Lahore: The Pak Tea House, one of Pakistan's most venerated cafes that was a popular hangout for artists and intellectuals like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmed Faraz, was on Friday reopened after a gap of 16 years.
Former premier Nawaz Sharif inaugurated the refurbished Pak Tea House at Tollinton Market in Lahore, the city often described as Pakistan's cultural capital.
Sharif spent some time in the cafe with a group of writers and intellectuals and had tea with them.
"The intelligentsia and writers are the assets of Pakistan and the importance of reopening the Pak Tea House is no less than launching the multi-billion Metro Bus Service project," he said, referring to a public transit system that was recently launched by the Punjab government.
"The venue will provide writers and intelligentsia an opportunity to interact. I am happy to be with you today...These are the people who help foster friendship," he said.
Members of Lahore's literary circles were elated that their efforts over many years to reopen the Pak Tea House had finally borne the fruit.
It took the City District Government of Lahore almost nine months to restore the cafe.
Lahore Conservation Society spokesman Ejaz Anwar said the project will help the government retain an important and sensitive community that has always been considered a great asset for any nation.
"Since the closure of the Pak Tea House and another coffee house in Tollinton Market, intellectuals had no place to get together and share their feelings. So it's good to see the restoration of this cafe. People from all walks of life can gather and share their ideas here," he said.
However, Anwar said it would been more fitting if the Pak Tea House had been inaugurated by some literary figure like a poet or a writer.
Saleema Hashmi, an acclaimed artist and writer and the daughter of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, recalled that the Pak Tea House was part of a movement that involved numerous writers and poets.
"Since it was a movement that involved poets and writers like Intizar Husain, Munoo Bhai and Shakir Ali, it must be reopened with the same verve," she said.
She said her father often visited another coffee house in Lahore but came to the Pak Tea House in his last days. She advised youngsters to visit the cafe and learn from intellectuals.
"It will help them build their capacity on different issues," she said.
According to officials, the former tenant of the Pak Tea House's building had challenged an agreement between the YMCA and the City District Government of Lahore in court and managed to get a stay order on the reopening of the cafe.
The authorities got the stay order vacated in June last year.
After that, authorities began refurbishing the cafe but the project was delayed by a paucity of funds, the officials said.
A tyre shop adjacent to the cafe was the only remaining hurdle and its owner was involved in litigation too, the officials said.
Authorities wanted the shop to be closed so that the Pak Tea House's would not be defaced, they said. Before Partition, Pak Tea House was known as India Tea House.
Over the years, the cafe attracted intellectuals like Saadat Hasan Manto and Ustad Amanat Ali Khan. It was also linked to the Progressive Writers' Association and other leftist groups.