Pak Tea House: Of Fiery Verses and Spiced-Up Fries
While walking from Old Anarkali up to the Pak Tea House, I could not help but think about how the white marble building with several dark trees standing before it had a certain haunting quality to it. Although I knew that the place has historical significance in Urdu literature and political thought, to my astonishment, I observed the subtitle “Since 1948” beneath the board for the Pak Tea House for the first time. I was struck by how even the places and people we claim to know intimately, have aspects that often evade our observation.
In a Nutshell:
- A tear in the space-time continuum
- Timeless literary aura
- Nostalgic experiences for bored millennials
- Soak up some history
- Nosh on the french toast and chai
- Family friendly
I walked through the chocolaty door and went straight upstairs to the first floor. I sat alone on a desk and despite initially feeling the weight of curious gazes on my back, I soon began looking around nonchalantly. Although it was cold outside, the hall was warm. The atmosphere was a slightly damp yellow which added to the magical feel of the place. As opposed to the past, when people used to gather here for literary and philosophical discussions, friends and couples now visit the Pak Tea House to indulge in jovial conversations and create some moments of relief from the fast-paced city life.
True to form, the waiter came up to take my order only after I had observed all the walls, bookshelves and faces around me. While I was sitting there wondering how to feel about the time passing by so indifferently, I browsed through the book titles on the shelves and before I could reach for one, a fellow sitting close-by warned me that the management no longer allows visitors to read these books. They are kept in the cupboards for purely ornamental purposes. In slight despair over this ghastly rule, I asked the waiter to explain this prohibition. He said that I could access them – but only after submitting my identity card.
And so I placed my order for cardamom tea and french fries to nosh on and traded in my identity card for a copy of “Ghazab-e-Deed” by Mohsin Naqvi. I knew that the contents of the book, soiled pages full of love poems, would no longer appeal to me. I seem to have exhausted that romanticism in my teenage years but it was still something to occupy me while I waited. The tea, when it finally arrived, looked dull, but I knew from past experience that it would taste great. The french fries were not piping hot as I would have liked them to be but their boiled egg-like flavor appealed to me.
While sipping my tea and turning the pages looking for something familiar, I came across a poem, which I had memorized a few years ago, and forgotten since. It was “Mein Ney Is Tor Se Chaha Tumhey Aksar Janan” (“I have loved you in this manner often, beloved”). I thought about how the man who wrote this poem, and many other great poets like Faiza Ahmad Faiz and Ahmad Faraz had sat in these very halls. To be connected to that through space felt surreal and beautiful.
I left the Pak Tea House with some lines of that poem etched in my mind again, and with an even greater fondness for the literary past that this cafe represents. I completely understand why it is still such a huge attraction for locals and tourists alike; its literary aura is powerful and undeniable. This place with its splendid cardamom tea, a collection of Urdu titles and rich history keeps calling me back, and I leave each time already longing to return.
Pak Tea House, Anarkali, (92)42 99204196