Pak Tea House restoration: It is going to take a while


The future of Pak Tea House, the renovation of which was to start by the end of February, is in doldrums, irking both the fans and the intellectuals of the city. Impediments that are entangling the progress of restoration of Pak-Tea House include standoff on its designing, interior and exterior façade, originality or western style, legal hiccups, funds allocation and administration, Pakistan Today has learnt.
On the instruction of Punjab government, City District Government Lahore (CDGL) retrieved the restaurant, known as heritage asset of Lahore, in the first week of February. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, showing personal concern, directed the Lahore commissioner to reopen the historical place for literary activities within fifteen days in collaboration with YMCA, the custodian of Pak Tea House. Later MNA Hamza Shahbaz frequented the site and reviewed the pace of restoration work. Architects and interior designers were also involved in the process. However, despite holding meetings and making plans, the Punjab government has so far failed to make progress.
YMCA General Secretary Sameul Pervaiz told Pakistan Today that Pak Tea House was to be resurrected by the end of February but due to various reasons, the plan could not be materialised.
“One of the major hurdles in the restoration is to reach an agreement on whether the Pak Tea House is to be restored to its original look or redesigned in a western style. Availability of funds is also a major concern and it is also to be decided that who would run the place after its restoration,” he said. To a query, he said another round of meeting was to be held on Tuesday and expressed the hope that the locality would be reopened soon.
In a significant development, Lahore Division Commissioner Jawad Rafique Malik held an important meeting with PS to Chief Minister Khawaja Imran Raza, district officer roads, Walled City Project additional secretary, Architect Rizwan Mali, Security Additional Director Col(r) Younas Bherola and Secretary General YMCA on Saturday (March 17)
Honouring the demand of the YMCA, Malik rejected the proposals of restoration of Pak Tea House on the pattern of British style and issued instructions for evolving a new project within three days for revival of Pak Tea House in accordance with its original spirit.
The commissioner said a strategy should be evolved with the YMCA so that two more storeys could be constructed and more facilities could be provided to poets, columnists, journalists and intellectuals. He also issued instructions for the purchase of furniture and crockery for Pak Tea House by keeping the location’s tradition in mind. He also said a committee, comprising representatives of CDGL, YMC, writers and intellectuals for the management of Pak Tea House was being constituted.
On Wednesday the Lahore High Court dismissed the petition filed by Zahid Hassan, a tenant of PTH, who wanted a restraining order against the restoration. Hassan maintained that he wanted to run a profitable tyre business at the place. Judge Umer Ata Bandial observed that the PTH was an integral part of the city’s heritage and that it should not have been transformed into a tyre shop.
GLORIOUS PAST: Pak Tea House, which was set up in the YMCA building near Neela Gumbad on Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam, was the only historical literary hub of Lahore. Before partition, it was known as India Tea House and a Sikh family ran it. After the partition, Siraj-ud-Din got this place on rent from the YMCA administration and renamed it as Pak Tea House. From 1960 to early 1970’s, meetings of Halqa-i-Arbab-e-Zouq were held in the YMCA building, which later shifted to Pak Tea House. Poets, writers and intellectuals, including Intezar Hussain, Qayum Nazar, Anjum Romani, Saddat Hassan Manto, Ali Sufian Afaqi, Israr Zaidi, Mustansar Hussain Tarar, Dr Agha Suhail, Asghar Nadeem Syed, Amjad Islam Amjad, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Ahmad Rahi, Qateel Shifai, Muzaffar Hussain Syed, Raja Ghalib, Ahmad Mushtaq, Munir Niazi, Habib Jalib, Munoo Bhai, Nazir Naji, Sardar Ahmad, Siddiqa Begum, Nudrat Altaf, Altaf Fatima, Maqbool Khan Maqbool, Meera Jee, Sahir Ludhianvi, Younas Adeeb, Salim Shahid were among the prominent members of Halqa-i- Arbab-e-Zauq.
Different cultural, literary and political personalities used to occupy permanent places in the hall. Similarly, the people who came to Lahore from other cities for education and job purposes also occupied a place in the Tea House. The Pak Tea House also served them as their mailing address. Foreign tourists, who stayed at YMCA Hostel, used to take their meal from Pak Tea House, as the food served here was qualitative and less expensive.
When the revolutionary poet and author of famous poem ‘Aisay Dastoor Ko Subah-e-Benoor Ko Mein Nahi Manta Mein Nahi Manta, Habib Jalib, was arrested during Ayub regime, the gentry at the Tea House collected funds to help him. Former premier late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto along with Nusrat Bhutto also visited Pak Tea House to express their solidarity with them and donated Rs 600. Nusrat Bhutto also attended the meeting of Halqa-i-Arbab-e-Zouq during Ayub’s martial law regime. Pak Tea House was closed by its owner Zahid Hasan, who is presently running a cloth business in YMCA building. He said he was not physically fit to run the tea house anymore because of heart surgery and his sons were not interested in the business.
He wanted to open a more profitable venture, a tyre shop. However, a committee of senior writers tried to persuade the owner not to close it. For them, it was a cultural icon of not only of Lahore but of the whole Pakistan.
After the closure of the restaurant, Chaupal at Nasser Bagh was the place where writers and intellectuals of Halqa Arbab-i-Zauq and Punjabi Adbi Sangat gathered. The place was provided by the government and its only room was being ignored by the managers.
Moreover, the area became very crowded and the traffic noise was almost unbearable. The Halqa moved to the air-conditioned building of Aiwan-i-Iqbal but the Sangat refused to shift and it still holds its weekly meetings here on Fridays.