Urdu Bazaar: Literature and Grime
As a child, whenever I looked at the covers of my books and notebooks, I noticed that they all came from the same place: Urdu Bazaar. I was naively convinced that this was where Urdu as a language originated and dreamed of visiting this magical market. When I moved to Lahore three years ago, I made my first trip there and left utterly disillusioned and disappointed. Entangled streets and alleys, and dilapidated roads: Urdu Bazaar seemed schizophrenic. If there was any glory of the past in this place, surely, it has been pillaged by the haphazard construction and the carelessness of developmental authorities.
To say the writer’s visit to Urdu bazaar was disappointing is an understatement. Almost every road was under construction and bookstores had been substituted by dry fruit vendors.
I walked beside Government College and entered the Bazaar, to discover that one of the two major forked streets in Urdu Bazaar – Kabeer Street – had been cracked open all the way to Circular Road. Clods of the shattered charcoal road and brown puddles of dirty water were mixed with black fluid from the sewers. It was not a sight I was anticipating. I attempted to find the clearest, cleanest possible path, only to find a donkey cart laden with vegetables standing in the middle of this hot mess.
The broken road had disrupted all business on this street. Motorcyclists struggled to maintain their balance. Cars and other vehicles did not dare wade through the chaos that was Kabeer Street. Oddly there were no construction workers to be seen. As I walked further, my path was blocked by a little fire a shop owner had made to keep himself warm. The smoke that traveled upwards carried the peculiar smell of burning plastic. What a treat!
I turned towards the main street of Urdu Bazaar and came upon the famous Ilmi Book Shop. Several food carts blocked access to it as well. It seems that vendors’ in this neighbourhood consider it their ancestral right to plant themselves between pedestrians and their destinations. Exploring this bazaar, once famous for its literary and publishing scene, was like walking through the ruins of what should have been a thriving community. What I thought would be an important pilgrimage, ended up as a fruitless and bothersome day out.