Awais Reza is a shopkeeper in Lahore's Anarkali Bazaar—the largest open market in South Asia—whose labyrinthine streets teem with shoppers, rickshaws, and cacophonous music.
But Anarkali's exuberant hubbub cannot conceal the fact that Pakistan is a country at the edge of a precipice. In recent years, the easy sociability that had once made up this vibrant community has been replaced with doubt and fear. Old-timers like Awais, who inherited his shop from his father and hopes one day to pass it on to his son, are being shouldered aside by easy money, discount stores, heroin peddlers, and the tyranny of fundamentalists.
Every night before Awais goes to bed, he plugs in his cell phone and hopes. He hopes that the city will not be plunged into a blackout, that the night will remain calm, that the following morning will bring affluent and happy customers to his shop and, most of all, that his three sons will safely return home. Each of the boys, though, has a very different vision of their, and Pakistan's, future.
The Bargain from the Bazaar—the product of eight years of field research—is an intimate window onto ordinary middle-class lives caught in the maelstrom of a nation falling to pieces. It's an absolutely compelling portrait of a family at risk—from a violently changing world on the outside and a growing terror from within.
In his first book, Ullah intimately examines the effects of America's War on Terror on the everyday people of Pakistan through the story of one family living and working in Lahore. Meet the Reza family: Awais, his wife Shez, and their three boys: Salman, Daniyal, and Kamran. A middle-class family whose livelihood comes from a shop located in Anarkali Bazaar, opened by Awais's father. We follow the evolution of everyday life for the Rezas during increasingly turbulent times in Pakistan, from the boys' marriage arrangements to navigating a city with police checkpoints. Over the years Daniyal becomes radicalized. We watch his family worry as he trains for a suicide bombing and when Awais is arrested and questioned, he recalls his time in a POW camp during the civil war that broke up the country. Using a sharp journalistic eye, Ullah brings the bustle of Lahore and its market to life. He manages to quietly convey America's role in the conditions facing this long-troubled country without becoming preachy or needlessly partisan. Ullah is more interested in the common Pakistani experience and he makes these moments shine: the family watching the news or the moments in Kamran's classes. These instances powerfully demystify Pakistan for western audiences.