LAHORE: Paan Gali in Lahore is an alley that wouldn’t be out-of-place in New Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. Comprising hardly three lanes and not more than 50 shops, Paan Gali is a small fraction in the heart of the famous Anarkali Bazaar in the Punjab capital, which persistently remains jam-packed with customers keen to purchase Indian goods only.
Shops in the Paan Gali are cheek by jowl and people mill around in this narrow street. They are here to get Indian goods, from paan sold at thrice the local price, to sarees, ornaments, herbal products, cosmetics, Indian coconut and even kitchen utensils. The mood here is particularly upbeat since the resumption of Samjhota Express and the launching of the Delhi-Lahore bus service between the two nuclear armed neighbours.
Shopkeepers in the Paan Gali can now stock goods Pakistani tourists generally bring back from India, consequently easing their dependence on the prohibitive Dubai route to replenish supplies. “Most of the things in the Paan Gali are illegally sold since the shopkeepers are supposed to pay tax to the government to sell imported goods,’’ says Khurshid Alam, a local trader. But the demand for Indian goods is tremendous and trading in them is extremely profitable, he adds.
“We have a number of young girls and even housewives who come up each day to inquire whether or not I have yet brought in the ‘Kashish jhumkas’ or ‘Ramola ring’ or ‘Kumkum bindi’ and the like,” discloses Yameen, an apprentice at a small stall of Indian jewellry in the market.
Lately, the products have moved an inch further from the traditional shopping list, as nowadays the popular items including colours for holi and rangolis, rakhis and bindis. Ornaments for wedding ceremonies (gaana, sehra etc) despite having religious and cultural associations for the Indians, have seeped into Pakistani culture as well.
Says Naseem Ahmed, a habitual comer and paan-eater: “This place is not new to me. My father used to come here and my grandfather himself told me that this place, since the partition, excels in selling off Indian goods to the people here.”
For people like Naseem, it does not matter what expression the governments of both the countries wear on their faces for each other. “Even when there was no route available for the people or goods to be exchanged between the two sides, there was the route via Dubai and the consumers, although in a smaller number, kept pouring in.”
“I believe after Indian movies and movie stars, Indian embroidered cloth particularly sarees are most popular item in here. People from Karachi, Quetta and far-off places in Punjab come to the Paan Gali to buy kamdani, jamawar, banarsi, kataan, chikan, etc type of cloths that are considered rich in texture and unique in quality, since in Pakistan, the cloth industry cannot manufacture them the way the Indians do,” says Rafiq Abbas, a shopkeeper running his business of Indian cloth.