Sarafa Bazaar is the kind of market you'd probably read about in a Khaled Housseni novel- with sunlight slanting through its weather-beaten white canopies that have simultaneously turned to varying hues of rust, brown and off-white. Its narrow, brick-lined roads are coated with mud that sticks to the soles of your shoes. The disturbingly colloquial use of language resonates with its existence in a perpetual, cacophonous blur. As you walk through the tightly packed market, you’d see men with paan-stained teeth in their faded kurta shalwars, mostly brown or sky blue and sometimes, if you’re affluent enough to keep it crisp and fresh, white. You would, more often than not, catch them leering at women like a predator, their prey. Their perfumes are overpowering, albeit barely covering the reek of tobacco and sweat. They’d try to catch your eye so they could woo you into paying a visit to their shops, casually drinking tea despite the blistering heat.
Women in black burqas and niqabs thrown over their faces or in multi-colored kameez shalwars with dupattas wrapped around their heads clutch their purses tightly as they move forward in groups. Fully watchful of the pickpockets in that part of the market, they eye the shops with a feign disinterest, making sure not to look too interested as it would risk the vendors increasing the prices. It is the kind of market where you have to go dressed properly covered; it is almost as if the market demands it. The shops are tiny but vibrantly detailed with a plethora of reasonably priced clothes, jhumkay and chooriyaan (the glass ones always more beautiful but less costly than the metals ones)- accentuated with cheap embellishments, glittering like gold in the light of the low hanging yellow bulbs. The air is saturated with the scent of all that exists in the range of sour pickles to the sickeningly saccharine scent of sweets doused in treacle, attracting swarms of flies.
So as I meander through the bazaar towards the rather conspicuous glass-doored shops of pure silver, I clutch my purse a little tighter and smile at the young golden-eyed boy clinging to his mother’s cheddar, begging her to get him the embroidered black khussa from the shop nearby.