Urdu Bazaar Karachi: A Specter of the Revolution
Urdu Bazaar transcends physical location. When the original market in Delhi was destroyed in 1857, the specter began looking for more hospitable venues. The original bazaar in Delhi has evolved into a food street and cloth market; a shadow of its former self. In Pakistan, offshoots have emerged in the cities of Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Karachi. Urdu Bazaar Karachi is the largest of the lot.
URDU BAZAAR KARACHI
The case of Urdu Bazaar Karachi can be considered an anomaly. While other bazaars have made space for eateries, gift shops, and cloth vendors, Urdu Bazaar Karachi has stood firm in its legitimacy- kitab, not kebab.
Having evolved in its offerings over time, the bazaar is the center point of publishing, printing, and selling of various books as well as craft materials.
The cross-generational, partition-era mom n’ pops draw up their shutters in the early hours of fajr. The shops remain open well into the evening, as a steady stream of visitors rotates through its narrow streets. The prices here are competitive while the specialties of each vendor are clearly visible to the discerning reader.
From fiction to classics, from course-material to poetry in both Urdu and English; there’s little in the world of print publication that cannot be found in Urdu Bazaar Karachi. One second you’ll be digging through a thick stack of old papers and the next you come across a century-old manuscript of immeasurable worth – maybe even a first edition.
The Bazaar has a designated area solely for textbook compilations and photocopying. Reprinting and repackaging expensive textbooks is a lucrative business- copyright laws be damned. Some have stuck to the family code of largely selling Islamic and Religious literature, others offer classic literature only. Those looking for a hit of nostalgia can easily come across Archie comics and R.L. Stine books hidden underneath piles of contemporary young-adult fiction.
Urdu Bazaar sells art supplies, such as paints, charts, clays, and paintbrushes, alongside stationary and journals and lab equipment. The beginning of the school term finds the bazaar flooded with students, moms, and school representatives.
Recent activity by the anti-encroachment authorities across Karachi have the vendors a bit tense. You can almost smell the red-tape in the air. But, despite the looming danger of eviction, it’s business as usual in the stuffy, sticky, and seductive streets of Urdu Bazaar.
The zhuzhed up bookshops dotted across Clifton, with their neatly stacked shelves and shiny wooden floors, don’t hold a candle to the labyrinth that is Urdu Bazaar Karachi. Every reader knows this. Rummaging through tall stacks of discarded books and journals, you might just come across something life altering. One man’s trash…