For decades, Qaim Naqvi spent his evenings in the Pak Tea House. From his office in the information ministry, he would dash for the bar that he called his second home.
“My first home provided me with a place to sleep while the second home would feed me with reading, writing, and discourse to keep me alive,” recalls the greyhead poet, who was elected as secretary of Halqa Arbab-i-Zauq in the 80s. Qaim Naqvi would go home at midnight to sleep and then awake in the morning to get ready for the work.
Everything seemed smooth until 2000 when his second home’s owner Zahid Hussain closed it down to converted it into a tyre shop. This left Naqvi and scores of other intellectuals and writers devastated, to whom the dimly lit eatery had provided evenings full of inspiration and an environment to escape from the worldly realities.
Once he recovered from the shock, Qaim Naqvi started spending his evenings in an apartment in Shadman, the publishing office of Ali Javed Naqvi. Soon, a vibrant literary cachet was developed. In 2013, when the government interfered and renovated the Pak Tea House, its artistic and intellectual clientele welcomed the decision. The historic tea house is still the favourite haunt of the writers, who spend hours discussing everything under the sun.
Qaim Naqvi, however, did not return to the place he called his second home. “Now, this Shadman flat is my second home,” he says.
Like Naqvi, several other artists and intellectuals have found and developed their favourite haunts during the closure of the Pak Tea House.
“When we stay in one place for a certain period of time, it’s natural to develop an affinity with the place,” explains broadcaster and poet Tasawwar Shahzad who regularly sits at the Adabi Baithak at Alhamra, The Mall. This baithak is frequented by several artists, poets, and writers.
“The baithak provides me with a complete package,” he explains why Adabi Baithak is the best choice for him.
“I can visit art exhibitions here, attend a music class, watch a quality stage show, interact with singers, actors, and friends and take a good cup of tea at an affordable rate,” he smiles.
Shahzad says such hangouts are like oxygen for writers.
“You know literature does not evolve in isolation.”
There was a time when poets and writers would travel from all parts of Lahore to the Pak Tea House to enjoy the company of their favourite writers. Now, they have choices in several parts of the city to find such restaurants and places to interact with one another, and meet and sit with their friends and like-minded people.
The Nairang Art Gallery on Jail Road in one such hangout. The artistically-decorated lounge of the gallery holds a weekly sitting of famous historian Dr Mubarak Ali. The late Intizar Hussain used to visit the place in his days.
Many Punjabi writers and activists like to throng a café at the Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture (Pilac) at Alhamra Cultural Complex on the Ferozepur Road. The purpose-built café has tables and chairs for groups.
Pilac Director Dr Sughra Sadaf says the café is home to several groups and individuals, who start coming here at dusk.
Punjabi Parchaar, a group of activists working to the Punjabi language, keeps the café alive with weekly programmes. Its president Ahmad Raza says the café attracts a good quality, able crowd.
Journalist and Punjabi writer Sarfraz Ali visits the place on weekends. He says it is just like more than a ritual for him to visit the Pilac café on Saturdays and Sundays.
“My muse flies high when I vent my feelings here late night,” he smiles.
Also, Chaupal in Nasser Bagh, Aiwan-i-Iqbal and the office of Anjuman Taraqi Pasand Munsfeen are formal haunts for several writers and artists.
With the passage of time, some writers have developed their taste for Wi-Fi haunts.
Several writers and journalists visit Readings on Main Boulevard of Gulberg and Books and Beans on Gurumangat Road where books, a variety of drinks and Wi-Fi environment are an irresistible attraction for them.
Shanzay Syed, an English poet and a Punjab University student, met Hamna Batool at Readings. She was browsing the shelf for Naguib Mahfouz’s books three years ago when Hamna also happened to be there and she was also looking for the Egyptian Nobel laureate’s books. The coincidence made them friends and later on, both started meeting here at the bookshop’s café to exchange views. Their friends also join them at this, what Shanzay calls, books dating point. The coffee shop is also graced by ace writer and critic Saleemur Rehman and Ikramullah. The Books and Beans lounge often sees journalists Sohail Warraich and Nasrullah Malik. A nearby Mehr Hotel is a favourite place for the journalists of from the media houses around it.
Faiz Ghar in Model Town also provides a venue for discussions and reading to literature lovers. Some groups feel conformable in the cosy ambience of Gloria Jeans near Hussain Chowk in Gulberg and X2 Café in Liberty Market.
Writer and playwright Mustansar Hussain Tarar regularly sits with his fans and friends in the Model Town Park to bask in the sun in the winter and under a large, big tree in the summer after his morning walk.
Some haunts were developed in the mid-2000s but they could not weather the ups and downs of the business. For some years, the Institute of Peace and Culture Studies in Garden Town offered good quality programmes and film screenings. Similarly, people would wait for a call from the Bol Café in Gulberg which offered interaction with international intellectuals on Skype.
Dr Shahida Dilawar Shah, columnist and writer, predicts the closure of other literary haunts too.
“You see the busy life has devoured our leisure time,” she says. And the other thing is the absence of iconic writers in these literary hangouts. She says she had been to such hangouts and found that groups were indulged in backbiting, leg pulling and ugly politics.
“This is not the purpose of literary bars and discussion,” she bemoans.
Journalist and writer Kazim Jafri, however, sees it a minor issue.
“It is up to you what sort of friends you choose at the hangout,” he says.
“We should not forget several timeless stories of Manto were conceived and written in such cafes,” he argues, pointing to the picture of Manto in the Pak Tea House.
(The writer is a staff member).