Punjab Research Group

Starved of literary gatherings

Posted in Articles by Pippa on September 5, 2009

August 27, 2009  http://www.thenews.com.pk/

Lahore has always been a hub of cultural and literary activities and has produced a lot many men of letter. Most of these activities have traditionally been revolved around cafes and restaurants that served intellectuals, writers and artistes with endless cups of tea and coffee and provided them with an opportunity to discuss subjects and matters close to their hearts and minds.

The colonial Lahore was full of restaurants and cafes with most of them locating along The Mall. One such place was the India Coffee House established by two Sikh brothers. Immediately after the Partition, the name India was dropped from the title and it was renamed as Pak Tea House. The Pak Tea House was located opposite to the Coffee House and Cheney’s lunch home on The Mall near Anarkali Bazaar. These two places used to have intellectual gatherings. Cheney’s lunch home was popular with people from different walks of life. University teachers and students were also frequent visitors.

The Pak Tea House had had a different status altogether. It was a hub of literary gatherings. Non-residents of Lahore used to call it their information centre that served them round the clock. Giants like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sa’adat Hassan Manto, Muneer Niazi, Ahmad Faraz, Mira Ji and Kamal Rizvi frequented the .Pak Tea House which became unofficial headquarters of an eclectic bunch of writers, artistes, musicians and the Halqa e Arbab e Zauq.

The celebrated fiction writer, Intizar Hussain, who had been a regular visitor to the tea house since 1949 till its closure, believed it was a cultural institution known all over the sub-continent.

No other literary institution of the country, including the Academy of Letters had credibility equal to the Pak Tea House,” he said. He said people freely expressed their political views in the Pak Tea House even in the repressive days of the military regimes of Generals Ayub Khan and Zia ul Haq. Literary interaction as well as literary programmes was the core of Pak Tea House.

It was recognized as a National Level Centre as people from all fields and schools of thought visited it.

This centre had played an important role in the promotion of literary people in Pakistan but during Sarajuddin’s era the Pak Tea House had faced a couple of disputes as it was a part of the YMCA so the authorities demanded its evacuation and took this case to a court of law. All literary figures and people had protested and the court very fairly announced that poets and writers were the soul of a society and were spiritual guardians and the Pak Tea House was known as a centre of knowledge and depicted the culture of Lahore so this place could not be used for any other purpose. After Sarajuddin’s death, his son Zahid Hasan owned the place. Because of financial constraints and his heart surgery, he wanted to open a garments or tire shop. However, the YMCA authorities again demanded evacuation of the tea house and the court didn’t give any decision at that time and the matter was still pending.

The Pak Tea House, having served against all odds for well over 50 years to countless poets and writers of all shades and political stripes, finally yielded to the irreversible forces of commodity culture raging. After the tea house places like Aadbi Baithak in Alhamra and Chaupaal in Nasser Bagh failed to serve the purpose. Many senior writers and poets had died, some have gone abroad. Sarfaraz Syed, a senior journalist and writer who was once a member of the committee of the Pak Tea House said that cities were recognized and respected because of their culture and literature.

For him, thePak Tea House and places like it were a source of intimation, information, education, knowledge and wisdom. —SAKEENA IBAD

(The writer is an intern from the Lahore College for Women University)

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