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Peshawar lament

Published Aug 25, 2013 07:46pm


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House in Mohalla Sethian
House in Mohalla Sethian
The old Treasury Building
The old Treasury Building
Old City, West Gate
Old City, West Gate
The Mughal Bridge
The Mughal Bridge

Peshawar! The city of flowers! I became enamoured of this town when I first set foot on its sand-swept streets, over 30 odd years ago. In those days, PIA was the best airline in the world, teaching other airlines how to run an airline. Those were the days, government GTS blue buses would take you safely anywhere. There was an ambiance which thrilled a newcomer.

When I disembarked from a rickshaw on the wrong side of the street from the hotel I wanted to go, I was almost run down by a ‘speeding’ tonga. Reaching the other side, the hotel wallahs, lolling at the entrance, laughed good naturedly and ushered me inside. They were welcoming and wanted to know all about the ferangi who had come into their midst.

Where was the Old City, I asked. After being shown my room and partaking of chai on the house, I ventured out into the street. Opposite me was a regal mosque, the Sunri Masjid. A few tongas passed, a number of rickshaws and some rather battered trucks with colourful paintwork on their wooden sides, and buses adorned with sparkling tassels of metal hanging from the driver’s cabin. A small truck laden with school kids hanging on the back passed under my nose, belching oily black smoke.

I hailed one of the larger varieties of rickshaws and headed for the Old City. Passing the Dean’s Hotel, we went over a bridge, the sides of which were decorated with blue tiles. The hotel had looked attractive, and I promised myself I would stop by later and have something to eat there.

At the beginning of the Khyber Bazaar, I said farewell to the rickshaw and stepped into the throng of pedestrians. I was immediately enthralled by their colourful dresses. I saw only men, except when a car pulled up and a woman in a burqa got out and went into a shop. There were lungis as well as shalwar khameez and a wonderful variety of headgear. The Chitrali cap, flat, was worn by the men from Chitral; the Afghan from the mountains with turbans of every kind wound round the head with a big tail dangling down the shoulder.

I walked on to the famous Qissa Khwani Bazaar — the Storytellers’ market. I was enraptured. I had read all about the North-West Frontier and the ancient city of Peshawar, one of the longest inhabited cities (along with Damascus) in the world. It was everything I had read and dreamed about. The more I moved into the Old City, passing the chai shops, then the spice market and then on into the gold market and out into the Chowk Yadgar, the more I felt I was passing into a time warp. I had left the 20th century.

It is now 2013. What of the fabled city of Peshawar? Dean’s has long since gone and a monstrosity of a building has been built in its place. The blue tiles on the bridge are all but gone. PIA is a joke. The transportation in the city is a nightmare, compounded by the building of flyovers and army check posts. Famous parks are losing their beauty to encroachments. Flowers? I have them in my garden! I no longer wander the streets and alleyways of the Old City. Many of the wooden buildings are collapsing — no one cares. The Qissa Khwani Bazaar has become the bazaar of militants and bomb blasts.

Gor Kuttre has been prostituted with an illegal wedding hall, the British barracks have gone, the stables have been turned into handicraft shops, the Hindu temple has been restored with cement. Since the day, many years ago, I walked in and saw unbelievable chaos — bulldozers and other modern equipment, such as a cement mixer, piles of bricks and rubble — and could not make up my mind whether it was a demolition or a restoration site, I reckon that millions must have been spent on Gor Kuttree over the years, USAID, Unesco et al.

The Treasury hit the dust last year. A while back, the Landsdown cinema opposite Arbab Road, was demolished. What next? I hear that the 1,000-year-old tree outside the Muhafiz Khana, which I and a friend saved from demolition a few years back, by getting a stay order, has had most of its glorious branches cut.

The railway line, which goes on to the Khyber Pass, runs in front of my house, but it is many years since a train rumbled by, shaking the foundations of my rented house. Tourists used to ride that train. Now the tracks are all broken. Today, there is not a tourist to be seen in Peshawar.

Every day there is a sad tale of something being demolished or axed. Are we going to continue to be victims of the land mafia, the demolition mafia and corrupt politicians?

Comments (22) Closed

Goga Nalaik Aug 25, 2013 08:34pm

Dear Maureen

I've loved your article. It has thrown me almost 30 years back when I used to walk through its Streets and bazaars longwith my farangi friends.


farid Aug 25, 2013 08:41pm

A great analysis by a neutral observer. I feel exactly the same when I go back to my city, Peshawar. What happened to us?

A.M. Aug 25, 2013 09:34pm

It is a tragedy that Pakistan had gone down the hill in last 30/40 years.Religious fanatacism rules, ones life and dignity have no value. Blame our Politicians who are corrupt to the bones. Pakistani people will keep suffering one bad government goes another bad one takes its place. Poor Pakistanis are like the KUGE ( of saif ul malook) sitting in the middle of the tree, one BAZ is on the top of the tree and the other TEER ANDAZ is on the ground, death of kuge ( suffering of Pakistanis ) is assured. Living in Pakistan has become a living death.

Agha Ata Aug 25, 2013 11:05pm

It was in 1959 when I visited Peshawar the last time. It was almost exactly as you described it. Now I read your article and feel very very sad. I still remember Saddar, the Dean Hotel (the only place with a liquor bar, besides posh Green hotel) the Railway station and the museum with giant statues of Budha, while going to Qissa Khwani Bazar. I remember a famous restaurant, Sabri Hotel, in Q?ssa Khwani, it was famous for kababs. The point is that what you have written is very informative but very heartbreaking. I had similar feelings when I went to Quetta. I went there in early fifties, when it was considered the cleanest city in Pakistan. We felt embarrassed walking on Bruce Road (Now Jinnah Road) if not properly dressed, and was shocked when I revisited it in nineties. I saw beggars sleeping, under their dirty quilts, in the middle of Jinnah Road. The whole city appeared worn out, exhausted like an old sick man. Pakistan started going down hill almost the day it was born. We started pulling down every thing that appeared English or made by the English. I don

soomar Aug 25, 2013 11:11pm

You are right about PIA and GTS, But now we are running after foreign friends to run National Airline and Public Transport so that our "KHANCHA " is safe.

