From Pakistan to Chandigarh, a Little Bit of Retail Heaven

Two trade exhibitions in Chandigarh brought together Indian and Pakistani designers and artists to showcase their products.

Representative image. Credit:

Representative image. Credit:

Chandigarh: Mujahid Khan from Karachi sells hashmi surmi, the darkest kohl, according to him. The surmi, known as surma in India, has been popular for nearly 200 years. “Before India and Pakistan were partitioned, our great grandmothers used to buy this surma [kohl]” says Khan. The product is so popular that young girls come asking for it, having heard about the surma from their grandmothers.

While Indian finance minister Arun Jaitley may have avoided a visit to Islamabad for the eighth meeting of finance ministers from all the SAARC countries, Indians in Punjab are undeterred by frosty bilateral ties and clearly love Pakistani goods. Ignoring the recent Pakistan-bashing in national discourse, denizens thronged to Himachal Bhawan in Sector 28 and Kisan Bhawan in Sector 35, which held trade exhibitions on Indian and Pakistani products from August 25 to 28.

Nikaah, at Himachal Bhawan, exclusively featured wedding and lifestyle related products. Young and talented designers  showcased lehengas, shararas, sarees and suits. The sharara, a traditional outfit worn by Muslim women, has become increasingly popular in India.

Kisan Bhawan had about 25 stores from Pakistan, and handicraft goods, shoes and clothes were the most popular among shoppers. But it was at the food court that the neighbourly bonhomie was at its best. At Shee Jee Foods, owner Imran, was too busy making kebabs to speak with me. Instead his wife, Shehmila, spared a minute for me with a smile. The stall’s idiosyncratic name turned out to be an expression of respect for Shehmila – ‘jee’ commanded by the ‘she’ in the duo.

Although the food court offered vegetarian options, most people were there for the mutton biryani. Satinder Singh, one such patron, commented on the Pakistani food saying, “This taste comes only from there, they alone know how to bring the right aromas to mutton!”

Embroidered fabrics and onyx products on display at the exhibition. Credit:

Embroidered fabrics and onyx products on display at the exhibition. Credit:

The ittar (perfume) shop was another major attraction. “Sultan and Oudh perfumes are in great demand among our sardar bhais” said Khan, one of the ittar salesmen. He tells me that the unique kasturi ittar costs as much as Rs 1,80,000 for just 10 grams. “What we sell is not kasturi but its fragrance taken from a shred, it lasts for two days, even if you wash your hands. Oudh, made of a rare wood adds to the tashan (style),” he added.

A transparent stone lamp at a stall organised by Karachi’s Nadeem Enterprises attracted several onlookers. The stall was selling items made from onyx, which were priced between Rs 500-1,00,000. The onyx can only be found in the mines of Quetta in Balochistan.

The man selling footwear from Lahore was proud of his full tilla shoes and sandals. “ I used to wait for some invitation from Lahore to get these special chappals. It’s such a luxury getting them here,” said theatre artist Channi.

Among many garment shops, Mohammad Rashid’s shop was particular noticeable. On sale were fabrics with breathtaking embroidery, procured from remote villages in Multan. His wife Rehana Nadeem informed me that each piece took about six months to be completed and used a stitch called kachcha burr. The fabrics were being sold for Rs 3000.

Javed Iqbal, who brought along a team of 25 people, including women entrepreneurs, came from the Gujranwala Chamber of Commerce and Industry and was invited by a team of Indian entrepreneurs. Both sides expressed the belief that promoting trade is the only answer to put a stop to all the misgivings that plague India and Pakistan. “None of us face any problem, either at immigration or at any other level. Our women enjoy coming here, they feel secure and free,” a member of the Pakistani delegation says. “For us it’s like coming to another home, this is how simple it is. And we love coming here again and again.”

Rajan, from among the Indian entrepreneurs, said that the number of such fairs has increased, and the vendors no longer wait for the events to be organised for them but do it themselves.

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    Surma contains lead and causes glucoma in the eyes. Never use it.