During the late seventies and early 80s, Rawalpindi used to be a centre of literary and cultural activities. One could see prominent literary personalities like Mazharul Islam, Rasheed Amjad, Mansha Yad, Jalil Aali, Zia Jalandhry, Fateh Muhammad Malik and many others engaged in literary discussions, sharing their work at hotels and restaurants in Saddar.
Even writers and poets from Lahore and other cities visited the garrison city to enjoy the company of renowned poets and writers like Ustad Ghulam Rasul Tariq, Yousuf Zafar, Mazharul Islam, Nisar Nasik, Mansha Yad, Rashid Amjad and many others.
Many cafes and restaurants in the Saddar and Raja Bazaar area remained open until late hours with uninterrupted supply of tea and cigarettes for the wandering souls.
Paul Well in Raja Bazaar, Silver Grill, Vogies, Shalimar, Shezan and Kamran Restaurant in Saddar were some of their usual haunts.
However, with the passage of time and with increase in cost of living, those periodic gatherings gradually ceased to be. Nor can one find those hotels and restaurants where such sittings took place.
Most of these have now closed down leaving the city’s literati to wander the streets.
National City Hotel opposite Liaquat Bagh, Al-Akbar Hotel and Prince Restaurant on the Double Road are few places to have a refuge. “Every big city in the world has places where the literati regularly meet. In Paris and London, poets and writers hold weekly sessions where they read and evaluate their works. The city governments there, facilitates and takes pride in their meetings,” said Ilyas Babar Awan a prominent writer of the city. “In Lahore Al-Hamra designated a place for writers after the closer of the Pak Tea House. In Islamabad, too, Writers’ House at the Pakistan Academy of Letters hosts Friday meetings of Halqa-e-Arbab-e-Zauq.
Sadly, there is no such facility in Rawalpindi,” says Imran Aami, another well known poet. He says the Pindi’s Halqa-e-Arbab-e-Zauq meets at the press club on Sundays without any charges but on other days they have to pay. Rafaqat Razi, a poet and critic says there are a few hotels in Pindi where they can meet but are quite unaffordable and there are time restrictions too. Aami says it’s rather unfortunate that renowned literary personalities have not bothered to do anything to protect the younger generation from the wave of commercialism.
“We don’t blame them for this but we would be honoured if they would only attend our meetings so that we could learn from their experience. And of course, they too will get to know the thoughts and feelings of the young writers in this age of post-modernism,” said Aami.