by: Nirupama Dutt

March 19, 2009

Description: Nirupama Dutt's picture 

The subject in the message of my mailbox was “Bano Bazaar Chaat”. The sender was some Tauheed. What could it be? I could not recall the name Tauheed. Was it some advertisement or some new “chat” group misspelled “chaat”. Curiously, I opened it. It was a fond little note from a pretty middle-aged lady I had encountered at the Bano Bazaar Chaat shop some time ago in Lahore.

Now, Bano Bazaar is the name of a shopping market meant for women in Lahore’s famous Anarkali. Name the thing a woman may need and it can be found in this bazaar. It has rows and rows of charming shops across a maze of lanes and one can never tire of seeing the interesting wares sold here.

There are refreshments available for women who may shop themselves tired. Most famous is a little chaat shop in the heart of the bazaar selling plates of delicious chaat. In a delegation of women poets on their way to recite their poems at a mushaira in Gujranwala, we too partook of the delicacy.

This pretty woman across started chatting. Learning that we were a bunch of bards from India, she was very pleased. “I love literature and wanted to write but that was not to be. Instead, I worked as an accounts officer. My one wish is to see Amrita Pritam,” she gushed.
She did not know that the famed poetess had passed away the previous year. We talked a little and then parted ways with a “Khuda-Hafiz”.

Half an hour later, she traced us at a curio shop and insisted that we came to her place for dinner. We declined because we already had a dinner appointment. However, e-mail addresses were exchanged.
Much later, there was this e-mail with a reminder of the Bano Bazaar Chaat rendezvous. First, she wanted to know where she would be able to get an Amrita Pritam book in Shahmukhi. Then she revealed that she remained single and took care of her parents. But now with both of them gone, especially her mother, she was depressed.
The story seemed familiar and I told her that I went through the same when I lost my mother some years ago but overcame it by writing about her. Why didn’t Miniya, for now we were on a nickname basis, try the same.

Some days later she sent me a poignant poem written in memory of her Ammi: ‘Sham dhale paon se poochhti hoon din ki thakan, Aur soone ghar mein aati hai ammi ki awaz, Aa gayi bitiya…”. So the Bano Bazaar Chaat has the power not only to forge crossborder friendships but also inspire cathartic poetry.