Sunday Bachat Bazaar

For this primary ethnographic observation, I chose to select the Sunday Bachat Bazaar marketplace, located off Korangi Crossing Road. In order to truly step out of my comfort zone, I had to sincerely rack my brains, and pinpoint a location within which I could engage with and observe entirely unfamiliar surroundings, social groups, and sub-cultural practices

A relatively-fledgling marketplace, Sunday Bazaar has yet to cement a niche for itself within the area, and currently attracts a wealth of diverse social groups; vendors and customers alike. From my personal observations of this Sunday Bazaar in particular, the trade-point largely caters to a socio-economic setting that is markedly different from that which I am accustomed to. Regardless, my experiences here were significantly enriching, captivating, enlightening, and thought-provoking.

This is not in any way aimed to other or exoticize the area; rather, I intend to illustrate, with my limited capacities, how undeniably unique and fascinating this field-site proved itself to be. The Sunday Bachat Bazaar exists in a carefully-constructed holding of its own; here, the social norms, the routine practices, the dialogue, and relationships seem to splinter away from the mundane Pakistani understanding significantly.

I entered the area around noon, when the Sun was at its unbearably highest. The Expressway serves as a chaotic, dynamic backdrop of incessant sound. Every so often, a lorry or truck of considerable size will trundle past, emitting pungent diesel fumes that will momentarily mask the immediate area. The inhabitants of this marketplace, however, will behave as if they are absolutely unperturbed. Indeed, the sounds from the actual marketplace itself intertwine with those from the traffic sailing ahead to create a single, nondescript hum of noise. As I begin making my way towards the nearest entrance point, clouds of dust rise around my feet. Already, I can detect that a certain degree of caution and dexterity would be required to navigate the area; sharp stones litter the ground, and ominous-looking pieces of shrapnel and garbage lie unassumingly upon the path. Traffic conductors expertly, insouciantly pick their way through the makeshift parking-area, clad in dazzling-bright neon vests, and directing vehicles into parking spaces only the trained eye could locate.

The marketplace itself is a mismatched discord of vendors; each shop protected from the Sun’s unrelenting glare with the assistance of heavy coverings. Immediately upon entering the area, I feel a cool, calming envelopment; here, there is order in the chaos. Here, there is protection from, and disregard towards, the ceaseless elements at play outside.

The warm, comforting scent of popcorn wafts over, and I turn to observe a lone machine, where a man scoops fresh kernels of popcorn by the handfuls, and places them into brown paper bags, ready for sale. As he works, he is engaged in a heated conversation with a hawker upon the ground; this hawker has a selection of clothes carefully laid out before him. With every passerby, he will pipe up and announce his prices and wares, before returning to the conversation with his counterpart. I sensed they were deep in a discussion about politics.

The marketplace is ordered into sections according to item. I did not possess enough time to explore the area in its astounding entirety, but I did manage to obtain a fair view of the sort of unspoken rules that governed the setting.

Vendors work in tandem; at one point, I make my way through a corridor decked with color. Carpets, rugs, bed-sheets, and duppatas hang from various places, creating a riot of color. Thick, sleepy blues contrasting with the loud, excitable reds; mossy greens laced with rich purples; many-hued pinks dotted mustard yellows. Where a customer cannot locate a color or material of their choice, a vendor will direct them towards a stall that could satisfy their needs. The colors and camaraderie here evoke a strong sense of hospitality; you must work as if you were a well-oiled machine, with the competition amounting to friendly banter, at most.

Whether this tightly-knit community is a direct result of the salesmen being forced into such close quarters every week is unclear; is it a mutual understanding built upon trust and brotherhood, or is it a necessary invention to produce efficient economic results?

Around three hours into this observational study, I began to pick up on fundamentally-unique sub-cultural norms.

