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It was always tea-time in Lahore

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    It was always tea-time in Lahore

    Good old days when we all love to read Hatim Tai Delhi mai, Hatim Tai Labnan mai, Hatim Tai london mai, Ameer Hamza Maidanai Jung mai and all about Shansha-i-Afrasayab, Umr-o-Ayyar , Buzurj Mehar etc. It was the same famous urdu writer A Hamid now taking us to the ancient Lahore, a city which resembles Baghdad of Harun Rashid or Bazara-i-Hameedia of Damasqus or Khan Khalieli of Cairo , shadows of history,romance and nostalgia down to the memory lane of past 5000 years !

    Lahore Lahore Aye: It was always tea-time in Lahore
    By A Hamid







    My old Lahore is Lahore as it was on the eve of partition and in the first few years after independence. The pre-Pakistan Lahore is vivid in my memory. I remember walking through the narrow bazaars of Shah Alami where the agreeable smell of foodstuffs and produce was always in the air. So narrow were some of the streets that I once saw a tonga getting stuck in one of them. The scene changes. I am standing outside Lohari Gate. A slim young man with blond curly hair wearing a brown suit shakes my hand: he is the Hindi poet Raj Baldev Raj.



    As you entered Anarkali, to your left was a Sikh-owned sweetmeat shop whose lassi was much prized. The only hotel in Anarkali I remember is Nizam Hotel and its big sign. Close to where the Lahore Hotel stood, there was a Hindu-owned hotel whose name I do not recall. Actually, it was more a dhaba than a hotel. There were tiny wooden cabins where customers sat and where I once saw the famous humorist and newspaperman Haji Laq Laq. In Gowalmandi Chowk, if one approached it from the Islamia College side, there was another hotel with a sign that said, “Drinking permitted on the premises.” I never went inside. Another place I remember was a teashop on Fleming Road where tea used to be prepared on coal-fired braziers, the owner sitting cross-legged on a jute mat. There were a couple of tables and chairs inside the shop. The magazine Shahekar, where Raj Baldev Raj and I worked, had its office in a street facing that teashop and it was convenient for us to come here for a hot cup. The mixed tea –called dhood patti these days – served there was delicious.



    I can recall every Lahore hotel and restaurant from the early days of Pakistan. Let me begin with Pak Tea House. When I first saw it, I noticed that its sign had been crudely painted over. The word India had been replaced with Pak. I don’t know how Pak Tea House became the hangout of Lahore’s writers. In late 1947 or perhaps mid-1948, four brothers - Alim, Siraj, Sadiq and Hamid - who were refugees from India got India Tea House and Cheney’s Lunch Home allotted in their names. Sadiq got the Cheney’s Lunch Home, though it was Hamid who ran it, while Siraj and Alim ran what they renamed Pak Tea House. Alim was the keeper of my secrets because some girls used to phone me here. He was a man of literary taste and if Nasir Kazmi or Shohrat Bokhari arrived late some morning, I would drink my first cup of tea with Alim, which he would prepare with great aplomb. A small radio on the counter used to be tuned to the listeners’ request programme from the Lahore station.



    Off and on, some professors from Government College,Lahore and a few students, including girls, would drop in for a cup. Everyone minded his or her own business and if a girl came looking for her friend, nobody showed any sign of jealousy. The regulars included Ashfaq Ahmed, Munir Niazi, Anjum Roomani, Qayyoom Nazar and Sajjad Baqar Rizvi. We would spend most of our time here, only going for a walk through Anarkali or down the Mall now and then. The violence of partition was still very fresh in our memories and people would talk about the horrors they had seen. I remember Nasir Kazmi saying, “There used to be a shady neem (margosa) tree in our courtyard in Ambala and it would bear fruit in spring that we would eat with great relish. On the roof-top, I had pigeons of every variety. Before we left, I set all the birds free, but when I took a last look at our home before turning the street corner, I found all of them perched on the parapet.”



    Coffee House across the street had its own crowd, mostly made up of lawyers, politicians and journalists. The atmosphere was intellectual and journalistic. Conversation used to revolve around politics and newspapers and their editorial policies. The leading lights of Coffee House were Maulana Chiragh Hasan Hasrat, Abdullah Butt, Riaz Qadir, Jamiluzzaman and Meem Sheen. Sometimes, Hamid Nizami would saunter in. Before Pakistan, it was India Coffee House but India had been painted over with the word Pakistan.




