Peshawar: The Shah Rukh Connection

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Shahrukh Khan

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Peshawar, the 2,000-year-old capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, was once the centre of the Buddhist Gandhara civilisation. Alexander the Great, Babar, Akbar and Maharaja Ranjit Singh have all stomped through here and left their indelible mark on the city.
Peshawar, the Wild West of Asia, is a city of contrasts. A florist and arms dealer can work alongside and not appreciate the irony.

Peshawar does not look like a part of Pakistan. There is more of Afghanistan here than Pakistan.

Men have long beards and the women, clad in salwar-kameezes and long black veils, reveal only piercing eyes. Everyone speaks Pushtu around here and the smell of fear is everywhere.

Years of war and lack of opportunities reflects a mindset filled with cynicism and despondency.

“Accha mat karo, bura nahin hoga (Don’t do any good and nothing bad will happen to you),” an autorickshaw driver told me during a discussion about how things work around the city.

Pathan land has a strong Bollywood connection. Shah Rukh Khan's family hails from the city's famous Kissa Kahani Bazaar, which is more than 200 years old.
The bazaar was once frequented by travellers coming over the Khyber Pass who entranced listeners with stories about their travels over endless cups of green tea. The voyagers have long gone, but folks still hang around the tea shops, which are adorned with brass samovars, teapots and teacups they hawk.

In one of the narrow lanes in an area called Shah Wali Katal that reminds one of the Jama Masjid area of Old Delhi stands a dark green haveli (manor house).

“Dad Sharukh kor de (This is Shah Rukh’s house),” says the cab driver. This is where Shah Rukh Khan’s father Taj Mohammad Khan was born.

Shah Rukh's cousin Mansoor Ahmad -- or Toofi as the family calls him -- remembers the last time he met Shah Rukh -- in 1980 when he visited Peshawar with his father Taj Mohammad.

Shah Rukh's ancestral house in Peshawar. King Khan and his cousin from Peshawar in Mumbai (inset).

Toofi explains that Taj Mohammad, Shah Rukh’s father, was the youngest of the five brothers and the most talented.
“And it has passed onto his son as well. Shah Rukh bahut shararti tha [Shah Rukh was very mischievous]. He mixed well with everyone and would often dress up like a girl and dance for us. Acting ke jerasin usme tabse the [The gift of acting was in him even then],” remembers Toofi, who has not met Shah Rukh in 24 years.

“I visited Bombay five years ago but Shah Rukh was in the US. I was so keen on meeting him but kismet ne saath nahin diya [Luck was not on my side],” says Toofi who is a travel agent.

“Mujhe chotta bhai ki tarah pyaar karte the woh. Unhone mujhe ek pistol gift ki thi. Abhi tak woh mere paas hai, (He treated me like his younger brother. He gifted me a toy pistol which I still have),” remembers Toofi.

Shah Rukh has not forgotten this branch of his family, Toofi says. When his sister Noor Jehan (Munni) visited Mumbai a few years ago, she met her famous cousin and had a great time meeting all the stars and watching his film shoots.

Surprisingly Toofi is not a great fan of Hindi films and says he has seen only a few Shah Rukh films.

Shah Rukh's cousin Mansoor Ahmed 'Toofi' in the family home.

Less than five hundred metres away is Mohalla Khodadad, where Bollywood legend Dilip Kumar was born.
A butcher’s shop and a vegetable vendor adorn the entrance of the lane, which leads to the house.

“Hamare galli se nikla hain sabse bada hero Hindustan ka (India's biggest star is from our area),” says Shamshad, a butcher.

None of Dilip Kumar’s immediate family stays there except for Sayeeda, a distant cousin with her family. The wooden interior in the single storey house has lost its shine but reveals a sparkling past.

Four years ago when Dilip Kumar visited the house he revealed where he use to hide his money.

“He pointed towards the crevices of the stairway. He was almost in tears when he saw the room where he was born,” Sayeeda recalled.

A few minutes away is Dakki Naal Bandi, the ancestral home of another Bollywood legend. Raj Kapoor.

Dilip Kumar in his ancestral home when he last visited Pakistan
As you drive through Peshawar you pass clusters of colourful shops where all stripes of sehras (headgear for bridegrooms) hang from the ceiling.
Illahuddin Qureshi has been selling sehras for the past 40 years. He has seen the business expand hundredfold. These sehras, adorned with rupee bills ranging from one to a hundred, are a must at Peshawari weddings, especially in the tribal areas of Banu, a few kilometres from Peshawar.

The designs range from the exquisite to the bizarre. Some have clocks on them while others have faces of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
Peshawar is famous for its markets. Women throng the cloth markets and enjoy the finest fabrics from Afghanistan and China.
Karkhano Market, a few kilometres beyond Hayatabad on Jamrud road, merits mention in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. The market is exempt from taxes because of its proximity to Pakistan's tribal areas.

It sells everything from hairpins to anti-aircraft guns. Of course, after 9/11, the government has seized the rocket launchers, the Kalashnikovs and, as the local people call it, the asla barood (real stuff) that used to go cheap around here.

Not long ago Karkhano even had a Marks & Spencer store (affiliated in some manner apparently to the famous British chain).

Posted 01 Jun 2004

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