Hast o Neest: The Lyceum of Lahore
A man sat in an old Land Cruiser, waiting outside the gate which was left ajar. Inside, another man sat under a dimmed bulb, perhaps the guard. Upon inquiry, he directed me to the main entrance of Hast o Neest, an institute of Traditional Studies of Sciences and Arts. I entered the building through a checkered wooden door and was met by two staircases. A small pile of shoes marked either side of the doorway. I was asked to remove my shoes too. The idea of taking our shoes off before treading on carpets had always felt very 90s to me, and reminded me in this instance of another time.
Hast o Neest is a space conducive to science and arts. It approaches these disciplines from the perspective of Islamic social thought. It offers free courses and sessions on various subject matters ranging from physics to calligraphy.
The Institute did the same as well. Fully carpeted, furnished beautifully, with cushions and gow takiye [floor cushions], Haast o Neest has a very warm and welcoming atmosphere. A few years ago, the establishment decided to open up in Gulberg, near Lahore Heritage Club and F.C. College. The institute operates as a ‘space set up to engage, research and explore traditional knowledge, practice and experience.’ In short, it is an attempt to create an environment in which students are able to benefit from knowledge rooted in timeless tradition, whose principles are applied to various domains in time, with a special focus on languages, arts, architecture, philosophy and metaphysics.
A little backstory: Hast o Neest was established under the patronage of Taimoor Khan Mumtaz, an architect by profession and the son of a well-known Lahori architect, Kamil Khan Mumtaz. The space is used for both, classes and debate, and is established within the Sufi school of thought. Classes here range from language courses in Arabic and Persian, to sessions on calligraphy, miniature art, and music. The institute also hosts different talks and lectures, especially on religion. People from different walks of life are welcome to attend the classes. I met a middle-aged government servant there who was taking Arabic classes and learning miniature art at the establishment.
When I went to visit the place, there was a talk going on there. To my absolute joy, a small group of both men and women (more women than men!) was engaged in a conversation about the absence of women in Islamic History. The gentleman revealed to the women that in the earlier days of the Islamic Civilization, more female scholars have been recorded than men. The women too shared stories and tidbits about their experiences, and anecdotes of different female scholars. I don’t think I have ever seen a more muhazzib – for the lack of an equitable word in English – conversation ever take place between men and women of that age group, outside of a familial setting. The guide I was with later told me that these people were all here for a poetry recitation, and stayed back to have this conversation after it.
Haast o Neest is an ideal place for people to find others with similar interests in arts and sciences. You learn not only under the tutelage of scholars but also from the knowledge and experience of your peers. Although a Lyceum is a concept from a bygone era, if Lahore ever had a sort of Lyceum, Haast o Neest is probably it.