PAKISTAN: Eid Shopping Marred by Inflation, Fear of Violence

By Beena Sarwar/IPS

Shopping for glass bangles — an Eid must — has been less than brisk this year.

KARACHI, Oct 1 (IPS) – As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan draws to a close, the shopping frenzy around Pakistan increases in preparation for Eid, the joyous three-day festival of thanksgiving to celebrate the end of a period of abstinence, including dawn-to-dusk fasting.

But preparations for the Eid festivities in this predominantly Muslim South Asian nation have been marred, this year, by the twin monsters of escalating inflation and violence.

Inflation, the highest ever in Pakistan at 25 percent, has definitely impacted Eid spending. One young woman, in her late 20s, out on a late night shopping excursion with her husband told IPS that she
normally gets three or four outfits made for Eid. “This year, I only got two. I’ve basically cut down my Eid purchases by about half, because of inflation.”

With food inflation even higher, at an estimated 30 percent, many find their Eid shopping budgets further constrained. “My household expenditure has doubled over the last six months,” a retired college
professor in Karachi told IPS. “But my retirement funds are the same as before. There’s no question of getting new curtains this year.”

According to reports coming in from around the country, there is a 30-40 percent decline compared to last year in the sales of the most popular commodities associated with Eid — primarily clothes and
shoes, and secondly minor home improvements. Furniture, curtain and carpet sales are also reportedly down by 50-60 percent from last year, despite announcement of huge sales.

When Ramadan, determined by the lunar calendar, falls during a warm month as it has this year, shops tend to stay open late in the major cities of the plains, like Lahore and Karachi. Often, the hustle and bustle carries on until the early hours of the morning, and in some areas, all night long until `sehri’, the pre-dawn meal before the day-long fast.

As Eid approaches, the shopping frenzy increases, with markets getting increasingly crowded after `iftar’, the end of the day-long fast. Shoppers throng traditional brightly-lit bazaars and modern air-conditioned shopping malls alike. During the power cuts that regularly occur, the roar of generators cuts through the price haggling between the shopkeepers and their customers, primarily women complaining about the increased prices.

“Things are 50 percent more expensive,” said a young man, one of the hundreds who set up temporary roadside stalls every Ramadan for an Eid essential: colourful, translucent glass bangle sets to match new
outfits.

Normally, such stalls would be thronged until the wee hours. Now, naked overhead light bulbs shine on the bangles glittering in their cardboard boxes on the cloth-covered table and behind it, the young salesmen, experts at coaxing the fragile bangles onto girls’ arms, sit idly. “Things are more expensive, and our customers have decreased by about half,” one young man said.

Many others that IPS spoke with echoed this `fifty percent less’ lament, but even so, they expect to make profits.

Faisal sells artificial jewellery from a miniscule shop with barely enough standing space, in a crowded passage-way in a shopping plaza, a space he rents for Rs 10,000 (130 dollars) a month. “There are more
people who just come and look without buying than before,” he said, handing over a set of four imitation silver bangles with dangling pearls to a young girl for Rs 150 (two dollars). “But I will be okay.”

Asked how he feels about being crammed into this tiny shop in this passage-way with no ventilation or exit routes in case of an emergency situation, he smiles and shrugs. “Everything just carries on. It is all up to Allah, just like this country.”

An imitation jewellery seller at the Millennium Mall, a multi-storey plaza in a middle-class locality of Karachi, expects to gross Rs 150,000 (2,000 dollars) in profits at the end of the two-week Eid season, according to M. Ilyas Khan, a BBC writer.

Khan estimated that traders at Karachi’s old but still fashionable shopping street, Tariq Road, “will see their collective profits for the season exceed 100 million dollars.” Last year, some 10,000 shops and stalls on Tariq Road grossed 91 million dollars during the Eid season, according to the shop-owners’ association.

A slightly-built youngster called Chinkoo, selling embroidered bags and purses in a warren of shop-lined passageways in the perennially under-construction Gulf Mall, thought the decline in customers may
have to do with the number of shopping plazas and malls that have cropped up. “There are many more places to go and shop now, so people don’t crowd the same old places anymore,” he conjectured.

Sales in the capital city of Islamabad have been particularly affected by the Sep. 20 bomb attack on the Marriott Hotel. However, security concerns may also be behind the relatively fewer crowds thronging the markets in the pre-Eid season.

“I think it’s a combination of inflation and the security situation,” said Adam, the young manager of a shop selling potato chips flavoured with various spices.