12 Feb, 2017

the invasion of plastic…

Sehbar Sarwar
12 Feb, 2017

Today, before heading out to Karachi Literature Festival at the Beach Luxury Hotel, filmmaker Tehmina Ahmed and I carve out time to visit Khajoor Bazaar. Located in old Karachi, the bazaar offers walking lanes lined with open stalls selling dates from around Pakistan as well as imported from the Middle East, alongside cloth, spices, and other household goods.

Here, many years ago, I discovered beads made with nutmeg, cardamom, clove, and other spices; A shopkeeper told me the garlands are used in parts of Sindh as gifts for brides; the garlands also served as inspiration for “Reclaiming Home,” an art installation I created in 2013.

Today, I visit the bazaar to replenish my stock since the necklaces I bought years ago have lost fragrance. I find the dangling beads in one shop but upon closer examination, I notice that the cloves have been replaced by black plastic pellets.

“Too expensive to use real spice,” the shopkeeper tells me. “I can make better ones for you if you can pick them up in a few days.”

Tehmina and I wander further down the lane stop at another shop where spice-beads dangle, again with black plastic pellets. The shopkeeper invites us inside the stall and holds up 15 necklaces that are made with real clove, priced at Rs.150 ($1.50) each, more than ten times the price of garlands with plastic. I purchase the full set of 15 beads.

“That’s all I have,” he tells me. “No one buys real necklaces anymore,” He, too, offers to make me more if I pre-order.

The conversation reminds me of my 2010 trip to Mauripur where artists create truck art. Back then, I was looking for a buraq sticker and was told the same thing: No one buys the buraq stickers any more. That spring, I had more time and was able to pre-order images for the art car I was co-creating in Houston. Since the buraq image is considered pagan, religious reasons were driving market changes. However, I felt hopeful when I picked up my stickers and the shopkeeper told me: “I ordered 100 more buraq stickers because of you. Maybe more people will buy and the sticker will become popular again…”

But this trip is short. I don’t have time to order additional garlands. I leave, wondering what sad changes I’ll encounter the next time I venture into Khajoor Bazaar.

Sehbar Sarwar
buraq photo by Minal S at the home of truck art collector Anj Rana

11 Feb 2017 · 07:34:10 PM