The Cyber Rebirth of Pak Tea House

Posted on November 29, 2007
Filed Under >temporal, Art & Literature, Society
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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.

The moving spirit and the editor behind Pak Tea House is Raza Rumi who blogs at Jahane Rumi

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 not—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

14 Comments on “The Cyber Rebirth of Pak Tea House”

  1. beynaam says:
    November 29th, 2007 3:06 pm

    For all of us who grew up hearing of the legendary Pak Tea house but knew close to nothing about it, a big thank you. It is a service to Pakistaniat to put all this down in writing. Thank you temporal for writing it and thank you Raza for reviving it.

  2. November 29th, 2007 3:50 pm

    Raza bhai and Team Pak Tea House,

    You have my support in your noble endeavours, I hope you can articulate how we can create a better Pakistan, the ‘other’ Pakistan that we all crave.



  3. November 29th, 2007 4:00 pm

    We are grateful to temporal for writing this post and Pakistaniat to have published it. Hope we are able to revive a fraction of what the Pak Tea House used to be..

    Wish us luck!

  4. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    November 29th, 2007 5:46 pm

    Ah the after dinner walk on The Mall from The New Hostel of Government College, Lahore to The Pak Tea House. And the ‘beaten’ coffee of Mirza Sahab at his corner stall just to the right of The Pak Tea House. For those who do not know, Mirza Sahab had his own way of making coffee. After placing spoons of instant coffee in a mug, he would pour a small amount of hot milk and ‘beat’ the mix with a spoon for some time. Then he would add hot water to fill the mug. The result was a smooth brew with some froth at the top. Waiting for the coffee provided time enough for the social interaction with the regulars inside and the outside of the Pak Tea House.

  5. November 29th, 2007 6:31 pm

    But where it situated in Lahore?

  6. whole LOTA love says:
    November 29th, 2007 7:54 pm

    make sure they dont serve OPIUM TEA like some of the road side chai dhabby(tea stalls) , some blogs are opiate of the masses, you know ;)

  7. November 29th, 2007 10:06 pm

    Letter from the daughter of CJ of Pakistan.

  8. Hassan says:
    November 30th, 2007 2:26 am

    Thank you for this post – i had heard about Pak tea house but it was good to find out its background..
    what is not clear is how can a website revive a place that existed in different time in different circumstances..
    can blogs replace the need for interaction and debate?

  9. November 30th, 2007 4:40 am

    Thanks For the sharing

  10. Qandeel says:
    November 30th, 2007 8:15 am

    In one of his interviews, Tariq Ali pointed out how under repressive regimes you tend to find a vibrant underground life – it could be a literary/art movement of sorts – for example the emergence of Iranian cinema as an expression of dissent under Khomeini. But you don’t find parallels of this in Pakistan, do you? The image I’ve always had of the Pak Tea House was that, once upon a time, it might have offered that kind of a parallel.

    Intellectual discourse is more fun over a cup (or ten) of tea, but the concept of a cyber Pak Tea House is also great. I wish you good luck!

  11. Naseer says:
    November 30th, 2007 9:16 am

    Rumi- what a cyboromantic thought.
    Kudos to you and other contributors.
    I will put in my share

  12. temporal says:
    November 30th, 2007 11:57 am

    beynaam and others – thanks

    hassan you asked if PTH could be cyber-revived?

    PTH was accessible to Lahorites of a certain era and had one factor that contributed to its fame – people! the writers, poets, artists that gathered there.

    the success of cyber PTH will depend on us – the people – if they come there – to shoot the breeze, indulge in discourses, write, comment then it has the potential to become a vibrant address like the original PTH was on the mall

  13. Muse says:
    November 30th, 2007 4:11 pm

    I for one am excited about PTH, after learning about its historical significance not long ago. And with a great line-up of contributors, there’s no reason why it can’t live up to its name!

  14. Yousaf Hassan says:
    December 8th, 2007 9:57 pm

    Hello to all Readers!
    I am sure none of you have ever thought where is the TEAM of PAK TEA HOUSE the 1st owner and his family? I don’t think anything is mentioned about the family owner of the PAK TEA HOUSE. I know them very well do you know why because i am one of them. I am Mr. Zahid Hassan’s son who is a current owner of this place IF ANY OF YOU LIKE TO KNOW WHY PTH HAD BEEN CLOSED DOWN? FEEL FREE TO EMAIL ME
    What ever have been said and advertised about my family on our MEDIA was WRONG. NEED More to know?
    You are more then welcome if wants to know more about our PTH.

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