Hyderi Market

I do not remember the first time I went to Hydari market (North Nazimabad, Karachi). But I do remember that I have been there on the back of a motorbike, on an auto rickshaw, a local bus and most recently a car. Whenever I go to Hydari market, three things are always constant, the companionship of my mother, the fact that we always start from ‘the alley’ (which will be described shortly) and the man who sits at the start of the alley and sells sour (starfruit, unripe guava, tamarind, unripe mangoes). This trip was no different, I went with my mother at 4 pm and stayed till late in the night, around 11 pm, on a Thursday, we started at the alley and the old man was there, selling sour.

The particular alley in consideration is a relatively broad one (relative to the allies that open from it, or terminate at it, depending on where one begins). The only traffic in the alley are rickshaws and motorbikes, so if one decides to go there by any other means of transportation, one has to walk from the alley onwards (the broad alley, the alley with the rickshaws and motorbikes, the alley hereinafter called “the alley”). Upon asking a few people and running a google search I found out that the name of the alley is Roshan Khan street and one can reach it by turning right from Sharah-e-Sher Shah Suri. If one decides to go to Hydari by a car, one is thrust in to it suddenly, with rickshaws, motorbikes and buses one slowly gets accustomed to the sounds, the smells, even the temperature. Getting off a car and going in, I got thrust in, every sense of mine which perceives got instantly busy as every sensation was multilayered and multilateral.

Understanding (or even simply observing) Hydari market (North Nazimabad, Karachi) can be a consuming exercise, as there are possible multiple perceptions and consequent interpretations of the same visuals, sounds and other physical interactions one encounters there. For instance, an orientalist romanticist would describe the Hydari market experience as an exhilarating one complete with a vendor calling out to a possible customer, the chun chun of the glass bangles that an adolescent girl is trying on in the light of a bright fluorescent bulb dangling from a wire from the ceiling of a makeshift metal sheet shack of a bangle store, the smell of chow mien being cooked in a huge wok in the street corner, the clap of a hijra in front of your face, an elderly man selling the seasonal sour fruits, a younger one selling cotton candy and complimentary fake fifty rupee notes packed in clear plastic square balloons with a bell in his hand going ding ding, women and shopkeepers in bargaining marathons, the incapability of the old and crumbling base bazaar building to hold all that has be sold such that the shopkeepers along with their goods spill onto the surrounding road, even across the road like an erupting volcano of sellers that need to sell and goods that need to be sold, the perfect South Asian bazaar harmony.

The same scene can be seen and understood by a skeptic as polluted, over crowded, foul smelling from the open gutter a road across, strangely gender apartheid as there are women but only as costumers or beggars (with the exception of one women shopkeeper who sells cheap lingerie in a dingy shack called “Bbelle, happy moments”), illegal as most of the mostly loose hanging energy savers and florescent light bulbs get their electricity directly from the jumble of the wires above and, noisy from the host of red roaring generators outside every other shop, the rickshaws and the motorbikes, a surprisingly functioning disorder.

These observations, though materially accurate, can come to problematic conclusions as they do not incorporate the rationale of the place, so to say the rationale of a bazaar in general and Hydari market in particular. The rationale of Hydari (or any market) is consumerism, the point of a market is to sell, whatever social interactions take place in Hydari, whatever patterns of social behaviors arise are based on the premise that this communal space was created (or was developed) to facilitate consumerism. Once rooted in this basic premise the discussion about Hydari, its sense of place and the patterns of social behaviors that are distinct to its kind of markets can be discussed. This paper aims to decipher to some extent one of most commonly observed social patterns and norms in Hydari including bargaining, gendered differences and the perpetuation of these practices directed by the space created.

I have observed that it is common in Hydari market to see customers (almost all of which are women) engaged in sometimes heated, sometimes subtle arguments in determining the price of a commodity. This one repeated act can be perceived as an indicator to a number of social, cultural and economic class and background of the people who sell or buy at Hydari. The area that Hydari is located in is North Nazimabad and although there are pockets of relatively economically ‘well off’ social classes living within North Nazimabad, the majority of the populace belongs to lower to middle income households, so to say that because of this, the rationale of the need to bargain in Hydari are laid. But it is not necessary that only people from lower or middle classes bargain at Hydari, those who do not need to, also mostly do because the Hydari market perpetuates the pattern, it is expected of the customer to bargain, it is strange to not do so. This practice is distinct to markets such as Hydari, it is rare to see customers haggling in say a supermarket or even Dolmen mall just across the street, as the space does not allow for it, indifferent of the economic class of the buyer. And therefore, the endless bargaining marathons.

Another very noticeable social pattern that I have observed in Hydari market is that of gender apartheid, that is generally women play the role of the customer and men of the seller. There are reasons for this apartheid, social and cultural reasons. To put it in a very simple manner, in South Asian societies (though not exclusively just in these) men are expected to be earner and women the sustainers of the household and therefore, the men vendors. However, another interesting thing to notice is that although the rationale for women as consumers and men as vendors is laid by the men as earner and women as sustainers ‘logic’, Hydari market perpetuates this pattern as most of the items are targeted towards women, including kurtis on headless female figured manikins, bright colored bangles, shoes, accessories, this flooding of Hydari market with goods designed to attracts female buyers perpetuates the role playing of buyers by women.

All these observations show that Hydari market is dynamic communal place. It busies your senses, your sight, your hearing, your sense of touch, everything. And it is difficult to observer even one of the many social behaviors that are performed here at all times let alone understand them but the best way to do it is to become a part of the crowd and wander.