IT may sound odd from a civilian person’s point of view to be too concerned, or in fact obsessed, with the state of a cantonment area in Pakistan, or for that matter in Peshawar. But the bazaar in Peshawar cantonment area popularly known as ‘Saddar bazaar,’ is so inextricably linked to the perception of the common lot that a discussion on its prevalent state is always relevant.
Some important matters took me to my former hometown of Peshawar on the shortest day of 2019. My daylong itinerary included a visit to the Saddar bazaar. Some friends had sent me images of how the road, running between the shops on either side, would look like after having been turned into a one-way.
It wasn’t to be so as the plan appeared to have gone haywire that resultantly found one trapped in a great mess. With great difficulty, I managed to find my way to the near about of Capitol cinema, one of my desired locations where I wanted to polish my Peshawari chaplis.
While the Bajauri shoeshine guys attended to the needful, I barged into the cinema premises which also houses Band Box, one of the oldest dry cleaning shops in Peshawar. A tall stoutly built man stood outside the shop who kept watching my movements quizzically as I looked around the thick walls of the old cinema house. I ended his state of suspense by asking him if it was true that the cinema house was being demolished.
The gentleman replied in the affirmative while adding that it had probably been built in 1913. ‘Perhaps the same year that the nearby Convent School was built,’ he volunteered more valuable information.
One has some fond memories of Capitol cinema. One vividly recalls watching Romeo and Juliet a showing of which our school, Cantt Public, had arranged after the annual students council elections.
I also remember Albert Godin’s (RIP), of Godin Pianos, words that he had seen Prithvi Kapoor in a lungi and white muslin kurta collecting funds in the foyer of the cinema for some noble cause.
Godin was one of the most ardent record keepers of Peshawar. One of his most fondly kept possessions was a booklet, or perhaps two, that contained complete details of the Christian cemeteries spread across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The maps of the grave sites showed in immaculate detail which British civil and military officer of the British era was buried where.
With the cinema, Band Box will also face the axe. But the most painful loss will be that of London Books, Peshawar’s only surviving bookstore of any note. We all know that London Books is housed in one of the ground floor shops of the building that makes up the said cinema. Peshawarites are not known for holding on to their bookshops so the loss is not likely to be felt too deeply except in some isolated circles.
The demolition of the Gothic-style structure of Capitol cinema will be the culminating point in a series of disturbing events that has seen the effacement of the old with a calculated precision as far as Peshawar Saddar bazaar is concerned. ‘It will be replaced by shops selling glitzy clothes and stilettos,’ laments Dr Adil Zareef, a conservationist who is in profound love with the old, classical Peshawar.
Adieu, old Peshawar!
Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2020