Pak Tea House, the original tea house which became the inspiration for the name of this webzine, had been reduced to a Tire Shop during the last decade. It used to be a place where all the literary lights of the times(From 1940s till 1980s) gathered for a cup of tea and intellectual discussions. Stalwarts of Urdu Literature discussed various ideas over hot cups of tea.
It was revived as a Tea House by the Punjab Government this year. After the revival, Progressive Writers Association held one of their regular meetings there and the following essay was read there by Historian Hassan Jaafer Zaidi. In the essay, Mr. Zaidi reminisces about the golden period that he witnessed during his time at the Tea House and if revival of a place is enough to revive literary tradition as well.
Can Literary Nostalgia trigger Intellectual Vigour?
(This essay was read at Progressive Writers Association’s Special Session on 27th March, 2013)
I want to begin by congratulating the Progressive Writers Association on initiating their weekly meetings at Pak Tea House. I believe that the revival of Pak Tea House did not begin on 9th March (When It was re-opened by the government), rather the revival begins today, with this literary and intellectual session. I do not intend to demean the efforts of Mr. Atta ul Haq Qasmi, who prompted the Punjab Government to renovate and re-open this great cultural hub of yester years. It is indeed to his credit, and that of Punjab Government, that this historic place, which had become a shadow of itself in the last fifteen years, has been renovated and revived.
A lot has been said and written about the resurrection of Tea House in the Media recently, including articles and statements. Most of that was nostalgic in character. I should clarify that I am not denoting any negative meaning to the word “Nostalgia” here. Remembrance of good old times and bittersweet memories is not a disorder but a human trait and this activity peaks during bad times. Pakistani society is facing a literary, educational and identity crisis currently. If My contemporaries, who have witnessed better times, reminisce those times and fall in the trap of cynicism, it is not beyond reason. What matters is the way we look at those times, that we understand what made that time better, that we understand the reasons for the decline and what factors drive us to cynicism. If we do not contemplate on these factors and focus only on the “nostalgia” part, it is a disorder, a futile endeavor.
When we analyze the factors responsible for making that time batter and then its downfall, it is an act of wisdom. A wisdom that can guide us to improve the present and strive for the future. It is not necessary that we resurrect the past exactly as it was, or make an effort to ‘return’ to the past, but a fresh and contemporary perspective on knowledge, identity and literature can be garnered.
Columnists and Essayists have mentioned restaurants, tea houses and similar places that were frequented by Poets, Writers, Journalists and Students, between the 1940s and 1970s. They have also delved into the names of people who frequented places such as [Pak]Tea House, Coffee House, YMCA Restaurant, Green Restaurant, Government College Cafeteria and other restaurants on Mall Road. My Friend Younis Javed wrote, “I wonder about the fate of voices that electrified the atmosphere at Pak Tea House. Where have all those people gone? Where is one to find [now] the magic wrought by musical laughter and mellifluous poetry?
Habib Jalib with his lyrical iterations, Ahmed Mushtaq and his mischiefs, Aijaz Hussain’s Batalvi’s cultured conversation with Intezar Hussain, Sajjad Baqir Rizvi and Anjum Romani after sessions of Halqa, the gathering of Abbas Athar, Iftikhar Jalib and Aziz ul Haq. I looked around and found none of these luminaries. At one table, Muhammad Safdar Meer and Salahuddin Mehmood are discussing some fine point. A picture of Quaid e Azam is present on the front wall, under which Syed Israr Zaidi is seated. Sitting right in front of him is Qateel Shifai. At the small table in front, Asghar Saleem is sitting alone. Even Faiz admired his prowess in the field of Ghazal. Among those sitting alone, I don’t find Ahmed Rahi, Anees Nagi, Ishfaq Ahmed nor Muzaffar Ali Syed, Meera Jee, Qayyum Nazar, Nasir Kazmi, Muneer Niazi neither Suhail Ahmed Khan. Not even Saleem Shahid, Ahmed Bashir, Yusuf Kamran, Javed Shaheen, Amanat Ali Khan, Hasan Lateef Malik, Zaheer Kashmeeri, Shakir Ali or Shakeeb Jalali.”
My personal nostalgia encompasses two years(1974-76) that I spent as the Joint Secretary of Halqa Arbab e Zauq. The session of Halqa used to take place at YMCA Hall but cutlery was exported from Tea House. The pre-session and post-session banter also took place at Tea House. The Waiters at Tea House, Ilahi Bakhsh and Shareef Banjara provided hospitality service with a smile. Shareef Banjara was a Punjabi poet as well. During my tenure, joint sessions of Halqa and Punjabi Literary Sangat were held on 1st May, to celebrate the Laborer’s day. Pathanay Khan was introduced in one of these joint sessions for Labor Day in 1975. It was the same year that a Commemorative session was held for Abdur Rehman Chugtai, presided by Shakir Ali. It was memorable because the Presidential address was the last time that Mr. Shakir Ali spoke publicly, as he passed away hardly two hours after the session.
It was in those days that Jamaat e Islami accused Sadeqain of promoting nudity and lechery. A special session of Halqa was held to show solidarity with the great artist. When a noble man as Professor Zahur ul Ikhlaq of NCA was not spared and alleged to be involved in a sex scandal, Halqa stood in his defense and arranged a special session. A two-day National Cultural Seminar was organized which was attended by intellectuals from all over the country. Faiz Sahib presided the final session in which important resolutions were passed regarding Pakistan’s cultural issues. Participants were offered Lunch by Malik Siraj, owner of Tea House.
In the weekly session of Halqa, we discussed contemporary political and cultural issues. The debate was not limited to Left versus Right but also between Pro-China and Pro-USSR factions and a wide range of issues were discussed in detail.
In my view, Nostalgia has two different aspects; nostalgia of forma and nostalgia of content. Nostalgia of form means a recollection of places and people and relation between them. It does not involve the content of discourse in those gatherings and the overarching issues that were discussed in those gatherings. It is also imperative to recall that similar discourse was going on in the contemporary society and it was related to the International discourse going on at that time. We cannot isolate the gatherings, people involved in them or the places, out of context. Pak Tea House was not an isolated island. We need to contextualize the discourse within a dialectical whole.
We have to examine how this great literary atmosphere came into being and how it faced its demise. To answer the first question, the fruits of European Enlightenment reached India via British Imperialism. In addition, the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and International support for Marxism added valuable content to this atmosphere. A leading role was played by the Progressive Writers Association in perpetuating this literary atmosphere especially in Urdu Literature.
In the 70s, Progressive current was dominant in Urdu Literature and an alternative discourse was available to Urdu Medium People. The historic elections of 1970 showcased the popularity of Progressive thought in the society. It was alarming for the reactionary forces in the country. Right wing newspapers and intellectuals demanded the election results to be considered null and void because forces against Islam and Ideology of Pakistan had won a majority. They proposed that only “pious” parties be permitted to contest the re-elections and Yahya Khan should remain President for indefinite period. This call was heeded in East Pakistan. As a consequence, the country was torn into two pieces and military had to transfer power to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.