From K.K. Aziz’s Coffee House: Arab Hotel, Lahore

Posted on January 24, 2011
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Books, History, People
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Adil Najam

This installment of excerpts from K.K. Aziz’s The Coffee House of Lahore (read book review by Raza Rumi, here) presents a portion of his profile of the Arab Hotel, Lahore. An institution of old Lahore, now long gone. A fascinating glimpse into the Lahore that was. Another fascinating description of Lahore’s hostelleries is provided by A. Hamid in this fascinating account. For ease of reading, as before, we will not indent the selected excerpt as quoted text; everything beyond these lines is in K.K. Aziz’s words (as are the two paragraphs above).

From K.K. Aziz’s The Coffee House of Lahore (pages 15-16):

No description of the cultural life of Lahore can be complete without mentioning the Arab Hotel. Once the old-fashioned baithaks (sitting rooms of the orient) had gone out f use, the literati wanted a pace where they could meet, eat and talk. For those ‘orientalists’ of the 1920s the Mall was too Westernized, distant and costly. By chance they started patronizing a small, unclean restaurant on Railway Road, opposite the gate of the Islamia College. A clean-shaven but dirty Arab from Kuwait, known as Bhai Aboud, ran the shop and was happy to serve kebabs and tea to his intelligentsia even on doubtful credit.

Soon the ‘club’ grew in numbers and in the quality of its customers. Chiragh Hasan Hasrat is said to have been the pioneer, and he brought in his friends and colleagues. Gradually it had a glittering membership: Abdul Majeed Salik, Ghulam Rasul Mihr, Akhtar Shirani, Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj, Professor Bokhari, Maulana Salahuddin, Husain Mir Kashmiri, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Khizr Tamimi, Ashiq Batalvi, Hafeez Jullundheri, Abdul Majeed Bhatti, Madan Gopal Mittal, Sahir Ludhianvi, Abdullah Butt, Hameed Nasim, Zaheer Kashmiri, Shad Amritsari, Davinder Sathiarthi, Bari Alig, and others. On the upper floor was the workshop of the famous calligrapher, Pir Abdul Hameed, who inscribed the Quran for the Taj Company.

Slowly as Lahore became more modern, comfortable and moderate-priced, places opened on the Mall, the Arab Hotel group shifted to the West End. The diaspora began in the late 1940s, and was complete in the 1960s with Bhai Aboud’s growing interest in women and speculation. In 1965 or 1966 he died and the ‘club’ vanished. For a quarter of a century the Arab Hotel was a sparkling intellectual tavern, the equal of the best in the 18th century London. When and if a proper chronicle of the cultural history of Lahore is written the finest chapter will be on this ‘hotel.’

In about 1946 most of the Arab Hotel group shifted to the Nagina Bakery in Nila Gumbad and stayed there for a decade. But its coherence and strength was sapped by the proximity of the Coffee House, the Tea House and the Cheney’s Lunch Home. Today both the men and the places have completely disappeared. The Arab Hotel is an unidentifiable spot, the Coffee House was closed down and nobody seems to know when, and the Tea House has vanished and its traditional clientele has moved to other places. Thus, not only has Lahore’s culture disappeared from view but its original landmarks have been obliterated. Progress is a terrible thing.

Also see:
K.K. Aziz (1927-2009): History Shall Miss Him
Books: K.K. Aziz’s The Coffee House of Lahore
From K.K. Aziz’s Coffee House: Lahore as it Used To Be
From K.K. Aziz’s Coffee House: Visiting a 4-Anna Film Stall at Bhati Gate with Zaheer Kashmiri

10 responses to “From K.K. Aziz’s Coffee House: Arab Hotel, Lahore”

  1. sami says:

    Nawaz is indeed one of the greatest leaders of Pakistan. He is atleast loyal to Pakistan, he never betrayed Pakistan and always speak truth even before the Army.He was the one who took oath from his legislators to restore the Cheief Justice of Pakistan. If Musharraf Had not taken over the government , illegally we would have been in a different position and I assume same game has been started.He is the most populaar leader among the masses whose stand is always towards the betterment of Pakistan and loud and clear that Parliament is the supreme institution.
    May God give him a third chance to serve Pakistan.

  2. Dr Mukhtar Chaudhry says:

    It is said that those who forget history often have to repeat it. It is not true with muslims who hare used to repeat this over last 1400 years.I spent 4 years in Islamia College Lahore and frequented Arab regularly. It had lost its fame but still echoed it past glory. The owner was very pleasant old man and never bothered for money and took pleasure in talking to students and his customers. The food was good and cheap. Last time I visited Arab hotel was in 1968. I went to see Malik Miraj Khalid, who lived on Fleming Road and always helped me in all my problems. Now it is almost impossible to drive to railway road. It is so congested that even walking is extremely hard and unsafe. It is almost 53 years that i left Lahore and not forgotten its charms and beauty. It is not beautiful anymore. The knew the famous people and always enjoyed their company but all have gone to the grave yards.
    I only get depressed visiting Lahore and quote Thomas Gray:

    “The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
    And that beauty, all that wealth ever gave.
    Awaits alike that inevitable hour,
    The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

    Two years before KK died I visited him and we talked about frailty of life. He suffered and suffered at the hands of ungrateful nation.I told him that he is a first class historian but is ignorant of his own nation’s psyche. He chuckled.And bade him goodbye. May Allah bless his soul. We all miss him.

    Kis ki judai sey ye qiamat hui bapa,
    Ye kon gia hungama-e- meshar diay huay.

  3. lily says:

    I wish i could ever see the atmosphere in Arab hotel. It left great impact indirectly though not just on history but all through my life……..

  4. Dirvesh says:

    Cofee house,Tea house and Cheneys had been our favourite places(hunting grounds) to meet these famouse intellectuals during our student days as the Punjab University old campus was the real/only Punjab University.
    Atmosphere was real literary but quite “socialist”too with strong leftist feelings :)

  5. Faheem says:

    Interesting list of names. I agree with others that the literatti still talks (maybe too much) but over the internet now. Don’t know if it is good or bad though.

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