Qissa Khawani Bazaar

Posted by sepoy on June 29, 2005 · 3 mins read

Our friend bulleyah is fighting the good fight in Delhi. He emailed earlier in the week that Delhi's Sunday Book Bazaar faces closure by those municipal goons. Surrounded as I am by city-block sized Border's and B&N's, I forget the pleasures, the sights and the sounds of a book bazaar. Imagine, if you will, a sunday farmer's market [make them organic farmers for further frisson]. Now substitute all the vegetables and fruits, piled on canvases, stacked on the ground, with books and magazines. And the barter and weighing of literature [that emily brontÃŽ is so yellowed, you gotta bring the price down].

My favorite bazaar, of course, is in Old Anarkali, Lahore. But, I did spend some time in Hyderabad and Peshawar's book bazaars. The Peshawar one, especially. Qissa Khawani Bazaar or the Storytellers Market is one of those places that look terribly ordinary unless you peek behind the layers of paper and dust to the history. The standard version of its history is that it was founded by Paolo Avitable, the Italian governor of Peshawar under Raja Ranjit Singh, sometime around 1840. It quickly got the reputation for a place where travelers and traders sat, sipped green tea, ate chapli kababs and told stories. The romance of the bazaar grew as various European narratives begin to circulate [Kipling's Mahbub Ali sat in the Qissa Khawani bazaar].

I visited it for the first time in '88. By then, there were no storytellers left in the bazaar. Qissa Khawani was a big, wide sreet with merchants and traffic galore. You could still find the stories, though, if you knew. Right off the main thoroughfare, were quiet alleys and backways that took to shops and merchants who peddled stories. In cassettes by Pashto folk singers, accompanied usually with a rebab, were the stories called badalas. The titles were usually accessible to those who knew Persian or Urdu epics - Shirin wa Farhad or Yusuf wa Zulaikha - or who were well-versed in the Pashto epics of resistance [to the British and the Soviets]. One could also buy little pulp books with the stories. The original storytellers may have disappeared but these cassettes [and the texts] are an amazing primary source for this oral tradition. I think the Lok Virsa people have collected these stories.

On my most recent visit, two years ago, the place had changed considerably. Textile and other merchandise dominates the market. At first, I was disheartened, thinking that the old book stalls had disappeared. But, right when I got my first pinch on the ass, I saw that the stalls had morphed yet survived. The stories are still available in the storytellers market. They have even graduated from cassettes to VCDs and, strangely, skirts. And that just made me happy. Mahbub Ali would be at home.

Go fight the good fight with bulleyah, O ahl-delhi.

later: Har points to harneet who took some nice fotos of the delhi sunday bazaar.


Avitable | September 17, 2005

Did you know that General Avitable was so frightening in Peshawar, that his name (translated to Abutabella) is now commonly known as the boogeyman in that province? And this is one of my ancestors? Yikes.

Educa Books | May 24, 2006

On your web page I read about Qissa Khawani Peshawar artical. Is possible to get the latest address tel umber of a book store in Peshawar Pakistan Aryana Book Agency - Dhaki Nalbandi, Qissa Khawani, Peshawar City Tel 213263 (no connection at this number)

yahya | May 13, 2010

i just want to buy a book from Qesa khwani bazar ( telk e khers ) from mr yousef . but i don't know how ? i know no one in Pakistan i know also nothing about book business in Peshawar . thanks from canada . toronto .

mumtaz Nasir Khan | March 15, 2014

Mr,Sopey author of above lines on Qissa Kkawani Bazar sounds a layman who know writing but do not take pain to walk through the pages of history.He claims that Peshawar was founded by Avitavala , Governor of Ranjeet Singh in 18 40 .No Sir !this is incorrect..while writing on historic cities, one have to study reference books on the subject .Peshawar stands as a anicient city roots to an era of Aryan invasions in Indian sub continent with an alien culture of their own inIndia,which later adopted by the natives Arya samaj as their religus entity.During Buhddit period Peshwar was the capital i of Gandahra civilization n Kinishka founded the city during early ist century A,D,Greeks Chines, whit Huns Iranin n many invaders from north first setelled in Peshawar n then rolled on roads to Indian subcontinent .Peshawar still lead the status of doner in the field of history ,Art, Culture n politics in the south eastern region particularly n the world at large today in 2014.I would like to recommend a research book "The Bazar of storytellers"" published by Lok Virsa Islamabd to whom I am privileged to be co-author .