Shopping in Anarkali is a sensory overload; you’ve got your finger on the pulse of the city. There’s an incredible vibrancy of sounds and smells and for me, it is one of the most exciting places on earth. Other than the history and romance associated with the market, the reason I’ve been going there since I was a child and now take my own children, is that it’s just an awesome place to shop. From my bangles and dupattas to bicycles and stationery for the kids, there’s no end to what you can find in Anarkali. Bano Bazaar is to Lahore what Accessorize is to the rest of the world.
I’m not a fan of malls, they suffocate me. Anarkali, on the other hand, a place that allows you to break free of the ‘cultural elite syndrome’ and meet the vibrant, down-to-earth, unrestrained Pakistanis who make up the majority of this country, is a liberating experience.
What worries me now is the pollution and the fear that the stunning architecture and artisanship on display is getting tainted. It would be wonderful if the government would take steps to educate the public on the immense historical value of the market and take steps to preserve it.
Anarkali’s two branches, the old and the new, mark Lahore’s transition from being the seat of the Mughals to a colonial city. In this one long strip of a market, which occupied a very small footprint in terms of urban mass, you could get everything from paper in bulk to your daughter’s dowry. In its prime, Anarkali was a promenade where people would come from across the region to get a sense of what Lahore was all about.
The architecture of the bazaar is an assortment of colonial and post-colonial influences. New Anarkali is fascinating because it has a lot of art deco buildings. Art deco in the subcontinent is somewhat similar to South American art deco in that it embraces motifs that are unique and localized, and not necessarily European.
What’s truly remarkable is that within this one market, you will find the tomb of a Muslim general, a dharamshala and a church, a building that’s almost Venetian in style given its over-exuberant use of plaster mouldings and fancy brickwork.
My earliest memory of Anarkali is tagging along with my mother as she shopped at Bano Bazaar and being treated to the famous chaat of the area – a taste that you really can’t find anywhere else. It was also the place to go for Eid shopping when one wanted a new pair of peshawari chappals.
The bazaar itself has a fascinating history. After partition, many of Delhi’s Urdu speaking families settled around it and hence the food of the area – from the nihari to the kebabs – has a very unique, ‘Delhi wala’ taste.
I feel that it is the figure of Anarkali that deserves real attention. Whether the story is true or not, it is deeply rooted in our culture and hence, needs to be celebrated. How often does one hear of a strong female figure who defied authority and left such a lasting legacy? Lahore needs to devise an annual festival around Anarkali, a festive occasion marked by song and dance to commemorate the legend.
Cultural Icon, Ex-Politician