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Bombay 10: And Haji’s Put their Own Bazar

 

 

Nostalgia

Haji’s Bazar

By

ZGM

 

 It was no ordinary day for them; it was a dream come true. On leaving the customs clearance hall, walking on the dockyard, looking at the vastness of the sea they saw their lifelong supplications granted. Unmindful of the frenetic activity on the dockyard, with eyes fixed on the ornately festooned ship Akbari, even those in very ripe age, walked very fast. Hardly, any one of the pilgrims had an experience of a sea voyage. A sizable number of pilgrims even in the early eighties belonged to the generations that had read or heard from Dastangos the stories of adventures translated from Arabian and Persian folk literature. The most famous works that were popular during our childhood also included Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, Qissa-e-Chahār Dervish, Bagh-o-Bahar   Alif Laila and tales of Sindbad.   These storybooks translated into Kashmiri brought out in multi-colored artistic covers for their popularity were not only sold by booksellers but also street-singers like Abdul Ahad Bakshi.  I remember having seen them on display on the kiosks of smalltime cosmetics and trinket sellers during annual festivals and another occasion outside all   Astanas and Khanaqahs in the city.

The stories of Sindbad the Sailor, besides having familiarized them with Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid’s reign were their only introduction to the seas, ports and sea voyages. Going up the ladder of the ship, looking at the Arabian Sea as far as where the earth seems meeting the sea, many might have remembered the seven voyages of Sindbad.

 Less than ten percent of the pilgrims had a booking in the cabin class, and all others had tickets for the bunk class. On seeing, the rows of bunk beds many pilgrims raised their eyebrows. Truly these bunk beds looking like pendulous nests of the weaver birds at the time of departure were a threating experience for older pilgrims- the question of eleven days voyage on these bunk beds worried them a lot, and many took out their rosaries started praying for the safety.  

On their return from the holy pilgrimage, despite, voyage-fatigue distinctly visible on their faces some were robust enough to gallop like horses into the luggage clearing hall   –  and they looked for the coolies they had tied up with for clearing of their luggage at the time of departure.  It intrigued me then and continued to puzzle me today also, some known crooks and some thugs with gentlemanly demeanor almost every year managed to go on the pilgrimage and return with boxes loaded with contrabands. Couple of them were notorious for smuggling hashish, and its finer products they called “attar”    and returned with gold and electronic gadgets.  Exploiting the innocence of pilgrims, they succeeded in persuading some gullible hajis to book some of their luggage with them, with the promise of clearing their luggage also at the customs without any hassles.  

Those days, electronic gadgets like color televisions, video cassette recorders (VCR), video cassette players (VCP) and Music Systems were the biggest craze and these items had also become part of marriage dowries. Most of the Haji’s beside watches, cloth thans (bundles) returned with electronic gadgets, some of them carried bigger items like fridges with them. It was with an understanding with collies that some of the pilgrims ensured clearance of bigger items and electronic gadgets without paying the customs duties.

For the whole of the year, people in hordes flocked to the Manish Market, in the Crawford market for buying all sorts of imported electronic gadgets, there would be hardly a Kashmiri on a visit to the metropolis who would not visit this shopping complex with hundred shops all bursting with all sorts of good. Some fruit dealers, who sold the produces during winters were familiar faces in this market, they made bulk purchases- those days lots of Kashmiris had fancy big stereophonic imported tape recorders. On the return of the Haj pilgrim, the Saboo Sidiq Musafirkhana turned into a Bazar with a difference, with scores of Haji’s putting their stalls in its long corridors for selling goods like imported watches, electric presses, blankets, mixers, juicers and tape recorders.  Most of these pilgrims who put their stall would be from some areas of Jammu province. During the pilgrimage besides fulfilling religious obligations, they did errand jobs at the holy places and earned some money.  Mostly they would be seen around the Jabal an-Nour. Out of their savings, they purchased smaller items that they later on sold at the Musafirkhana. For a week or so the Manish Market lost its business, and hundreds of Bombayites visited the place for the makeshift market in the Saboo Sidiq for buying goods.  Most of the pilgrims with bags stuffed with electronic goods and cloth returned to Jammu by train. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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