Meena Bazaar is a market in Karachi where the sellers and buyers are all women. It’s a strict ‘no men allowed’ kind of a place. From bangles to jhumkas, khussas and fine embroidered kurtis. You name it and it is available in Meena Bazaar catering to the women from middle class and lower middle class families. Urooj delves into the lives of some of the women in this all women market place, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
It was over 10 minutes that I was waiting for an autorickshaw. Four of them already passed by. They were demanding exorbitant fares. Then, I persuaded an elderly auto driver. I told him, “Meena Bazaar… ek ghantay ka kaam hay. Aana aur jaana hay, kia logay aap bolo?” (I have to go to Meena Bazaar and would return too. It’s an hour’s job. How much will you charge?) “Ek ghanta… acha 400 dena” (One hour … give me 400 rupees).
I was very happy. Others were asking for 800 or 900 rupees. I looked at him amazed, in disbelief. He read my mind and said, “Meri beti ka sasuraal hay waha tum khareedari karrlena may jabb tak mil aaonga uss se …ek mahina hogaya mill nahi paya” (My married daughter lives there. You do your shopping while I will go meet her. It has been a month since I met her last), he told me with a sad smile.
Crossing Nipa Chorangi and then Gulshan Chorangi, near my school, I became nostalgic. It always happened whenever I saw this fawn and brown building, holding memories of yesteryears when life was really beautiful, without fears. When the meaning of happiness was a pack of chips and a bottle of coke. When joy was meeting and chatting with friends…
We crossed a few more roundabouts. It took us almost 30 minutes to reach Meena Bazaar due to traffic snarls and jams.
Karachi is spreading fast and so is the traffic. No matter how many flyovers, underpasses and new roads the government makes, there is a constant upsurge of vehicles, which seems next to impossible to be dealt with.
Then appeared this multistoried ash grey building, draped in the many stories of past years. Smoke, dust and paint chipping off from the rough edges are the telltale signs of utter neglect. Meena Bazaar is a market where the sellers and buyers are all women. It’s a strict ‘no men allowed’ kind of a place.
This was not the first time I was going there. I had been there for my nose piercing when I was studying in college but this visit had a different purpose. I wanted to talk and hear untold stories of the women, who work from day till night to take care of their lower middle class families, supplementing the family’s income or being its lone bread earner.
Meena Bazaar is famous for its mehndi artists. These women make designs on hand and feet. Women visit these Henna parlors and sometimes these artists are called to the homes where weddings are on to beautify the bride, her family and friends with their innovative art and intricate designs.
As I entered Meena Bazar, I was surrounded by shops with an array of women’s accessories. Women buyers were busy selecting the wares, while the shopkeepers were trying to selling and satisfying the customers in the best possible way.
From bangles to jhumkas, khussas and fine embroidered kurtis. You name it and it is available in Meena Bazaar catering to the women from middle class and lower middle class families.
Roaming through the narrow corridors with shops on either sides filled with noise I stopped at a jewellery shop. A middle aged, dark complexioned woman, in her mid forties, with streaked hair greeted me, “What do you want?”
“I need some kundan traditional jewellery.” I showed her the dress and she began searching the matching ornaments. Meanwhile talking to Bilquees (name changed), I came to know her story. She had lost her husband a year ago in a fire in the factory where he was working. Mother of four children, all below the age of 20, there was a big question of what was in store of her life.
Everything was dark and despondent. Hopelessness engulfed her. A female from her neighborhood helped her start this shop in Meena Bazaar, as she was already working in this market. Bilquees said that she finds it comforting that it’s an all women’s market. She can easily handle them without any fear of being taunted or mistreated and earn a decent amount that helps her run the family.
And there was Asma, just 19, who was working at a beauty parlor as a Henna artist. Her mother is a full time maid working in a posh area in Karachi. Asma was sent here to learn this art so that later she can open up a small parlor of her own and earn with dignity for her family.
Sahiba, 28, comes to Meena Bazaar with her one year old daughter. She recently got separated from her in laws and was living in a small rented apartment with her husband and helping him make both ends meet. Sahiba works at a garments shop as a helper. She is chirpy, charming and lively.
Surraya was struck with polio two years back. Her elder sister was already working in Meena Baazar as a cleaning helper at a shop that sells laces and cloth. Surraya’s elder sister after her recovery started bringing her to bazaar so that she has something to do rather sitting idle at home. Surraya has overcome her physical challenges. This place has given new hope and meaning to her life.
An hour spent with these women opened up so many new windows in my mind. Behind the smiles were the faces that revealed untold stories. These unsung women were just a cog in the wheel. No one talked about them. They were waiting to be discovered.
These women strong and determined are an example to those who believe that life has so many too many challenges and is filled with unanswered questions. To repeat an old adage, where there is a will there is a way.
This, in short, is the life of the women working in Meena Bazar.
Pix sourced by author.