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KK Aziz and the Coffee House of Lahore: Chris Moffat

Guest post by CHRIS MOFFAT 

During a recent trip to Lahore, I visited the Sang-e-Meel bookshop on Lower Mall Road in search of K.K. Aziz’s The Coffee House of Lahore. Happily, the store was well stocked with the late historian’s final work, and I spent the afternoon reading the text at a table outside the nearby Tollinton Market. It was a betrayal, perhaps, to read the book in this way, sipping cold drinks from the Hafiz Fruit and Juice Corner rather than something appropriately caffeinated, purchased amidst a flurry of conversations in a busy café. I took some solace in the fact that I was sitting not a stone’s throw away from the former Pak Tea House, once a hub of cultural life in the city and among the many spaces of discourse and dissent mapped by Aziz in his narrative of mid-twentieth century Lahore.

Today, the Pak Tea House appears hollowed and shuttered, no longer decorated with a sign to declare its name or to suggest life inside. In spite of recent rumours of a revival, its vacant façade appears a testament to Aziz’s loud lament in The Coffee House of Lahore: that the city’s culture has “disappeared from view”, that its original landmarks “have been obliterated”. The book emerged out of the historian’s desire to capture, before it is lost, the memory of a period of free thought, argument and cultural effervescence, encapsulated in the life of institutions like the Tea House, the Indian Coffee House, the Arab Hotel, the Nagina Bakery, and other important places of assembly, all of which have now vanished from the urban fabric. Aziz chooses to focus on the particularly tumultuous period between 1942 and 1957, when he was an active participant in this culture as a student of politics and later as a lecturer in Lahore’s Government College.
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