UNTIL that horrific and gloomy evening of December 28, 2012 when the entire lengths of the old city of Peshawar resonated and shook with the sound of yet another devastating suicide bombing, Dhaki Naalbandi in the Qissa Khwani Bazaar was best known for once being home to Prithvi Raj Kapoor, the pre-partition icon of Indian cinema and the progenitor of the celebrated Kapoor Family.
Except for its relative height, Dhaki Naalbandi is indistinguishable from the rest of its neighbouring residential localities in what was once the walled city of Peshawar. Prithvi Raj Kapoor’s tall rising house in the winding streets stands at the highest point in close proximity to the famous jewellers’ bazaar of Peshawar.
Though the house is in a state of poor repair, its grandeur seems to have survived the vagaries of times and nature as even in its dilapidated shape it points to the vibrant and colourful lifestyle of the actor and his ménage. It looks as if with its plethora of westward balconies and windows overlooking the grand Bala Hissar Fort and beyond that the hills on the Durand Line, Sri Kapoor wanted to behold the spectacle in its entirety in order to be able to present it to his excited audience.
Albert Godin, the piano freak of yesteryears who was born in Peshawar in 1929, recently reminisced about the old Peshawar in one of his write ups. Albert vividly remembers Prithvi Raj Kapoor holding a stage drama titled ‘Deewar’ in the Capitol Cinema Peshawar at the end of which the thespian dressed in the loose Peshawari shirt trousers was seen collecting donations in the foyer.
The elderly Albert these days lives in Rawalpindi with his wife Clare. But that does not take away from his being a dyed in the wool Peshawarite. He also recalls the cosmopolitan Peshawar with a sense of deep nostalgia where there once lived more than nine thousand Jews and Zoroastrians in exemplary harmony with the other natives.
The old Kapoor House now lies closed behind a rusty lock. There are some efforts afoot at the level of the government to purchase the property from its present owners and restore it as a piece of our valued heritage. But the overall shape of things in Peshawar, dampened further by the gory events of December 22, would hardly entice anybody notably the Kapoors to evince any kind of interest in the project. The suicide attack took place just about a hundred yards from the coveted house.
The attack claimed the prized scalp of an important political leader who given all his perceived and alleged human failings was known for his fearless stand against the ongoing spate of barbarity and bigotry. ‘in logon ne hamarey janazo aur ibadatgahon ko be nahi chora,’ (these people have neither spared our funerals nor our places of worship) the slain leader would be heard commenting angrily and yet submissively at the site of each successive tragedy.
There should now be no doubt left in anybody’s mind that the whole of Peshawar is a legitimate target for the militants of various hues unleashed by the forces of decay, and Qissa Khwani Bazaar and its numerous dark and dingy alleyways serving as a fertile game reserve for these overzealous merchants of death. In fact in its present gruesome aspects Peshawar could be likened to Gaza, and the primitive bazaar of the storytellers as the hiding quarters of the mainstream Hamas leaders with the Israeli jets in pursuit thereof.
Although the nature and motives of the conflict in Peshawar and Gaza are altogether dissimilar, there appears to be a sinister connect in as far as the impact of the animosities are concerned. The apparently invincible militants have nailed most of their targets in the main Qissa Khwani Bazaar and the adjoining streets with as in the case of Gaza heavy collateral damage. In each of the two cases the damage to the attackers is minimal, or none at all.
The Israeli jets have never been downed, a feat matched by our inland militants on several occasions including the devastating car bomb in Meena Bazaar in 2009, which claimed more than 120 lives with no loss to the attackers. Perhaps the stark difference between Peshawar and Gaza is that whereas in the case of the latter many actors including the International bodies step in to stop the hostilities, in the case of former apathy reigns supreme.
Less than a week ago twenty-two lower level officials of a tribal security force were abducted and killed in cold blood in the bordering areas of Peshawar. The macabre incident did not cause more than a whimper. In fact the killing of some prized birds of prey would have stirred the conscience of the world more and might even have caused a furore of enormous proportions.
The level of desensitisation in our polity has touched such an extent that the intermittent sounds of bomb blasts now cause panic just a little more than the loud banging of a door. In the initial stages of our present fait accompli the sound of a bomb blast would force the people out of their houses looking out for the whereabouts of their loved ones.
During a visit to Dhaki Naalbandi just a couple of days after the incident a resident beckoned with as little regard as if he had been asked about the location of a shop selling groceries when he was asked about the site of the recent bombing.
Persistent militancy and its fallouts have so demoralized all and sundry that for once no one appears to be ready to shepherd the herd. The few who raise their voices are devoured along with scores of bystanders. Others, who speak, speak out so incoherent that they at best sound to be fickle. ‘We do not want them to lay arms, we only want them to renounce violence,’ is the newest refrain. Those who say so believe this way they can humour the militants. They are mistaken.
Traveling in Peshawar these days from one point to another is one heck of a job. There are at least thirty check posts set by the security agencies, but yet the miscreants slip in with utmost ease. In fact one would assume quite safely that they are lurking around and basking in the relative comforts of our neighbourhoods rather than their perceived dark caves. This is perhaps due to the fact that militants have quite strong pockets of sympathy and support in our milieu.
As one meandered through the heights and narrow streets of Dhaki Naalbandi to reach the site of the latest tragedy, one was inauspiciously reminded of the title of Prithvi Raj Kapoor’s play ‘Deewar’ (wall). One reckons the theme of the play must have revolved around a love besotted boy and girl separated by a wall formed by their parents or to a lesser extent it might have got something to do with the wall encircling the city. Whatever must have been the issue then, thick, hideous and draconian walls continue to symbolize life in the present day Peshawar as one sees them rising all around us. But we need to remember that no height is beyond the ungainly reach of the ubiquitous militants as we learnt only recently in Dhaki Naalbandi.