    While Nasir Kazmi would walk across from Tea House to chat with Riaz Qadir, I would stay away because - having known the far superior coffee of Rangoon, Pondicherry and Singapore - I did not like the coffee with the burnt taste it served. Abdullah Butt’s wit was famous. He was a sparkling conversationalist, as was, of course, Hasrat. Once when Hasrat’s order had been delayed inordinately, the manager asked him if it was the white-bearded waiter he had placed his order with. “Maulana,” replied Hasrat, “when I placed my order, his beard was black.” The Coffee House is long gone and it is only the memory of the place and those who frequented it that a few of us still retain.




    Then there was the Nagina Bakery which was the hangout of Lahore’s intellectual heavyweights such as Maulana Salahuddin Ahmed, Dr Syed Abdullah, Dr Ashiq Hussain Batalvi, Bari Alig and Abdullah Qureshi. It did not survive for long after partition. The famous Lahore restaurant Lorang’s on the Mall was a cool and sophisticated place. It served the best tea in town and was one of Hamid Nizami’s favourite haunts. Its closure was a sad day for the city. Shezan was an aristocratic place and so was its clientele. The Pak Tea House crowd stayed away from these places. Anwar Jalal Shamza lived right behind Shezan and he it was who had designed the Shezan lettering that is still in use. The S was identical to the S with which he signed his paintings. There was also Stiffles, which was a popular bar before partition. It is the same site that made way for Casino and Lord’s in the 1950s and 1960s. In the Regal Chowk, there stood the famous Standard, owned by a Hindu gentleman everyone called Paul. Across the road was another popular restaurant of the 1960s: Gardenia. Where Wapda House now stands, once stood Metro, where there was ballroom dancing on weekends. The famous cabaret dancer, the lovely Angela, used to perform there. To beat the prohibition, beer was served in teapots. None of the restaurants that I have written about are any longer in existence. Today there is not even one decent tea place in Lahore, which says something about the city and how it has changed. Who would say it has changed for the better?



    A Hamid, distinguished Urdu novelist and short story writer, writes a column every week based on his memories of old Lahore. Translated from Urdu by Khalid Hasan
    Last edited by desert bird; Dec 2, 2008, 01:03 AM.

    #2
    Re: It was always tea-time in Lahore

    cool post
    Its bigger on the inside!!

    Comment


      #3
      The Mall as it once was
      By A Hamid

      On the Mall, facing the Lahore High Court, the E Plomer chemist shop still stands, but it has changed. They say that before the establishment of Pakistan, there were English salesgirls working here. It was Lahore’s most famous and best-stocked chemist store. Any medicine that was nowhere to be found could be had at E Plomer’s. Today, you can get your eyeglasses fitted here and even buy cosmetics, but those English girls are gone.


      This grand, high-ceilinged building, designed keeping in view the hot summers of Lahore, stretches from the High Court crossing to the General Post Office intersection. Dating back to colonial times, it remains a landmark structure and such is the construction that even in the heat of summer you can do without airconditioning in one of its rooms. It is flanked on the Mall side by a long veranda which shelters passers-bye from the sun. I have seen similar buildings in Bombay, Madras, Colombo, Rangoon and Singapore. I recall that in Calcutta, exactly such a building stood in Dalhousie Square, across from which was the Metro cinema where I saw Kedar Sharma’s celebrated movie Chitralekha.


      Next to E Plomer Chemists was the Ilmi Printing Press, owned by the Almakki brothers, Majid and Hamid. I haven’t passed that way for some years, so I do not know if the press still exists, and if it does, who runs it. Both Majid Almakki and Hamid Almakki were aesthetes with superb literary and artistic temperaments. Majid, the older one, was a very fine artist and when he drew a line, it reminded me of ancient Chinese painters because of its delicacy. He had a handsome, sensitive face with fine features and the demeanour of a poet. He would speak in a soft voice and only when it was necessary. The two brothers used to bring out a literary and artistic magazine called Nargis, whose design, illustrations and makeup were entirely Majid Almakki’s work. In contrast, Hamid Almakki was known for his full-throated laughter and his conversational flair. We were good friends. Like his older brother, Hamid was a natty dresser. He reminded me of the great Amritsari political leader Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew because like him, he used to keep a handkerchief tucked inside the sleeve of his jacket or sherwani. Tragically, Majid Almakki died in the PIA Cairo crash of 1964, along with some of Pakistan’s famous journalists. Hamid died some 10 years ago.


