The changing culture of tea

September 26, 2021

Dr Ajaz Anwar talks of the tea houses on the Mall which suffered a poor fate

— Image: Supplied
— Image: Supplied

Ever since my last column, messages have been pouring in mentioning different tea houses, especially the one on Temple Road which is still the meeting place for the hearing impaired.

They are more active in the late hours. This tea shop, founded in the pre-Partition days, is thriving to this day.

The tea houses on the Mall have suffered a different fate. With the attempted ‘relocation of Tollinton,’ the 1864-built building stood in shambles and all its tea houses and eateries were vacated. The various tea houses on the opposite side too ran into losses and, therefore, changed ownerships. A tyre and repair workshops appeared gradually driving the other businesses out of business.

The Pak Tea House had also opted to partner with some businesses. Fortunately, it was rescued by the government except that it has become too expensive for tea lovers. In the back alley, where once the original coffee house stood, a Swati chai hotel still serves tea to students at affordable rates.

Another place was on Dhani Ram Road. It was frequented by money lenders. And so was the one behind the Lahore Hotel.

Nature abhors vacuum. Something must always fill it up. Loss-making businesses gave way to fresh, profit making setups. As traffic on the Mall choked, tyre and auto parts dealers moved to more open areas, but the Mall was never the same again.

An old books’ shop cropped up opposite Pak Tea House. It attracted customers, especially on Sundays. One could find some of the rare, out-of-print books here. Besides, you could always haggle over their prices. It was a real haven for book lovers. It merited another place of this kind.

The spillover effect was in the form of the old woollies, thronged by shivering customers, at the peak of the winter season.

It may be remembered that Old Anarkali was already an organic food street. It served the students, visitors and litigants at affordable rates. But with the inauguration of the food street, amid a lot of fanfare, the prices shot up. Correspondingly, the prices of the properties in the area also went up.

Lahore has always been a cosmopolitan mix of culinary delights and varied cultures. It being the biggest centre of educational institutes, publishing houses and newspapers needed greater sensitivity to preserve its ambience. Money, though a powerful vehicle, could also end up eating itself like the mythical dragon.

(This dispatch is dedicated to Syed Ali, who always volunteered to take a sip but never to share the bill)

The writer is a painter, the founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and the former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]

The changing culture of tea