I have shared both of these in one post as I was reminded of them after a conversation I had today with an old friend. Both date back to 1955 … at the Shezan Restaurant on Victoria Road. Time flies: The road has been renamed Abdullah Haroon Road. And dear old Shezan is not there anymore since the late 70s.
Shezan was quite a place, though, if you remember ever being there. There were always people who, sadly, are no longer alive today: Z A Bokhari, Nasir Jehan, Zia-ul Hasan Moosvi, and my uncle, Ayub Minai. His brother, Sulaiman Minai, so much fun to be with, was there more frequently than others. Sadly he is now very ill. There were always other writers and poets and journalists who gathered at Shezan, stayed for hours, lived off their tea, coffee, patties, and pastries … though not in the quantity that the owners would have liked: a round lasted hours.
What was the conversation like? Mainly it was was about Literature, Music, and the people who made it all happen for many of us. And, for some odd reasons, there was a lot of talk about Assassinations.
For students like me going there was expensive, unless you had uncles or parents friends paying for your cold drinks … as well as for your friends :) The students sat in a circle around these people, just listening to them speak, recite their favourite shayrs, and discuss people these giants had admired … or not. It was one of the finest periods of learning that we ever had.
One of my favourites was this story about Allama Iqbal, though I can't name the source because he is still alive. Here it is for those of you celebrating Iqbal day.
Imagine, that you are a person who is in a desert
and hasn't eaten for days.
You've had no water.
You are tired after walking and walking and walking.
Suddenly you come across a 'dastarkhaan'
filled with drinks and food.
There are Wines of the best quality.
Food that you'd only dreamt of:
Nihaari, Haleem, Murghé Müsallam, Pülaao,
Seekh Kabaabs, Parathay, Birhaiyyaañ, Sheer Maal.
At the end of the table are dishes of sweets:
Shahi Tük∂ay (not with todays Western bread
but with bits of Doodh mayñ bhigoee Sheer Maal in it),
Lakhnaoo Ki Baalaai, Kheer, Sheer Khürma,
Baalai Ki Barf … on and on and on.
You start on this and keep eating until your stomach
is almost bursting. You have never ever eaten or drank
like this before.
That was Masnavi Maolaana Rüm!
You get tired and fall asleep.
What a lovely sleep you’re having.
But, suddenly, you wake up to rumbling sounds
coming from your stomach.
You get up … run … and sit down and shit!!!
That's like Allama Iqbal.
Same ingredients as above.
Just a different shape!
My dear friend, Shoaib Hashmi, now too paralysed to speak, loved this tale when I told it to him … and he used it in his class on Urdu Poetry in a college in Lahore.
The other one I loved was Bokhari sahib's way of explaining a shayr. I rarely found someone who could do it with such simplicity as he did. Here's my other story.
Bokhari sahib asked us, once, why
this ghazal of Mir (sung then by Mehdi Hasan)
was so popular?
Daykh to, dil ke jaañ say üth'ta haé
Yeh dhüaañ saa kahaañ say üth'ta haé
Can any of you tell us the meaning of this?
We tried … and failed, I remember.
Then ZAB (as we used to call him among ourselves) said:
Imagine if you are coming home from work.
Wanting to lie down in your bedroom.
Suddenly you see smoke coming out of the house.
If the smoke is coming out of the kitchen,
you are alright.
But if it is coming out of the bedroom,
you are doomed.
The house is on fire!!!
And then ZAB recited another shayr of Mir that said the same thing:
Kyaa jaaniyay keh chhati jalay haé keh daaghé dil
Ek aag si lagay haé kaheeñ, küchh dhooaañ sa haé
Shezan Restaurant and Café Firdaus (that used to be opposite Paradise Cinema, now also gone with a shopping complex taking it's place) were among my favourite places in Karachi. Café Firdaus had poets all the time. Reading, writing, eating. Sad that these places are no longer there any more. I will write about Café Firdaus one day, too. I promise.