At one point, I witness a young man crouched in front of a selection of jewelry. Throngs of women crowd around this stall, picking up bits and pieces of jewelry and bargaining for reasonable prices. The young man is decked in a tasteful selection of jewelry himself; with his sleeves rolled up, and his hair tousled, he has adorned his tanned arms with bracelets of varying make and color. I enquire about the price of a particular floral article around his left wrist. With good-natured ease, he informs me that it is not for sale, but that he could rummage around his selection and produce a similar item for me.

A few feet away, a vendor is selling women’s undergarments in the open; orthodox cultural notions of privacy and shame seem to melt away in this setting. Much the same way the young jewelry salesman had uniquely challenged gender-normative restrictions with his unflinching display of “femininity,” the undergarments stall unabashedly showcases what many outside of this setting would refer to as an intolerable act of vulgarity.

What propelled such flexible norms to take shape and form in such a setting? Do socioeconomic factors truly impact thinking and norm-setting? More importantly, do the vendors and customers transition back to their unquestionable norms and values once the weekend comes to a conclusion?

As part of my “immersive” study, I intended to parlay my way into the thick of the action; I had produced a list, and aimed to purchase vegetables.

The level of activity and argument here is noticeably-more hectic; voices are tossed around from every discernible crevice, the dissimilar cadences merging together to produce a confused hubbub of names, rates, and offerings. Not too far off, an enterprising salesman has set up a stall displaying various kitchen utensils; the polished silver gleams brightly in the glare of the waning Sun. I cannot help but commend this man for this canny business-move; as the customers exit the area with their vegetable-laden bags, why not remind them of their need for peelers, knives, and cutlery to complement their purchases?

Several mazdoors prowl the area, thrusting forward their flimsy wicker-bags, and their untiring services. A willowy young man approaches me, a pair of earphones carefully tucked into his ears. He appears nonchalant, almost bored, as he pipes up in a monotone, “Mazdoor chahye?”

The scent of dampened vegetables intermingles with the familiar, toasty scent of chai. A hawker incessantly rings a bell to attract attention towards his stall. The bell’s peal is slow and lazy, and stands out in sharp contrast against the general level of activity within the area.

Tun…tun…tun. I approach the man, ask him for his best potatoes. It is markedly hotter now. I notice that my helper-guide has music blaring through his earphones, the tinny dhug-dhug-dhug of the music like a cicada in the air.

I attempt to haggle with the vendor, who immediately takes offense.

Tun…tun…tun. “My potatoes are the best,” he proclaims, affronted. Tun…tun…tun. “You won’t find them like this anywhere else.”

The camaraderie I witnessed in the clothing section of the marketplace seems to be present here, but laced through with a strong sense of competition. Vendors display their dewy-wet carrots, their brassy potatoes, their citrusy lemons, and bunches of greens proudly. The competition seems to break only for chai, when a young boy hastens into the scene, shouldering pots filled to the brim with sloshing, piping-hot tea. Dainty glasses are distributed, and the shopkeepers pause to sip their beverages and exchange news for the day. These abrupt changes in tempo and spirit are riveting, and far too complex to challenge and deconstruct for an outsider. They simply exist as if they are habits dating to a primordial time; a current far too nuanced and routine to break.

I have discovered that there seems to be an inherent difference in viewing events, and observing them. Upon deciding to approach the Sunday Bachat Bazaar as my field-site, I intended to approach the area with the sole purpose of thoroughly analyzing and studying the inhabitants of the marketplace. Had I entered the market sans this frame of mind, I may not have noticed many of the unique occurrences and practices that take place within this small world.

Simultaneously, I recognize how attempting to deconstruct and reassemble the events and norms within an area might prove futile; what were the reasons for the vegetable sellers offering far more hostility than the cloth-hawkers? Do restrictive norms and rules exist within the marketplace, or are they ignored for 24 hours every week by the individuals who roam the rickety corridors of the area? What is the cultural role of chai in this instance, and is this bonding over a shared love for tea a reflection of the vendors’ routine lives outside the marketplace? We may never receive concrete answers or reasoning, but might still appreciate and derive interest from the multi-layered activity and complex social fabric of the Sunday Bachat Bazaar.