On August 13, 55-year-old Zameeruddin frowned as he watched excited people buying parrot-green flags, instead of the dark green ones stacked at his stall.
“What has happened to our people?” he said. “We are buying Pakistani flags that were made in China.” For him and fellow vexillographers, Pakistani flags made in China have not only eaten into their sales but have also ideologically upset them. “No one cares that they are buying the wrong-coloured flag. The Chinese have altered our original color, and have made it brighter.”
The difference is clear to see, highlighted by the Chinese choice of material which is satin and not polyester.
The imported flags are also a shiny bright green and not the traditional dark green.
Murtaza, who bought three Chinese-made flags, said, “This flag looks good to the eye, and is attractive,” just as his son excitedly clutched them. A policeman’s motorcycle, which was parked nearby, sported a similar flag.
But it seems that business can’t or perhaps doesn’t want to tell the difference. Most of the shopkeepers at Paper Market had stocked up on the Chinese imports. “It’s cheaper than the Pakistani-made flag, and the finish is very good,” explained shopkeeper Irfan Latif.
Chinese flags had been finding their way to Saddar’s Paper Market for roughly two years. This neighbourhood is the biggest source of flags, buntings, streamers and badges for Karachi as smaller vendors buy in bulk here before fanning out into the city. A shopkeeper, who was selling flashy heart-shaped badges, in addition to the foreign flags, said, “We sell Chinese-made things because they’re the best. Everything is made in China these days. The local flags tear easily.”
The imports can cost from Rs30 to Rs 600 and the locally made flags are priced at Rs40 and upwards. The most expensive flag at the paper market at Rs100,000, was a mammoth 75 inches by 50 inches, and was ordered by the deputy commissioner east to be hung at the Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum today.
Men like Zameeruddin have been preparing green-and-white flags at their homes in Orangi for the last 25 years, taking great pains to ensure that the product retains true to the original. But now home-based workers like him in Lyari, New Karachi and Orangi are being squeezed out. Many textile factories have been undercut by the free trade. “We are selling accurate flags, but it’s sad how people are opting for foreign-made ones,” said Asim Nisar of VIP Flags.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2012.