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Oh, Dear Saddar! Are you still there?

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In the past one month or so Saddar has been at the center of a lot of news. The anti-encroachment drive which started on the orders of Chief Justice and conducted by both Sindh and local governments started from Saddar. As the operation gained pace, the news turned into discussions and WhatsApp forwards with images circulating on the web. At the start you’d see just the people who were supporting the said operation but as days passed by and more news of the operation came from all around the city, the opposing views started coming in as well which also criticized the rather peculiar way in which the operation was conducted with no real plan of reestablishing these markets at some other location.

So, amidst all the news on Saddar and the anti-encroachment drive there I decided to visit the area myself. I had a few errands (Uni Centre and Regal) and thought it would give me the ideal chance to see what’s happening on ground. Below account is from what I witnessed with my eyes and experienced myself.

The best way to go to Saddar is always on motorbike and walk the lanes where it’s impossible for even the bikes to go. First up was Regal. All the shops are still in place but a lot of them have no boards; the boards of course were outside the shops, so they were taken off by shopkeepers themselves.

Next was Jama Cloth and Corporative market. No shop has been razed there but all shopkeepers are being pushed back. The additional shelters outside the shops are gone and suddenly there is a lot more space to move around. Jama Mall which is in the middle of Jama Cloth Market and which seems to be built literally on footpath is half gone.

In between, we moved through Bolton Market which is still pretty much as it was and moved to Uni Centre and Techno, where not a single shop has been touched. The shopkeepers at Techno are quite relaxed as they claim that the building is 100% leased and there has been no notice given to them.

Now came the controversial ones. Yes, Empress Market has been completely razed. There are many panaflex and banners hanging on the rubble which state the new locations of the shops with directions. The site looks haunting. The market on the backside of Empress Market is also gone. You see the rubble which tells you it was built on the road (yes, on concrete road). Tilt your head towards the left and you see Rainbow Center is still there (no it’s not gone), though the shops have been pushed back. The legal shops of Rainbow Center are still there with all the lights. The buzz of course was limited.

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Opposite Rainbow is a plot which has over 50 small shops. This is the one that made me sad. While I was inside, the news came in of a possible bulldoze the next day. The owner of the shop where I was (a Pathan) walked out saying he didn’t want to sell anything and I could take things for free as he didn’t have enough space to take these goods anywhere.

After cooling him down, a few others around (Urdu speaking as well) I also inquired, and they explained that the plot was commercial and there was a High Court stay which was given to the authorities when they last came. Today, KMC came to inform them the high court stay would not work as the orders were from a higher court (SC) and the next day they’d need to vacate the place.

As it was getting darker and tiring (almost 5 hours in Saddar now) we decided to have some food. Burns Road was out of question as we were under the impression that it had been razed to the ground but I insisted with my friend to go and see if there was anything left there. To our surprise, Burns Road still seemed quite the same (believe it or not). Delhi Rabri, Malik Nehari, Karachi Haleem, Café Lazeez, Mazeedar Haleem and HavMor Ice Cream stand as they were, not a single inch of these shops had been touched.

The next obvious question was where Waheed Kebab was. We needed to find it. Yes, Waheed Kebab is very much there but only the part of it which was on the road (it was substantial) has been destroyed. A lot of people were clearing the rubble. It seems it will be back in operation (inside a shop) in a week’s time.

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Next one was the famous Food Centre. It’s no longer there and if you look at the rubble you’ll see why. Food Center was operating 70% on footpath with concrete counter and tables. They’re all gone. An entire army of people were clearing the rubble. The original structure behind is still intact. It seems Food Centre will be back in business in a couple of days. The two shops next to Food Centre are very much intact. And that’s because they were not encroaching on the road.

We also passed by Urdu Bazaar and the dental clinics which are also there as they were. The markets were buzzing with people moving around and cargo being unloaded.

One more market that Karachi will no longer have is Light House Market. There was huge rubble there which would not even let you see what had happened inside. Outside were some shopkeepers who told me that they could come here on Sundays to sell their inventories. They can use the space around for Sunday Bazaar type setup to sell their remaining inventories. No plan has been shared with them about the long-term future of their business.

On the way back, we stopped by and bought some fruits too from the carts which are still very much around. The fruit vendors were not really bothered and said that police had given them clearance to come here in the evening and sell their fruits.

On a personal level, the trip to Saddar was an eye-opener. I would recommend not to believe every WhatsApp forward that’s coming your way. Go and pay a visit if you really care about the place and the culture. If you don’t find what you were looking for then ask around. The vendors are still around. All the markets are still there.

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