The district of Lyallpur was established in the beginning of the twentieth century. It was a modern city catering to the needs of agriculture and industry in the region.
It was a politically vibrant city. Trade unions and peasants’ political fronts were very active.
At the time of Partition, large-scale migration took place but communal violence remained at a minimum, thanks to the then deputy commissioner Agha Abdul Hamid.
One is not aware where the intellectuals of the city used to meet before Partition but as a result of the 1947 mass migration and resulting demographic transformation, a lot of progressive intellectuals migrated to this city.
One remembers cafes in Jhang Bazar : Cafe Latif (1953-1985, four thousand records),Café Taskeen and Café Dewan, where students, youth, dejected lovers and intellectuals of city would sit for hours and hours to listen to romantic film songs. The ‘tape recorder’ was not yet introduced and every house did not have a Radio. Hence such public spaces were vital for intellectuals and day dreamers. There, they would not only listen to songs but also dream of acting or singing in movies. One remembers Poonam Kumar, an unsuccessful actor, rejected by Lahore Film Studios. Khalid Mota, a theatre actor from Lahore, used to come regularly. There they would also discuss art, politics and literature for many a long hour.
Poets reflecting the experiences of the LGBT community, Iftikhar Nasim (Ifti) and Shaukat Khawaja were regular visitors as students. They later on moved to Chicago and are buried there. Another leading light of the community, Zulfi, was a regular visitor.
With the sharpening of differences amongst the right and left intellectuals, they started sitting in different cafes
Poet Adeem Hashmi, who was part of the vibrant literary and intellectual life there, wrote the following verses which are typical of the milieu:
Muhabbat ho ya nafrat ho
Bhara rehta hoon shiddat se
Jidher se aaein ye darya
Udher ko morr deta hoon
[Be it love or hatred
I am filled with the intensity of it
Where ever these rivers flow from,
I direct the flow there]
Political figures and media personalities frequented these spaces too. In the 1950s, at Abdullah Hotel in Chiniot Bazaar, editors of local dailies including the witty poet Khaliq Qureshi (Awam) and Riasat Ali Azad (Ghareeb) could be seen. Former MLA Mir Abdul Qayyum, poet Ahmad Riaz and other local political leaders used to meet here regularly.
Two important sites for such figures to gather were Alam Coffee House and Pakistan Hotel in the same Bazaar. These would remain open 24 hours. Anybody arriving late in the city could directly go to these places, secure in the knowledge that he would meet some acquaintances. Journalists would also come here late in the evening after sending their copy to the press. Nazir Naji, Hakim Shafai, Ghulam Nabi Kaloo and Qamar Ludiahanvi would be seen here often.
For Qamar Ludiahanvi, Assistant Editor of local daily Awam, was something of an alcoholic too. When he was reprimanded, he wrote:
[Life is a carnival/festival, how can it have order?
If one is to live so cautiously, what kind of life is that?]
In Katchari Bazaar there was Grand Hotel where youth from the middle-class and industrialists would sit in the evening.
Then in the 1960s, Cosmos Hotel was opened in the same bazaar. Here a wide variety of figures would meet regularly: including Afzal Ahsan Randhawa, Mazhar Karim (owner of Crescent Textile Mills), Arshad Elahi (Vice Chair of the Municipal Corporation) and MNA Rana Sakhwat.
There was Javed Hotel in the same bazaar. On the first floor another diverse collection of literary figures could often be found: Anjum Saleemi (an accomplished Punjabi poet), Dr. Wahid (poet, short-story writer, now senior bureaucrat) Nazar Javed, lawyer and poet Mumtaz Kanwal, Masud Qamar (now settled in Sweden) Nasir Majid, Maqsood Wafa and many others.
Alhamra Hotel was owned by Abdul Ghani, who migrated to Saudi Arabia.
Once poet and director of film Zulm Da Badla Hafiz Nayyar got a contract from Company Bagh Canteen. He would consider himself an unbeatable chess player. Then one day, his reign ended, when a passerby challenged him, finished the game in just two moves and walked away.
A group of professors Prof. Shahzada Hassan, Prof. Irshad Ahmad Khan (translator of Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China), Prof. Sidiq Javed and Farooq Hassan (nephew of N.M. Rashid and a poet) would meet daily at Irum Hotel on the corner of Jhang Bazaar. There they would sit until the waiter would come and say “Sir the time is over!” Rather than wrap up and go home, they would simply move to Café Iran, Bhawana Bazaar (run, as the name suggests, by Iranis) and sit there until such time as a waiter would repeat “Sir, time to close the cafe!” Ex-MNA Mukhtar Rana would also come from his bookshop across the road to join them. Then they would move to the house of Prof. Mubashir Hasan, a connoisseur of music who had the latest collection of classical and semi classical records (tawas). There they would enjoy good coffee, good music and good hunter beef. The Azan of the Muezzin would remind them that it was time to go back home!
