Lahore is seeing a revival of its literary traditions, and how
ave you been to the Pak Tea House lately? The place, which sits adjacent to Anarkali, used to be a hot meeting point for the intellectuals back in its heyday. On a random visit recently, I found it to be in a very sorry state of affairs.
It was nothing close to what I had imagined it to be. I expected it to hold on to its history, but nobody, not even the staff, seemed to know much about it. I left the place, wondering if, like so many other good things, we shall lose this gem to oblivion.
Historically speaking, Lahore has been studded with literary gems. Romantic, spiritual and revolutionary poetry have had a way with this land of thinkers and dreamers. You can almost hear the city whisper their verses in your ear.
Over the past few years, Lahore has seen a revival of its literary traditions. We now have a number of literary events taking place all year round, especially in spring-summer. The Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) and Faiz Mela are professionally organised, sponsored and attended by book lovers and artists. The works of old writers and poets are recalled and those of new authors applauded.
Another interesting activity that we now see more of is the various Open Mic sessions that are organised without professional help or sponsorship. This fact alone makes these efforts commendable.
I believe that we need to have more of ‘safe spaces’ such as open mics — platforms that are for people to vent out things that would otherwise lay buried in the folds of their personal diaries, somewhere in their closets.
The open-mic events take place at random cafés and bookstores, and these are attended by aspiring and amateur artists, poets, writers, singers, and storytellers who get to showcase their talents. The participants weave their magic by relating their experiences or feelings in words, or by performing them with a pure, untutored expression.
To say it like it is, the open-mic events have helped the (chiefly) young build a community of sorts with which they can connect freely. This is not to imply that the young don’t find a connection with their elders. It is just that things change with time.
I happened to attend a few open-mics where I also had the chance to recite some of my personal prose. It was an overwhelming experience. Besides, I realised that I was not alone in the struggles I face in my life. Each of us is going through a lot, in our own ways. We all just need someone to pass a tissue to us, if they can’t give us a shoulder to cry on.
I remember one particular session where a girl and a boy shared their stories of sexual abuse. It was so nice to see that no one victim-shamed either of them. In fact, the audience felt encouraged to open up and relate their own traumatic experiences. The atmosphere became rather heavy, but the survivors felt relieved for they had managed to get it out of their system. It was a safe space.
I believe that we need to have more of such ‘safe spaces’ — platforms that are for people to vent out things that would otherwise lay buried in the folds of personal diaries, somewhere in their closets.
The writer is a freelance journalist