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Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Lahore tea house under threat
The centre of Lahore's cultural life for decades
By Adnan Ali in Lahore

Lahore's most famous tea house - renowned for its artistic and intellectual clientele - is at the centre of a battle to stop it closing down.

The Pak Tea House has been central to the city's artistic, cultural and political life for decades.

But its owner, Zahid Hasan, says he is not physically fit to run it any more because of heart surgery and his sons are not interested in the business.

He wants to open a more profitable venture - a tyre shop.

However, a committee of senior writers is trying to persuade the owner not to close it.

For them, it is a cultural icon of not only of Lahore but of the whole Pakistan.

Cafe culture

Literary and artistic activity in Lahore has traditionally revolved around cafes and restaurants.

Intizar Hussein
Intizar Hussein: One of the regulars
These places became the haunts of intellectuals, writers and artists who spent hours drinking endless cups of tea over discussions on subjects which were close to their minds and hearts.

In the colonial era, Lahore was full of restaurants and hotels, most of which lined the famous Mall, offering food, snacks and drinks.

The India Coffee House, established originally by two Sikh brothers, was one such favourite watering hole.

Immediately after partition in 1947, India was dropped from the title and it was renamed the Pak Tea House.

Leading writers

Since then, it has become the hideout of choice for all leading writers of Urdu.

"No other literary institution of the country including the Academy of Letters has credibility equal to the Pak Tea House

Writer Intizar Hussain
Famous names, such as Mira Ji, Saadat Hasan Manto, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Kamal Rizvi, Munir Niazi, Ustad Amanat Ali, Intizar Hussain and many others have spent innumerable evenings in the tea house, which used to remain open until midnight.

The celebrated fiction writer, Intizar Hussain, has been a regular visitor to the tea house since 1949.

He believes it is a cultural institution which is known all over the sub-continent.

"No other literary institution of the country including the Academy of Letters has credibility equal to the Pak Tea House," he says.

It has also been at the centre of political movement as well.

He says people freely expressed their political views in the Pak Tea House - even in the repressive days of the military regimes of General Ayub Khan and Gen Ziaul Haq.

Assistance offer

The Punjab government has offered the owner regular financial assistance to make up for his losses.

Outside of tea house
The tea house has declined since its heyday
The owner's lawyer apparently agreed not to close it.

However, its future does not look bright as the owner's ailing heart does not seem to be in it.

The quality of tea served in the restaurant and other services have declined.

If Pak Tea House is shut down, as seems imminent, it will be the closure of the last remaining hideout for writers and intellectuals in the city.

Other such restaurants, such as the Coffee House and Cheneys Lunch Home, have already been closed down.

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