The Resilient Pakistani

Images and impressions by Vaqar Ahmed

The Resilient Pakistani
With all the difficulties that Pakistan has been facing for many years – poor governance, corruption, terrorism, population explosion, water and power crises – there is still a sense of hope and dynamism in the streets. There is clearly a remarkable resilience in the common person of this country.

There is no better example of this resilience than the ubiquitous bazaars, large and small, that materialise in unlikely locations on any day of the week. Along the main road in the Korangi Industrial area of Karachi, there are the Tuesday bazaar and the Thursday bazaar that appear magically right in front of the most filthy, smelly and polluted nullah of the area. As is the case with these bazaars elsewhere in Karachi, the vendors are mostly Pashtuns. Kids, young men, and old men all are cheerfully manning their little spots of commerce.

A bit of filth never dampens the spirits of the bazaar-goers

A little girl enjoys an ice cream while another customer contemplates a set of false teeth

Smoke mixed with dust and fumes gives these kababs a special flavour

Those who collect all the used items throughout the day by sifting through mountains of garbage are also often Pashtun children. It is heartbreaking to see these beautiful and innocent children dressed in rags, collecting anything that has any value, putting it in a huge bag attached to their bicycles and then maneuvering these ungainly contraptions through fast-moving and dangerous traffic. It will be interesting to assess the size of this informal “kachra” (trash) economy that is supporting thousands of families – albeit at a bare subsistence level.

Indifferent to the insalubrious setting, there is a throng of buyers because the goods on display here are the cheapest in town. Even so, most buyers bargain hard and more often than not are able to beat down the price by at least 25 percent. There are vendors who are shouting “Everything same price; Rs. 20 each!” Every conceivable necessity and “luxury” under the sun is available. Clothing, caps, shoes, fans, watches, torches for the frequent power breakdowns, cell phone covers and memory chips, wallets, pots and pans, plates and dishes, stereos, plastic hangers, bicycle wheels – you name it and it is there. I have even seen a cartload of cheap no-name brand computer tablets. Telephone chargers for every cell phone ever made are particularly popular items. I was totally taken by surprise when I located a turntable from a high-end British company, albeit with the platter and drive belt missing! One buyer was carefully considering a long telescope that was for sale on a cart that was also selling children’s tricycles.

Cutlery is a perennial favourite at any bazaar, anywhere in the world!

As an engineer, the author is not convinced that this hand water pump will ever work – but who knows!

Silent and strong, this little boy sells wallets and watches. Rolex? No problem. Only Rs. 100!

Everyone is in good cheer and nobody minds my taking photographs. Many even ask to be committed to history through the lens, and I always oblige cheerfully. Some ask why I am taking pictures, while others are curious about the price of my camera. I feel happy amongst these simple folks.

Food always follows where there is a sale on and savoury Seekh Kababs, ice cream and fresh cucumbers are doing brisk business. Without a thought for the close proximity to the very polluted drain and the spray of gasoline and dust from the traffic, everyone is enjoying a snack.

Can any power, no matter how powerful and coercive, keep such enterprising, dynamic and resilient people down forever? Nobody has succeeded in the past, and I doubt any body can in the future. And therein lies the hope for this country.