Daily Times: Sunday, July 09, 2006

Lahore Lahore Aye: Lahore’s old cultural hangouts

By A Hamid

The Nagina Bakery outside Anarkali will forever remain associated with the names of the great men of letters of its day. It may have started life as a bakery but when I saw it after 1947, it was a dimly-lit corridor of a teashop. As I entered, I saw mincemeat patties sizzling on one brazier, and tea being prepared on the other. Because of the coal fire on which food and hot beverages were prepared, the place always remained somewhat smoky.

After Maulana Charagh Hasan Hasrat left for Delhi at the outbreak of the World War II to become deputy editor of Fauji Akhbar, the literary sittings that used to be held at Arab Hotel near Islamia College came to an end. Some of the Arab Hotel regulars, including Maulana Salahuddin Ahmed, Abdullah Qureshi, Dr Syed Abdullah and Dr Ashiq Hussain Batalvi, moved to Nagina Bakery. After the establishment of Pakistan, because of the more popular Pak Tea House, the Zelin’s Coffee House and the Cheney’s Lunch Home, Nagina Bakery gradually lost its appeal. Since Nagina Bakery was situated practically next to Oriental College, Government College and Punjab University, several of their professors found it convenient to drop in there for a cup of tea and some lively conversation. It was a literary hangout rather than a political talk shop.

Nagina Bakery was founded in 1926 by someone who, I think, came from the town of Nagina in UP. On my trips to Calcutta, the train would go past the Nagina station, a name I always found romantic.

Another Lahore literary hangout, which I am sure is now utterly forgotten, was outside Mochi Darwaza, to be precise, where the road descends towards Gowalmandi. It was a restaurant called Manzil and it was based in a double-storey house. In fact, it was a large hall on the ground floor that had been converted into a restaurant. The owner was a young and handsome poet, who was a pupil of the poet Ehsan Danish. As you entered, the first thing you noticed was the manager’s counter to the left. On a number of loosely laid out tables and chairs, would sit the customers sipping tea and talking. On the first floor, there was a large room where literary meetings used to take place. Before Partition, I remember coming here with Saifuddin Saif. When we entered, we found Bari Alig, Saadat Hasan Manto and Abu Saeed Qureshi already sitting there, engaged in a lively discussion. I noticed one fair-skinned young man scribbling away in a corner. He turned out to be Manto’s best friend Hassan Abbas. Soon Saif and he were talking. Hassan Abbas, I noticed, wrote a very neat hand. He had completed about half a page when we interrupted him. Saif asked, “What are you writing?” “A story for Adabi Dunya”, he replied with a shy smile.

I used to travel to Lahore from Amritsar all the time. Once I came to Lahore with Zaheer Kaashmiri and Prof Allaudin Kalim, who taught English. Our first port of call was Manzil, where we found Manto, Hassan Abbas and Abu Saeed Qureshi drinking tea and chatting. Zaheer Kaashmiri and Allaudin Kalim also joined in. At the next table, there sat a few poets reading their latest to one another. Since I was trying to listen to both tables, I was able to follow neither. Once I came from Amritsar with the poet Iqbal Kausar and we made straight for Manzil. We had barely sat down when a fierce summer storm broke out. As its fury eased, a gentle rain began to fall. One of my favourite smells is the smell of rain falling on parched earth. Whenever I think of Manzil today, I am transported to that afternoon and I hear the storm raging outside and I smell the aroma of the earth as raindrops come dancing down from the sky. Manzil did not survive very long after Partition.

Another Lahore restaurant was Mumtaz Hotel in Anarkali on the Lohari Gate side. Before Pakistan, it used to be the gathering place of famous writers and critics, because the publishing houses which formed the bedrock of Pakistani literature - including Maktaba Urdu, Maktaba Jadeed, Naya Idara, Gosha-e-Adab, Aayeena-e-Adab and Idara-e-Farogh-e-Urdu - were all located in that general area. These publishing houses were patronised by Urdu’s leading writers and poets and although in those days, printing facilities were primitive, these houses worked hard to produce beautiful books on litho. Mumtaz Hotel became the regular meeting point of writers and publishers. The owner of Mumtaz Hotel was not into literature but he loved music and all day long, he would play film music, which made it necessary for us to converse in a louder-than-normal voice. The records, all 78 rpm, lay in a stack on the counter, from which he would pick out his favourites one by one. Sometimes he would lower the volume, when we requested him to do so. In the end, the moment he saw any of us walk in, he would lower the volume without being asked because he knew that our crowd was into conversation rather than music.

Ibne Insha, Ahmed Rahi and I would visit the offices of Savera and Adab-e-Latif every day, receive some or all of what we were owed for our work, and make a beeline for Mumtaz Hotel, to gorge ourselves on its delicious cakes and tarts. To us, this was the height of luxury. One day, Sahir Ludhianwi and I – he had just had a new edition of his collection Talkhian published by Naya Idara – presented ourselves at Chaudhri Nazir Ahmed’s office. He was busy writing a postcard. He smiled as he always did and asked in Punjabi where this pair of young blades had come from. I replied that I had brought him a new story and Sahir was owed some money for the new edition. He laughed, “Dear friends, sometimes you should come just to see me.” He was a nice and generous man who was devoted to his writers. He also had excellent literary taste and judgment. When he had money, he would hand it out right away, but when he had none, he would say, “Friends, my pocket is as empty today as yours, but come tomorrow and there would be something waiting.”

Of all Lahore’s forgotten restaurants, the one that I miss most is Lorang’s on the Mall. It was the city’s most elegant tea place. In flower vases on every table, one would find young eucalyptus branches, exuding their faint aroma. Even if I live for ten thousand years, that is one smell I will not forget. Lorang’s was an upscale restaurant and it had a select clientele. Before 1947, it was the most popular of Lahore’s teahouses and the hangout of the city’s glittering young men and women. It lasted a few years into Pakistan and then one day it died quietly and unsung. But there is one person who has not forgotten it, nor has he seen Lahore come up with another Lorang’s.

A Hamid, the distinguished Urdu novelist and short story writer, writes a column every week based on his memories of old Lahore. Translated from the Urdu by Khalid Hasan


Back to A. Hameed's Page

Back to Column's Page