      In the same building, the photographer Zaidi had his studio. He was known for his fine portrait work. His portrait of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah became very popular and can still be seen hanging here and there, mostly in government offices. At the Post Office end of this building, where McLeod Road begins, there used to hang a huge tube-lit sign that said ‘Murree Beer is the Best’. It remained in place for several years after the birth of Pakistan but eventually it was dismantled and taken down.


      Across from the E Plomer building on the other side of the Mall, there stood the Dyal Singh Mansion. One of its flats housed the Star News Agency, headed in Lahore by ABS Jafri. Marghoob Siddiqi, always clad in a brown suit, was often to be seen there. He would walk in on quiet feet and get down to work. Abdulla Malik was a frequent visitor. Another journalist, whose name was probably Siddiqi also lived in one of the flats where he was to set up the first Agence France Presse office with several teleprinters and four large antennas on the roof.


      Also in Dyal Singh Mansion, two brothers who were known as the Chaudhri brothers, established the office of the weekly, Nizam. Before Pakistan, they used to bring it out from Bombay. The weekly’s office was in the city’s Bhindi Bazaar and leading progressive writers were among its contributors, including Ali Sardar Jaffrey, Moeen Ahsan Jazbi, Kaifi Azmi, Krishen Chander, Josh Milihabada, Rajendra Singh Bedi and Jan Nisar Akhtar.. The Progressive Writers’ Association also used to have its weekly meetings in this flat. The proceedings would appear in Nizam regularly. Hamid Akhtar was the Association secretary.


      However, after some time for reasons unknown, there was a policy change at Nizam weekly and I was offered its editorship, which I accepted. It was in the office of this weekly that the Azad Khyal Musannifeen or the Independent Minded Writers was formed. As far as I was concerned, I was essentially a romanticist and while the Progressive writers considered me a reactionary, the “reactionaries” or those who believed in art for art’s sake, took me for a Progressive and probably a Commie. I remained friends with both groups. The secretary of the new body was Quddus Sehbai, a very fine writer who was a refugee from Bhopal. He was known for his stylish clothes and there is no doubt that he was a sober intellectual. He had a very deep understanding of Urdu literature. He left Lahore and moved to Peshawar where he was associated with the newspaper Shahbaz. I may add that his son, Shaheen Sehbai, is one of Pakistan’s finest and most upright journalists. To my regret, I never met Quddus Sehbai again.

      The Mall of those days was very quiet, very peaceful, very calm. We would walk under its great banyan trees on its perfectly maintained footpaths with not a worry in the world. During the afternoons, the road would be practically empty of traffic, except the occasional tonga or bicycle or the odd car. I don’t think more than a few motor cars passed up or down the Mall at any given time. A double-decker omnibus used to run from its stop in front of Habib Jalib’s Krishen Nagar house to the RA Bazaar in Lahore cantonment. I don’t remember more than a dozen passengers riding in that bus most days. I am not conjuring up some dream city in a fairy tale but that really was how Lahore once was. I would even go as far as to say that if a bird sang in a tree in Charing Cross, one could have heard it in Regal Chowk, such was the silence that used to cover this loveliest of Lahore’s roads.


      Outside Dyal Singh Mansion, there used to be a cycle stand run by an old man, who would always talk about his native Chamba - that storied valley in the Punjab hills. One day he told me a story that I have remembered to this day. He said, “There was a lake where I come from and two trees grew on its bank. People said one of the trees was actually a Brahmin virgin and the other a young man whose father was a cobbler. The two were in love. So beautiful was the girl that the serpent god who used to live in the lake fell in love with her and her father, to appease the god, pushed his daughter into the lake. When her lover saw that, he jumped after her. The two were never seen again, but one day two trees sprang out of the earth and everyone knew that they were the two lovers who had come back to life, but in another form.”

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