artists, closure, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Halqa-e-Arbab-e-Zauq, Hussain Majrooh, India Tea House, Intezar Hussain, Ismat Chughtai, literati, Mall Road, musicians, opens, Pak Tea House, Progressive Writer’s Association, protests, reopening, Saadat Hassan Manto, Sahir Ludhianvi, Sirajuddin, Syed Wajeeh-ul-Hassan Naqvi, writers, YMCA
On March 8, 2013, the iconic Pak Tea House, a café that was established before Partition and known as the meeting point for Lahore’s intellectuals, reopened after a passage of nine years. Located on Mall Road, the café’s absence was felt by many of the city’s residents, so much so that a popular blog was named after it.
How it all began…The tea shop was established before Independence by two Sikh brothers and called India Tea House; the building was leased from the YMCA. It was soon frequented by people from all walks of life, particularly the literati of the city, as well as students, given the tea shop’s proximity to several educational institutions. After Independence, the café was taken over by a gentleman known as Sirajuddin, who renamed it Pak Tea House.
The watering hole… After Partition, the tea house continued to be a popular haunt for musicians, writers and artists. Literary groups such as Progressive Writer’s Association and Halqa-e-Arbab-e-Zauq held their meetings there; prominent patrons included Ismat Chughtai, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi and Saadat Hassan Manto, all of whom exchanged ideas and held heated discussions over endless cups of tea. Several protest movements and political demonstrations are believed to have been conceived at the tea house.
A café no more… The teahouse remained a popular spot until the late 1990s. After Sirajuddin’s death, his son ran the teashop but failed to make a sizable profit, which led to its closure in 2000 for a few months. Subsequently, a government grant allowed the cafe to reopen, but unfortunately it closed down again in 2004. Between 2004 and 2012, the building served several functions, including those of a tyre shop and a warehouse. After protests by the city’s community to reopen the café, the matter was taken to court. In 2012, restoration work on the café began thanks to a court order with a view of reopening the café..
Recreating a golden era… The newly renovated Pak Tea House is impressive; its facade has been restored to its former glory while the interior has a comfortable, contemporary look with ACs and LCDs; photographs of famous patrons provide a nostalgic glimpse into the cafe’s illustrious past and the tea (served in a kettle like the olden days) is still good enough to fuel heated discussions. What is reassuring is that some of its older patrons including Intezar Hussain and Hussain Majrooh can be seen there once again.
In a nutshell… Although Pak Tea House’s new incarnation may not reinstate its past prominence, one hopes that its restoration will hail a new wave of social and intellectual activism.
– Syed Wajeeh-ul-Hassan Naqvi