Among all the commercial centres and marketplaces in the twin cities, the historical Moti Bazaar has a place of its own.
With over a century of history surrounding the storied market, Moti Bazaar has long been a favourite shopping point in Raja Bazaar. It is a place where middle and low income families especially can find affordable products on occasions such as Eid and weddings.
However, with the onslaught of encroachers at its entrances and lack of proper maintenance by the city government, the pearl is losing its shine.
Businesses in Moti Mohalla started around 1901, after Moti Lal, a trader, started offering widows, escaping the now-illegal Hindu custom of Sati (ritual of suicide of widows), refuge at his house. To earn a livelihood, these women started preparing different embroidered goods for sale.
Lal named his house in the bazaar “Kaniya Ashram” and it became a popular place to get embroidered items from. Soon after, the widows who were making the goods started using different houses nearby as showrooms, said Naveed Kanwal, a cloth trader and long-time resident of the area.
Kanwal said that with the passage of time, city residents started visiting Moti Mohalla to buy colourful dresses for marriages and other big events.
In the beginning, there were only 12 shops. A majority of them only sold women’s clothing and household items such as bed sheets, pillow covers and curtains.
As business bloomed, other professionals such as tailors, embroiders and cobblers set up stalls in the narrow mohalla. By 1947, the bazaar area added the nearby street, while the number of shops swelled to over 80.
After partition, many Hindus left Rawalpindi to settle in India, while Muslim migrants from the other side of the border took control of their abandoned houses. The new residents also took interest in the area’s bustling business and helped further develop it.
2012 and the issues
Standing next to his shop, one of the larger ones in the area, Kanwal estimated that there are now over 1,400 shops in Moti Bazaar selling stitched and unstitched cloth, shoes, wedding dresses and a number of other goods.
“People from all over Rawalpindi Division, AJK and K-P visit the bazaar as prices here are much lower than modern city malls,” said Sheikh Nouman, a young shopkeeper.
On Eid, mostly women visit the bazaar and purchase clothes for their children and themselves as the market offers a variety of items with very affordable prices, he added.
“It feels good to shop in old Moti bazaar as we can get all kinds of variety for Eid and wedding ceremonies. I have been a regular shopper in the area for many years and am very satisfied with the material available,” said Farhana Bibi, who along with her two children had come from a village in Rawat.
Kanwal, who also works actively for the welfare of local traders, said they celebrated the market’s golden jubilee in 2005 as the devastating Nullah Leh flood in 2001 had badly affected the business community and left no room for celebration.
On hindrances to business growth, Kanwal said the district government should remove encroachments at the 18 entrances of the bazaar, noting that all the entrances have been choked by encroachers.
To protect the historic bazaar, traders have repeatedly demanded fire brigade vehicles equipped with fire-fighting foam “as water does not work on fire that is fuelled by cloth and leather”, Kanwal added. Another trader added that with the support of the government the bazaar could be turned into a major attraction of the city. “But in the current situation it seems a distant dream,” he added, lamenting the lack of support from the city authorities.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2012.