Desicritic Raza Rumi introduced me to the cyber rebirth of Pak Tea House in these words:
Pak Tea House is a little corner in the blogosphere that will endeavour to revive the culture of debate, pluralism and tolerance. It has no pretensions nor illusions but the motivation of a few people who want to see Pakistan a better place – where ideas need to counter the forces of commercialism, adverse effects of globalisation and extremism. And, ideas must translate into action that leads us to an equitable, just and healthy society.
Pak Tea House has already attracted a few regular contributors – Aasem Bakhshi , iFaqeer, Hassan Abbas, Mozaffar, Mystic Soul, Shaheryar Ali, Soniah Kamal, Yasser L Hamdani, and Yasir Nisar in addition to Raza Rumi.
Some are based in Lahore and Karachi, others in the diaspora from where they hope to bring lively debates and outlooks on a variety of subjects to the internet community first. Later they would like to revive the coffee house experience physically in Lahore and other cities.
Dreams are born, small steps bring the destination closer. If they persist and garner acceptance and support of friends and well wishers they may replicate a cyber Pak Tea House in a few years.
Little is know of the origins of Pak Tea House on the Mall in Lahore. Some have mentioned that before the great divide two Sikh brothers owned Indian Coffee House and Indian Tea House on the Mall across from each other.They migrated to Delhi and opened Indian Coffee House off Connaught Circle. The Lahore one reopened as Pak Tea House and became the unofficial headquarters of an eclectic bunch of writers, artists, musicians and the Halqa e Arbab e Zauq.
Halqa e Arbab e Zauq was formed on April 29, 1939 as Baz’m e Dastaan Goyaan. Later its name was changed to Halqa. It attracted many leading names of the Progressive Writers Movement that was formed in 1935 in London and included Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Faraz, Saadat Hasan Manto, Muneer Niazi, Mira Ji, Kamal Rizvi, Nasir Kazmi, Professor Sayyid Sajjad Rizvi, Ustad Amanat Ali Khan and Intezar Hussain.
Most of these writers either belonged to or were influenced by the Progressive Writers Movement that was formed in 1935 in London and later in 1936 in India under Sajjad Zaheer. In the list of members you will find a who-is-who of writers and artists such as:
Prof. Zoe Ansari, Dr M. D. Taseer, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sajjad Zaheer, Prof Ahmed Ali, Dr Nusrat Jehan, Rashid Jahan, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Ahmed Faraz, Kaifi Azmi , Krishan Chander, Ismat Chughtai , Rajinder Singh Bedi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Josh Malihabadi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Munshi Premchand, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Majaz Lucknawi, Sahir Ludhianvi. (This list is taken from wikipedia and personally I have doubts if Ahmed Nadim Qasmi and Ahmed Faraz belonged to the Movement or were merely sympathizers.)
Poet Ali Sardar Jafri writes:
Progressive Movement was a spectrum of different shades of political and literary opinions with Prem Chand, a confirmed believer in Gandhism at one end, and Sajjad Zaheer, a confirmed Marxist, at the other end. In between them were various other shades including non-conformists, but every one of them interested in the freedom of the country and glory of literature.
The basic and fundamental postulate of the Progressive Writers Movement is the unity of art, use and beauty. It is not a violent departure from the past or an angry revolt against tradition as such, although we did reject certain unhealthy and obscurantist trends. And that is how our path was new. What we tried to do was a reiteration of the values getting lost in modern commercial age, or distorted under the weight of the decaying social systems. It is a rediscovery with a new experience and consciousness, and new artistic giving fresh vigour to Urdu poetry and literature as a whole. The false notion should be discarded that a few hot-headed men can get together and launch a literary and artistic movement of such a dimension as the Progressive Movement. Poets and writers are like the seeds holding the heart; the movement provides them the good soil and the right climate to blossom.
Reminiscing about Pak Tea House novelist and writer A Hamid said the following in an article that was translated from Urdu by journalist/writer Khalid Hasan:
I remember the Lahore of the old days distinctly and long for its return. If you walked from the Tollinton Market towards Regal Cinema, just past Commercial Building, on the inside road, there used to stand the Sunlight Building, which was home to various companies and stores, including the Krishna Book House. If I remember, this name was later changed to Minerva Book Centre. There were also a couple of restaurants that the building played host to.
The India Coffee House and the Cheney’s Lunch Home stood side by side. After independence, I saw more than once Saadat Hasan Manto at the Cheney’s Lunch Home, as well as the sweet-voiced and handsome Amanat Ali Khan of the Patiala Gharana. The Coffee House was frequented by journalists, lawyers, teachers and writers. The regulars included Abdullah Butt, Bari Alig, Abdullah Malik, Prof Alauddin Kalim, Riaz Qadir, Manzoor Qadir, Ijaz Hussain Batalvi, the painters Shakir Ali, Ali Imam, Ahmed Pervaiz and Anwar Jalal Shamza.
Ayesha Javed Akram in Lahore Stories: Cracked crockery, writes:
They say Faiz Ahmed Faiz used to sit there. They say there was a time when the tea was made to perfection. They say the biscuits were crisp, the pastries fresh. Today though, the Pak Tea House is but a relic.
Though the Lahore Writer’s Club continues to hold meetings there, and just yesterday they conducted a musical evening at the Tea House, but it is no longer the literary hub of legend. It has since closed down.
Dr. Mohammed Umar Memon, professor and editor of Annual of Urdu Studies wrote in one of the editorials:
Pak Tea House (Lahore), having held on with a resilience all its own for well over fifty years as a home to countless poets and writers of all shades and political stripes, finally yielded place to the irreversible forces of commodity culture raging throughout the metropolis, dying quietly as the year 2000 was drawing to a close.
The Pak Tea House was not merely a place where writers hung out and passionately discussed literature, the arts, and politics, or where they held their literary meetings and dreamed their brave, fragile dreams, or where they stopped on their way to and from work every day for a brief chat, it was unique as a gathering place which never denied its hospitality to anyone, even those who could not afford to pay for a cup of tea. It chose to operate at a loss rather than submit to the indignity of closing its doors to the nation’s destitute and chronically disenfranchised intellectuals.
It was everything the society at large was notâ€”and above all it was a place where dreams could be dreamed, where time and history could be held at bay. The demise of such an institution calls for a proper eulogy, and who better to write it than one of its regulars, Intizar Husain, a loyal associate from its first days right up to its last. He entered it as a young man, fresh from his native Dibai (India), and as a man in his late 70s he was among the handful who gathered there in funereal silence to sip their last sad cup of tea. So when I asked him for an obituary, he graciously obliged. His piece, included in the Urdu Section, recalls the Pak Tea House with tender remembrance of its motley of well-off and penniless patrons, and their sublime and mundane concerns. It is more than an obituary notice, it is a writer’s tribute to a place which provided fellowship and comfort and a home away from home.
Photos for this article came from flickr.com