed walking and/or jogging – another reason as to why it seems alien. Here, no gender imbalance is seen as women and men both claim a single space for themselves, without exuding a sense of awkwardness by the presence of the opposite sex. Whereas some choose to sit on the benches lining the side of the park, others are seen enjoying sitting on the grass with their families and friends.

Inside the grills of the park, the vibrations and odor of traffic are distant. Instead, an almost earthy sensation would greet the senses, a rare experience in an industrious city such as Karachi. The breeze blows swift and clear, relieving most of the humidity of the hours past as power walkers clad in sportswear harmoniously walk in the same direction around the park. In the actions of its inhabitants, both implicit and explicit, the people at Kokan Park exhibit themselves as an ideal type of civilization. Between the hustle of city life, the residents of Bahadurabad have created for themselves, a place for community and mutual existence.

There is an intriguing contrast to note between these places that within themselves, serve and cater to the different needs of society. Where the market points towards a trend of segregation, the park brings them together in effortless symmetry. In my observation, I noticed that most of the market-goers would come together at Kokan Park. Studying these two in isolation would thus, be an injustice to the people of Bahadurabad since the relationship of these two distinct is one of inter-dependency. To conclude, it is fascinating to see how disparate traditions and practices clash and blend in certain social settings, and how certain factions of society evolve and work around those notions that have dictated the lives of these people for years.