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Oct 31

BOTAL GALI

           BOTAL GALI

         THE FADING BAZAR

It was a working day early in the morning when I accompanied my driver in Karachi to go to BOTAL GALI (Bottle Lane) as my previous attempts to enter into this congested and narrow lane proved to be an exercise in futility because I committed the common mistake of accessing this lane during the peak rush hours in the afternoon previously.

It was about 9.00 am the traffic was light and I made my way from D.H.A. Karachi to Bander road. Here again I had to make a double left turn to Hassan Ali Effendi road and crossed Pakistan Chowk to reach BOTAL GALI.

BOTAL GALI at the time of partition was called PARSI GALI as most of the residents at that time were PARSI’s having migrated from India and even some people of British origin also had their residences there.

The street gradually transformed from a thriving residential district to a commercial one, featuring shops selling all kinds of bottles — perfumes, medicines, beverages, you name it.

Later on it was termed as BOTAL GALI because all sorts of bottles whether in glass, ceramic, brass, plastic, pewter and leather could be sold and purchased here. The real fascination of this GALI is that you can find all sorts of fancy, psychedelic empty liquor bottles which have been cleaned and purified for future consumption.

  

BOTAL GALI stands out as a mix of architecture having survived centuries old wear and tear and beyond expectations it gives a very fascinating appeal from a distance but as you come near it and enter the GALI you find surviving blocks of apartments and shops here and there that are in sharp contrast with the monumental ugliness of recent horrendous cement construction which has taken around this place.

Now a day’s BOTAL GALI also is a home for a lot of perfume vendors and their shops glow with the full glitter of the energy savers that are used excessively to highlight and portray the numerous types of perfume bottles which signifies that this business of perfume is better as compared to their neighbors who are selling empty bottles.

In Pakistan there are certain names which click to the mind as if those things are in abundance there but the names are a misnomer as you do not find monkeys on Bandar road, no boat in the boat basin and no female cobra snakes in the NAGIN CHOWRANGI but in BOTAL GALI you do find bottles of all sorts.

BOTAL GALI is surrounded by colonial style buildings which have many stories to tell dating back to pre-partition times and it seems  that this place lives more in the past than in the present and it is more of what it was and not what it is now.

The old residents of BOTAL GALI have slowly faded out along with the colonial style buildings which have fell in to partial ruins and decrepitude probably because of disrepair, neglect apathy and up keep by the lack of sense of ownership of the residents but two important factors are also an aggravating and catalytic for the present dismal state of affairs and responsible for the slow death of BOTAL GALI the first being the excessive sale of plastic bottles and secondly the increasing crime wave in Karachi.

The residents of BOTAL GALI are so akin and used to the common “Robberies, holdup and snatching that they take it as a part of their daily routine.

The irony of fate is that BOTAL GALI could have been preserved as a symbol of national heritage and reverence to our shared past colonial rule and but it seems that BOTAL GALI has been left to fend for itself against all these odds, as the insecure residents and shop keepers have very little resistance to offer and remain there more for their emotional attachment rather than for the business that they are pursuing.

The emotional attachment that the people of the street feel for it is evident in their determination to stick to it, no matter what. It’s almost like they are living in the past as if today doesn’t matter.

Of course there are the national problems of load shedding and water supply which makes the place unfriendly and inhospitable to the new comers despite the fact that this is the problem of the whole country.

BOTAL GALI is a collectors delight where you can find a variety of colorful and beautifully carved bottles available in a range of sizes. The most common ones are the plastic and glass ones, especially the smaller palm-sized bottles used by the local perfume and ITTAR industry.

Of course, many bottles found here are also used solely for decoration purposes. I visited one shop where the shop keeper showed me unique glass bottle and vases which he claimed are more than a century old and has been handed down to him from one generation to another. I jokingly asked him about the price of this decorative long bottle but he proudly shrugged his shoulders and said that these bottles are family heritage and not for sale.

The general impression about the shopkeepers of BOTAL GALI is that they are rude and arrogant but what is really interesting is the stories they have to tell some of which date back to the pre-partition times.

BOTAL GALI is like a small island demarcated by old high rise buildings but it is just a street which has an amalgamation of the past and present, from genie style mysterious colored glass bottles to the present bulk produced plastic bottles where you can see people buying and selling and interacting with one another.

There are certain nooks and corners of BOTAL GALI which give a mysterious look as they do not appear as they used to be, by that I mean closed shops and blank walls which are just used as a support of dump trash. Motorcycles are parked haphazardly in the GALI which makes the flow of traffic and pedestrians difficult causing parking problems which is a nuisance for the shop keepers who by virtue of shared  emotional attachment are sticking to their shops despite the fact that the business in now going downhill.

This is a wakeup call for all the students of fine arts and volunteers who believe in fine artistic values to come forward redesign these shops hand paint these old bottles so that they can be sold at a premium and the money recycled back for the face lift of BOTAL GALI which is much needed otherwise it will sink into oblivion.

I appeal to the governor of SINDH along with the minister of Tourism SINDH to kindly allocate some funds for the rehabilitation and refurbishing of this BOTAL GALI so that it can be preserved as a National Icon for posterity and succeeding generations.

 

Dr. Babur Zahiruddin