First published in Dawn
Sunday Bazaar is the place where one comes across all kinds of people. The Afghani vendor selling huge shopping bags, insisting on speaking in English — his standard words would be something like: “very good shopping bags, only Rs10 for you, very strong, very beautiful, thank you, goodbye, have a nice day…” No matter how hard one tries, the vendor will not utter a word in Urdu.
A young mother pushing a stroller alongside a bored-looking toddler and an equally disinterested husband who is not too happy about spending Sunday morning browsing for tees, old magazines and groceries.
The begum sahiba whose driver will block the road bang in the middle so that the begum sahiba will not have to take one extra step.
The other begum sahiba type will be haggling over the price of a pair of second-hand Dorothy Perkins sandals, even though she drove to Sunday Bazaar in her Rs 8 million four-wheel-drive vehicle.
I must confess that I am not a Sunday Bazaar regular. The other day I just wanted to buy Samuel Butler’s The way of all flesh. I did look for it in a couple of bookshops that I frequently go to, but when I couldn’t find it there, I decided to try my luck at the Sunday Bazaar bookstalls, which are said to house treasures at times. Although I couldn’t find anything by Mr Butler — the bookseller insisted on calling him Samuel Butter and kept pushing Mills & Boon my way saying, “baby, larkiyan tau aaj kal yehi ley raheen hain (I was secretly flattered that he thought I was a teenager looking for M&Bs). I most certainly did come across a couple of treasures, but not the bookish kind. I saw this woman sweeping in the bookstall I was browsing at, greeting all the booksellers with a regal air, asking them how they were doing. The booksellers were also waiting on her – hand and foot – and fetched her all the books she asked for. I was impressed by the way she commanded attention and asked one of the vendors if she was a literary aficionado. He told me that the lady had recently built a huge mansion with a room designated as library. She comes in every Sunday and buys whatever hard cover books available in mint condition – even if they happen to be in French – to fill in her mahogany shelves. After all, it would be an insult to fill up mahogany shelves with cheap paperbacks.
Recovering from the shock and clutching my copy of a moth-eaten Down and Out in Paris and London I ventured a little further and met another kind that I never expected to see at Sunday Bazaar: the rich who do their business in the middle of second-hand shoe stalls. While I was trying to jostle my way ahead, I saw a really cute guy and I said to myself, “At last, some eye candy!” He was talking to a very pretty girl, and when I heard what they were talking about, such was my shock that I stopped in my tracks. Apparently the guy was managing an investment portfolio for that girl and she had invested Rs10 million with him. She was toying with the idea of investing another Rs5 million and the man insisted that she do that with him — right in the middle of Sunday Bazaar — with dirt pathways and flies all around us. The girl did not look too eager, but the guy, with his charm and good looks must have persuaded her to invest the aforementioned Rs5 million. Despite being curious, decency prevailed and I stopped eavesdropping and moved on.
This business conversation amidst haggling aunties and vendors got me thinking: who needs posh clubs, fancy restaurants and sprawling golf clubs to conduct business when you can do it round the dusty stalls of Sunday Bazaar? Just take your client for a bit of aloo gobi shopping and wrap deals worth millions.
I think the idea has some merit, but can only work when one happens to be as good looking as that guy and the client has to be a single, unattached receptive female. The rest of us mere mortals will have to conduct business in a posh restaurant or a golf course.
On a side note, I thanked God that they were carrying that conversation in English, had they been talking in Urdu; the girls must have been kidnapped for ransom by now.