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Footwear stores replace historical cafés of Peshawar Saddar

Footwear stores replace historical cafés of Peshawar Saddar

PESHAWAR: Saddar Road, the main street of Peshawar Cantonment, has lost over the past few years three historical cafés, frequented by a large number of people.

The last one to pull its shutters down was Silver Star Café and the space that once served aromatic tea and snacks has now been taken over by a footwear store. Interestingly, two other popular cafes -- Golden Star and Khyber -- located in its close proximity have also closed down and footwear stores have taken over their premises.

Amin Khan, who worked at Silver Star, told Dawn that the café closed down last year owing to dwindling economic prospects.

He said that café had to pay the same amount of tax that was paid by the big city restaurants. “Though it was a historical café, yet it was very difficult to run it with the meagre earning,” he added.

Labour leader Agha Bakhtiar Ali, who witnessed the heydays of the cafés in both cantonment and city area, said that Saddar Road cafés were centres of the cultural life of Peshawar.

“There were five cafés. The cultural centres of France and the US and British Library were also located here,” he said. Café Shiraz, Golden Star, Khyber Café and Silver Star were located on main Saddar Road while Café De France was situated close to French Cultural Centre on Arbab Road. The US centre and British Council Library were also located nearby.

Mr Ali said that Golden Star was the most popular cafés as its rates were reasonable. “Qamar Sardhadi, Abul Kaif Kaifi, Farigh Bukhari and Khatir Ghaznvi were among the regular visitors of the café,” he said, adding that the café would remain open till late at night and many people would turn up to listen to those literary luminaries.

He said that Shiraz Café was popular among college students, who mostly occupied its balcony, as it offered music besides tea and snacks. Café De France also offered good pastry besides tea, he said. “Many book lovers would also come to Saddar owing to presence of French and the US cultural centers and British Library here,” he added.

Mr Ali said that the British-era Peshawar Garrison Club was centre of cultural life, but everyone could not have gone there, so those cafés were a common man alternative to gathering places of the elite.

“Those cafés also contributed to raising political awareness among the visitors,” he said, adding that in old city ‘qehwakhanas’ (the green tea shops) also performed the same function. The old city tea stalls, which would remain open till late night, were also frequented by a large number of people, he said.

“Peshawar has seen tribulations throughout its history. Now it is physically intact, but dying culturally,” Mr Ali said, adding when terrorist attacks surged in the city, people even stopped coming out of their homes.

Columnist Dr Mohammad Taqi told Dawn that among others, sportsmen especially hockey players used to hang out at Golden and Silver cafés.

“I was a child in the 1970s and attended some of those gatherings with my uncle Sawakhat Ali Khan Sakhi, who was the then NWFP hockey captain and PAF team’s coach. Such a bustle as I’ve seen at those cafés along Champs-Élysées in the evenings,” he added.

Dr Taqi said that another hangout was Mehrdin Ustad’s sports shop which was on main Saddar Road right by Lahori Qulfa shop. Mehrdin was a feisty man, who made the best hockey stick called “Frontier King”.

Rashid, who runs a shop next to the closed down Silver Star Café, told Dawn that the lone place in Peshawar where people could interact and sit was Peshawar Club but it was reserved for civil and military elite of the city.

“For the rest of the people, there is no place to sit and share their interests,” he said, adding that to sit, listen and think had ceased to exist in the society.

Mr Rashid said that three of the four cafés in Saddar including Khyber, Golden Star and Silver Star were closed down and only Shiraz Café was there.

In addition to those cafés there were also other prominent places that were frequented by political workers and intellectuals including Afzal Bangash’s Balakhana in Khyber Bazaar and Arbab Sikandar’s place, however, these too are long gone besides other such prominent places in rest of the province.

Dr Taqi said Afzal Bangash’s Balakhana was indeed a gathering spot for the leftist political workers. Another leftist hangout was right outside

Asamai Gate above Mumtaz Medicos across from Lady Reading Hospital (LRH). He said that there was Café Shabistan.

“Shabistan was owned by my grandfather’s brother Younus Khan aka Younas Kabuli and Group of 77 (I think that’s what it was called) including Afzal Bangash, Qazi Anwar and other Maoists used to come there,” he said, adding that Shabistan lasted till late 70s.

Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2015

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