Kababish: Experiencing the India, Pakistan bond
Afifa Jabeen Quraishi
Kababish is where most desis, a collective term for people of the Indian subcontinent, in Jeddah frequent for daily and festive shopping. It is also the place they head to when they get nostalgic about back home. The market place, situated in Jeddah’s Aziziyah district, is teeming with goods from the South Asian states of India and Pakistan. Be it traditional garments, fabrics, jewelry, accessories, food and groceries, or even expert designers from the region, this market is a one-stop shop for all things.
Like Hyderabad’s Lad Bazaar or Lahore’s Liberty Market on Chand Raat (eve of Eid Al-Fitr), Kababish is in all its glory prior to the two festivals of Eid, when excited women and children line up at shops and sidewalk stalls to buy clothes, bangles, henna, cosmetics, etc., and anxious men wait, occasionally glancing at their watches and their wallets.
Located between Prince Majed Street and Moalifeen Street, Kababish has been around for years. What has changed, however, is the increasing availability of specialized items that once necessitated a trip back home to purchase them.
Shops now show with pride their female clientele catalogues of high profile Indian designers, such as Manish Malhotra, whose creations they claim are exclusive to their stores. Designer saris and stitched blouses, once thought to be a thing of elite boutiques in plush localities in India, are now stored in special cloth cases and shown to eager customers. Some of the stores are exclusive distributors of Pakistan’s reputed fashion lines, such as Gul Ahmed and Al-Karam, both of which offer unstitched salwar suits in a variety of fabrics including khaddar, lawn, cambric, chiffon, and silk.
Attractive handmade leather slippers adorned with sequins and ethnic motifs, called khussas in Pakistan and chadawi juti in India, are also exclusive to some shops in Kababish.
Another store is selling lacquered bangles, which are molded out of pure lac and studded with sparkling and beautifully cut glass pieces in countless colors, a specialty from the south Indian city of Hyderabad, known as the “city of pearls” for its charming variety of the white beads. What’s more, the shop’s setup – the style in which the bangles and jewelry is displayed – is reminiscent of Hyderabad’s famous market, the Lad Bazaar.
Another store sells rich fabrics of Jamawar from Pakistan, which comprises intricately woven patterns in gold or silver and brocades, which earlier were hard to find here. The shop also stocks pretty embroidered laces and borders as well as plain fabrics in different colors for matching purposes.
Kababish also houses several Pakistani restaurants, one of which the market itself is named after. The restaurants are frequented not just by desis but also by an increasing number of Saudis who visit to relish authentic chicken tikka or nihari. These restaurants are also venues for year-round bazaars, which are a hit among the ladies.
The sweetshops here are buzzing with activity all year round (who needs an occasion to eat sweets?), with hot off the wok jalebis, crunchy chat and falooda being the most popular items. Street vendors are seen selling kulfi to excited children and adults alike.
A wider availability of South Asian goods that were not available earlier means good business for the traders as well as convenience for the shoppers. A flip side, however, is the prices of these exclusive products, which are way above their actual prices in their places of origin. Like they say: You can’t have it all.
Like back home, both customers and shopkeepers are accustomed to haggling, which in fact in most cases is a necessity to get the best deal.
The sprawling market of Kababish came into being in the mid-1980s, when families clustered in the neighborhood to stay close to two community schools, the Pakistan International School Jeddah and the International Indian School Jeddah. What followed was a bevy of shops opening up to cater to the various needs of the largest possible South Asian community in the Kingdom, such as authentic Indian and Pakistani food, clothing, and groceries.
In world politics, the two nations may be at loggerheads with each other, but stores in Kababish are inadvertently giving out a message of peace, where merchandise from both India and Pakistan are stocked side by side, in total harmony.