In the late 1960s, political polarization generally was on the rise. With the sharpening of differences amongst the right and left intellectuals, they started sitting in different cafes. The right-wingers chose to meet at Mehfil Hotel, Chiniot Bazaar (run by Iqbal Feroz, former assistant of Sorish Kashmiri). In the same Bazaar, there was Three Star Hotel, another important spot for that crowd.
Meanwhile, the leftist intellectuals, political workers, writers, poets and ‘Khufiawalas’ would meet at Jhanday’s tea shop in Katchahry Bazaar, Vakilan Wali Gali, which once became known as an ‘Arms Bazaar’ but now is flooded with mobile phone vendors.
In a corner Aziz (a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Pakistan) would try to recruit youth. There would be interesting and bitter polemics between ‘Revisionists and Maoists.’
It was a centre of political workers, intellectuals and bohemians. Senior progressive poet Hazeen Ludhihanvi, Nahid Nawaz , Majid Joseph and Naimat Ahmar. The last was of a Christian background: school teacher, author of Basanti and poet – he was butchered by his student on an accusation of ‘”blasphemy
The veteran Baba Ubair Abu Zari, famous Punjabi poet, would also grace the cafe scene occasionally. It was he who wrote:
Ubair Abu Zari police nu aakhan rishwat-khor te faida ki
Pichon karda phiraan tikowr te faida ki
From the same mileu came Talib Jullandhary, a Maoist poet whose poems were printed in China too. He expressed the class antagonisms that he saw around him in the following verses:
Tera maan banduq di naali
Tera mera saath ee ki, terea mera meyl ee ki?
Mein mill mazdoor da puttar
Tunn mill malik di dahi
Rafiq Pasha, a Punjabi poet had his own distinctive style, was not to be left out of such debate and discussion in these gatherings. In fact, it was he who wrote a parody of Talib Jullandhary:
Mein mangta shehr Jullundhar da
Teri Sharma wali akh
Sada jeevay Zia-ul-Haq
Bari Nizami, who wrote poetry for Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan also came from this environment. His famous lines, immortalised by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, are:
Kina sona tenu Rab ne banaya
Ji karay vekhda rawan
Advocate and poet Mumtaz Kanwal, who died young, wrote a poem in order to expose the mediocrity and sycophancy of General Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorial rule. Mohammad Idrees (Deesa paghal) was known for his blunt and frank comments and had to bear beatings a number of times for this ‘crime’.
Maulana Abdal Rehman Kainati would give lectures on Islamic Socialism.
Revolutionary poet Nahid Nawaz would also regularly sit here. He wrote about the peasants’ struggle in Hahstnagar, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the following lines:
Vietnam ki manind meray Hashtnagar se
Barood jawaab aaye ga barood ki bu ka
These cafes have been closed. The vibrant discourse nurtured there either disappeared with them, or moved to other spaces.
It would not be fair to omit a mention of Gulistan Hotel, owned by Mian Yousuf of Gari Shahu, Lahore, which besides Chenab Club had a liquor permit where Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib and progressive politicians would stay and Soviet and Chinese films would be shown. Saif Khalid and Mian Mehmood would also come here regularly.
The District Bar used to provide a place for the city’s political workers and intellectuals to exchange views but due to security issues a ban has been placed on their entry. So there was need for a Tea House in Faisalabad.
It would not be fair to omit a mention of Gulistan Hotel, owned by Mian Yousuf of Gari Shahu, Lahore, which besides Chenab Club had a liquor permit. Here Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib and progressive political figures would stay and Soviet and Chinese films would be shown
Keeping in view the need for establishing a place where writers, artist, poets, intellectuals and youth could meet, a literary organisation “Halqaa-e-Yaraan”, run by poet Anjum Saleemi and Altaf Babar, has established a space by the name of ‘Lyallpur Tea House’ at Satayna Road. It was inaugurated by the Director of the Arts Counci, Sofia Badar.
It was a pleasant surprise to see such a large number of writers and artists present at the inauguration. There is also a hall for literary organisations to hold their weekly meetings. It also arranged a condolence meeting for Munno Bhai recently.
One hopes initiatives such as this would help fill the vaccum left in the intellectual life of the third biggest city of Pakistan: Lyallpur or Faisalabad.