K. K. Aziz on Lahore

Posted by sepoy on May 19, 2009 · 4 mins read

K. K. Aziz, 82, one of the most renowned historian of Pakistan, is gravely ill in Lahore. He is one of those cherished individuals who dare speak truth without the fear of consequence. He acted as the nation's conscious for a long while [See especially, The Pakistani Historian: Pride and Prejudice in the Writing of History (1993)]. I am currently reading the second volume of his autobiography and I thought, I'd share this little bit about Lahore from his introduction.

Speedy recovery, Professor Aziz.

From the 1920s onwards, perhaps even earlier, Lahore was the most highly cultured city of north India. From here appeared the largest number of Urdu literary joundals, newspapers, and books and two of the best English language dailies. The Mayo School of Arts was flourishing. The Young Men Christian Association was active and its premises and halls were used by all communities for literary and social activities. The Government College was a distinguished intellectual center whose teachers were respected and students considered to be the best representatives of modern Western education. The Oriental College was engaged in first class research. The annual plays staged at Government College and Dyal Singh College were awaited by the city's elite with high expectations. Eminent journalists and columnists wrote for newspapers and graced literary gatherings. The city rang with the echoes of the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Noon Meem Rashid, Hafeez Jallandhari and Akhtar Sherani. The Niazmandan-e Lahore, the magic circle of A. S. Bokhari, Abdul Majeed Salik, M. D. Taseer, Hafeez Jallandhari, Sufi Tabassum, Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj and Hari Chand Akhtar, created enormous waves in the world of Urdu literature.

The well-to-do Westernized elite drank and danced and talked in the Gymkhana and Cosmopolitan clubs. The home-grown dazzling lights set off their fireworks at the Arab Hotel, Nagina Bakery, Mukham Din's teashop, Halqa-i Arbab-e Zauq, India Tea House and India Coffee House. The greatest in the land, like Tagore, came and spoke at the SPSK Hall. Political debates were held at Bradlaugh Hall. Amrita Sher Gill painted and B. C. Sanyal sculpted. The best British and American films were screened at Regal and Plaza. There was even a school of ballroom dancing on the upper storey of Regal. The baithaks in the walled city trained musicians and singers and invited the connoisseurs to come and listen to the classical music. The radio came a little later and the literati wallowed in a new channel which immediately enlarged the circulation of what they wrote, said or composed.

A glorious physical setting for this pulsating intellectual activity was provided by the Lahore that the British built between 1860 and 1935. Impressive edifices adorned the landscape: Lawrence Hall, Chief's College, Government House, High Court, Masonic Lodge, Legislative Assembly, General Post Office, Museum, Mayo School of Art, Government College, and Central Training College. The queen of all roads, the Mall, was bordered by tall trees and wide footpaths, and boased a glittering array of expensive shops. The Race Course and the Lawrence Gardens were the lungs of the city. No high rise buildings existed. With no encroachments the roads looked wider. The bungalows of Davis, Empress, Egerton, Queens and Jail Roads were elegantly located in the middle of green lawns. The skyline was soothing. Nature's green was the dominating color of the city. Breathing was easy, and so was enjoying life.
- K. K. Aziz. The Coffee House of Lahore: A Memoir 1942-57. (Lahore: Sang-e Meel Publications, 2008): 6-10.

Those curious about the Coffee House should also read A. Hamid's recollection.


Conrad Barwa | May 19, 2009

Sounds interesting, I am going thorugh a phase where I am reading some biographies so will try to get hold of Prof Aziz's book. Picked up Mush's bestseller at a charity shop for 1p so will wade through that as well for a laugh :D

elizabeth | May 19, 2009

Lovely excerpt; it brings to mind some of the pieces (esp Khushwant Singh's and Pran Nevile's) in that Lahore anthology. Hoping the professors recovers his health soon, and writes many a piece more.

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