Years back, when the very well-know Pak Tea House was closed down, a small portion of the Hall III, Al-Hamra, The Mall, Lahore, was made into a place exclusively for the littérateur to sit, chat, and take a cup of tea. It was known as Adabi Baithak (ادبی بیٹھک).
It’s important to note here that there is a “canteen” also inside the premise of Al-Hamra, outside of which in the open space visitors and especially students of music, and artists used to sit and enjoy a cup of tea. One could see and listen to the sound of a Sitar, or someone rehearsing his / her singing there. It was a very enjoyable place.
We a group of friends now and then visited the Adabi Baithak. Sometimes we preferred to sit in the open and have our discourse there.
Now, when after a week or so, I went to the Adabi Baithak last evening (September 13, 2014) at about 6 PM, a security guard standing at the door of the Baithak stopped me and asked for the Pass. I told him, I am one of the frequent visitors . . . He told, go to the Admin Office, they will give you a form, fill it out, then they will give you a Pass, only then you can enter the Baithak. I asked him to have a peep inside the Baithak to see whether any acquaintance of mine was sitting there, he refused and told: no you cannot; this door cannot open without the Pass!
In the meanwhile, one person who was known to me by his face as he too was a frequent visitor, came and told: Actually, about 4 or 5 days back one “Executive” was present in the Baithak and one man with a cap on his head entered, the “Executive” inquired from him, what’s he is in for; he told he was there just to use the washroom. Then and there, or after that, this restriction has been imposed: Get a Pass from the Admin and then you can enjoy sitting there.
I went back and sat on the stairs of Hall II. When the other friend came we thought of sitting in the open canteen. But there was no chair outside in the open space. I asked a waiter why there were no chairs here in the open. He told, a few weeks earlier, a group of people was sitting here and someone who was drunk broke a chair and there was some fight, since then the Office-wallas have ordered the canteen not to put any chairs outside. I asked him, would he bring tea for us if we sit on the stairs here outside. Yes of course, he said.
I remember when the Pak Tea House was renovated and opened a proposal to issue passes was discussed and was not entertained for obvious reasons. But here this Adabi Baithak has been aristocratized / bureaucratized. Yeah, go to the Admin office, and they give you a form, you fill it out, it asks, who you are, you tell some of your credentials, they ask prove them, or get it verified who you are.
I thought, in every realm of life and letters, now there is widespread aritocratization and bureaucratization; that’s what we have. There has emerged a class in Pakistan, the State Aristocracy (Riyasati Ashrafiya) and it doesn’t want anyone else, anyone from outside to interfere with its privacy, enjoyment, and life-style. For that to achieve, it creates a process, sort of a hurdle, in the form of aristocratization and bureaucratization. It means, it rests with them whom they allow to join or not. That’s like the Gymkhana (a club of state aristocracy) in Lahore.
So, it’s a choice for us: to ask for a pass or not ask for a Pass to enter the Adabi Baithak.
Note it please that Attaul Haq Qasmi, prominent columnist, is Chairman Al-Hamra Arts Council, Lahore. As its head, responsibility for this aristocratization and bureaucratization rests with him, no matter who did impose this ban.
Note: This was originally posted on September 1, 2014.