Shaista Fatima /New Delhi
On August 14, 1947, when Pakistan celebrated its first Independence Day, non-Muslim families in Peshawari of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) were as happy with the turn of events as anyone in other. 75 years later, 25-year-old Abhinav, whose grandfather was among those celebrating August 14, says: “My great-grandfather (Faqir Chand) was convinced to stay in Pakistan, they (the families non-Muslims) celebrated Independence Day and had declared themselves as Pakistanis shortly after partition”
Sitting in his Faqir Chand Bookstore at Khan Marker in Delhi, Abhinav recounts his family’s story while talking to Awaz-the voice. “One day the MP from Peshawar province came in and told my family that the situation was bad. Non-Muslim Peshawaris had no choice but to leave everything behind and go to India.
Abhinav Bhami with his mother
Faqir Chand’s family was one of many people from Peshawar who were evacuated in November 1947. “Thanks to their Muslim deputy friend, they were evacuated via a chartered plane,” says Abhinav.
He says that although his ancestors escaped death on the train and buses (as happened in many cases), the family had lost everything financially.
Abhinav says, like others, that his family has been allocated a shop and a house in Khan Market. “Khan Market was a partition baby created especially for the refugees from the North West Frontier Province. The market was named to honor the brother of freedom fighter Abdul Gaffar Khan, Abdul Jabbar Khan…” he says.
Faqir Chand Family Bookstore was established in 1931 in Peshawar. It was at the time a leading bookstore in the town of Cantonment.
Abhinav says his great-grandfather Faqir Chand was a tall, sturdy man who never gave up hope and re-established the bookstore in Khan Market in 1951.
Today, Faqir Chand Bookstore is a favorite haunt of the capital’s bookworms, yet Abhinav says it remains grounded and attached to its roots. Today’s Khan Market is Delhi’s most expensive mall. Of the 91 refugee families from NWFP who resettled here after partition, only 6 remain and that includes the Bhami family from Abhivan.
Abhinav says, “Today the elders bring their grandchildren to the store and tell them the stories of their youth; and their visits to the comic book store. They say that’s the way a bookstore should be, where the priority is books and only books. It’s more about the experience and smell of a bookstore that keeps people coming back, again and again…”
For Abhinav, the personal relationship with customers is most important, “understanding our readers, knowing their tastes and then recommending new books to them, most of the regular customers have become my friends…”
“We receive visitors from all over the world. They tell us how happy they are to see our bookstore. Some of them come to India after decades, they share their memories and their love. People walk in and stand still, lost in thought, looking at the books, juggling the memories they shared with our store, and then most of them say this is the only place that hasn’t changed.
Abhinav says, “It’s touching when former clients tell me that I knew your grandparents. or “I’ve been coming here since the 70s, way before you were born!”
“We haven’t changed the bookstore, the books are piling up on top of each other… this place is more than a business for us, it’s a feeling and an emotion…”, he says .
Abhinav mentions that he grew up with books. He fondly remembers how JK Rowling’s Harry Potter became cult. “There was a long queue from sunrise before the shop even opened and within an hour the books were all gone…especially the last part”Deathly Hallows’.
Recalling his Peshawari roots, Abhinav says, “There was this group of Peshawaris which included Dilip Kumar, Prithviraj Kapoor – who was my great-grandfather’s classmate, they met whenever they could…they wore the pagadas and did the Latte dancing…I guess that was their way of keeping the traditions alive…they also played cards and took long walks in the gardens of Lodhi…”
Abhinav says, “There is commercialization today in everything, next to my room there is a sushi restaurant…the vibe of Khan Market is not the same…I just have souvenirs and our shop is an effort to keep traditions alive…”
The books piled up since 1951 give an impression of immobility in the shop
Speaking about the tough time of the pandemic, he says, “It was a tough ride but we never talk about the losses we suffered during this time, like I said, this bookstore is a feeling for us, it’s is more than a family business, it is an effort to keep alive the essence of pre-partitioned India…”
The Faqir Chand bookstore page has a huge fan following on Instagram with their regular visitors who write poetry, personal hand-written notes for the place.
A handwritten note from Dominique Lapierre, the author of “Freedom at Midnight”
Journalist Ravish Kumar is a regular visitor to the old bookstore.
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