Mohammad Aug 25, 2013 11:57pm

Sad State of once a beautiful City. Shahi Bagh ( Gardhen), Pardah Bagh and Company Baghs are in bad state as well. These gardens hosted Kabuli refugees for years after Russians attack on Afghanistan.

shandana Aug 26, 2013 12:09am

yes it is very sad. I am surprised there is no mention of what has really gutted our city - the terror and the war. buildings will change, but flowers should not die.

Muhammad Aug 26, 2013 02:06am

although i agree with you, but the city received the set back due to terrorism only but has recovered well, i guess you havent been to town areas and hayatabad side where you can see developments.. ofcourse it cant be the way you described above cause that was the old days.. all the cities have changed since then... life moves on so does the city, this article is based on your nostalgia only and not the reality of today...

Asim Malik Aug 26, 2013 04:43am

My heart weeps every time I read about what has happened to Pakistan. I sink further knowing that there is no ray of light visible either. We try need a Messiah along with a miracle....

Aysha Aug 26, 2013 04:52am

Please check the houses in Muhallah Saithyaan (from word saith) in inner city of Peshawar. They are hundreds of years old but beautiful....They are owned by private people. I hope someone thinks about preserving that beautiful art of carved wood.

Shridhar Subrahmanyam Aug 26, 2013 04:54am

I have a burning desire to visit Peshawar as my father served with the Brits in Peshawar between 1936 and 1939 and I have heard him talk about the romance of the 'frontier'. I know that it is highly unlikely that I, a Hindu Indian, now pushing 75 will ever be able to visit Pesahwar in my lifetime and survive!

My question to the writer, what are youm a firangi, doing in Peshawar? The hotbed of Taliban violence in Pakistan?

K.A.Muhammad Aug 26, 2013 05:37am

Which one of the two were more cultured and civilized, Muslims of Pre-Partition or Muslims of Post Partition; now in Pakistan?

Honest babe Aug 26, 2013 05:44am

Ms. Lines, why are you still in Peshawar or for that matter in Pakistan? Go somewhere where you can be safe.

Asif Aug 26, 2013 05:49am

Beautifully written, Ma'am!

Peshawar has been through a litany of tormenting incidents. Afghan migration leading to an over population, insurgency, and IDPs etc have severely damaged the tranquillity of the city. Extremism is yet another facet to the folds of the causes.

It's a melancholy that the city once called as having the most beautiful and mysterious evenings by Ghani Khan is now a place of depressed natives trying their best at emigrating to other cities. I remember 5 years back, it would take 10-15 min to reach Town from Saddar, now it takes around 30-45.

Also, PIA is a national institute and does not account for any sole connection with Peshawar City which may be rectified.

Ali Aug 26, 2013 06:56am

Nice article , this remind me the years I spend in Pekhawar first while studying in Islamia College in 1990 and than few more years while working in 1998-2003. I was lucky both these periods was very peaceful, no bombing, or militancy whatever so and Pehkhwar was the city of joy and fun making. I do not recall any police or military checkpost, we could wonder all day and night without any fear. These days living in Pekhawar is nightmare.

Ma derta tol umar ta gulonno khar wayali de, kala me perzo she pa bamono pekhawara!

Bharat Aug 26, 2013 08:06am

DOes any one read this?

from the comments - obviously not

Jawad Shah Aug 26, 2013 08:48am

I appreciate the paragraph and detailed observation of writer. Being from Peshawar i feel the same and even bitter about all these

Zia Aug 26, 2013 10:35am

it is very sad to know that the beautiful and historical city building and places have been demolished , and this is because of our corrupt politician and mafia. No body is thinking about his country , if you are searching for patriotic politicians or leader , 10% you cannot find so in this case what will be the feature of our country, and the peoples of Pakistan, and especially Peshawar city beauty and peace has been destroyed due to Afghanistan war and it is now like a play ground between different agencies . GOD BLESS OUR HOME COUNTRY .(ZIA UR RAHMAN ZIA DUBAI)

Raza Aug 26, 2013 11:45am

@Shridhar Subrahmanyam: I for one would wish that you come and visit this city that you dream about and if I could be your host, I would be so pleased. The extremists on both sides of the border that have made life miserable for us common people who just want to go on with our lives and enjoy whatever we can while we breathe!

Is it too much to ask for?

Haq Nawaz Khan Aug 26, 2013 02:44pm

I concur with everything in the article. I wish I can put tears in my comments, what has happened to our beloved Peshawar.

As a twelve year my father took us to Pakistan, Peshawar and would buy us a Kebab meal in Khyber Bazar, we would look out with amazement at the hustle and bustle. This has all long gone, where people had joy in there eyes have now been placed with fear. I have taken my own to son replicate the joy I had, but its not the same.

In closing, can I say, can we stop fighting other people battles and concentrate building our future.

Asim Iqbal Aug 26, 2013 03:09pm

@K.A.Muhammad: Post partition....

Asim Iqbal Aug 26, 2013 03:39pm

The peshawarites are hoping that the new govt in the province will be able to bring back those colours but I think that they (Govt) will not be able to do so as the same set of politicians are responsible for bringing the city to this stage....