Thikana: Lahore’s Writers And Their Houses
By Hera Naguib and Moz Rauf, with Raza Naeem
In this exclusive feature, Papercuts magazine explores the connection between some of Lahore’s best-loved authors and their houses. Lahore boasts an extraordinary concentration of iconic writers and poets, who spent either their whole lives or a significant part of their lives in the city. We wanted to imagine the most intimate space in which they lived and wrote – their homes. In some cases, these spaces were lost – houses were pulled down or sold, or outlived their occupants and passed into different hands. But the homes survived in the memories of the authors and their families. Our photo essay attempts to recreate these spaces as living, breathing domains in which memories were made, dreams dreamt, and stories and poems conceived.
We begin with the house of the great poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, as remembered by his granddaughter, Mira Hashmi, and retold by Hera Naguib.
Imagine a small and unkempt garden. Here nature is abundant, haphazard, and untamed. A disarray, overgrown, it brims at the house’s front, as if with a mind of its own and quite apart from the trimmed and finely manicured greenery that decks the front lawns of the more privileged homes of Lahore today. Summer after summer, sometimes in the presence of the house owner, their grandfather leisurely playing chess, the visiting grandchildren come out to play, drawn by the garden’s fairytale aura, its distinct magical charm.
This little forest, surveyable from a large, covered verandah that shelters the house owner whenever he sits under to enjoy his lunch and that leads into the single story home, does little to complement the contrasting interior of the house. Open the front door and a small corridor looks back, quaint and simple as the rest of the home, with a little dining room and an attached kitchen tucked on one side and on the other, a drawing room with glass doors inside that circle out to the front verandah.
Further on from the corridor is a bedroom and at its back, on the corridor’s right end, is another room. Host to a slim built-in wardrobe lined with snazzy and fashionable wear, a small dressing table ensconced in a corner, a bathroom with a sunken marble tub, and a single bed where the house owner rests when he is not at the study table, this is the study cum bedroom where the house owner, even on his most ordinary days, can be found reading, smoking, or writing, often on the table that faces a window adorned with thick drapes meant shut out the most punishing of Lahore summer suns.
On these summer days, his grandchildren skirt his doorway. Their grandfather is a sociable man. He enjoys the company of his frequent guests at dinner. He speaks affectionately to his grandchildren and children, with a voice levelled and without a hint of the placating and cooing tones grown-ups often bestow upon children. At his home, he is the romantic memorialized in his many poems, often settling in to bask in the melody of birds or listen to the rustling of garden trees. Yet, outside the world of his poems, his manner is curtailed. At work, in his study, he is reasonably private and not to be disturbed. This is understood. It is only the clockwork rhythm of the slim kitchen close to the house entrance that has the power to determine the pace of his day. Lunch and dinner in this house are routinely on time and demand everyone’s presence, including his. This, too, by his wife, is made to be well understood.
This is the home of one of Pakistan’s most beloved and legendary poets and thinkers, the late Faiz Ahmad Faiz and these are only but very few glimpses of the life he led in the last of his houses in Pakistan. Built and inhabited with his wife, Alys Faiz, in the mid-seventies, what set apart this house in the residential suburb of Lahore’s Model Town was his ownership of the house after years of living in rented homes in Islamabad and Karachi.
Yet Faiz’s relationship with this last house, like that with his country, was turbulent and fractured, rife with the painful separation that represented the cost of his unwavering progressive ideals. An anti-imperialist and a humanist at heart, living in a society embroiled in inequality and injustice, it would not be an exaggeration to claim that time and time again, as is well known, Faiz bore the burden for dreaming and standing up for a life of dignity for his people. During the Zia administration, Faiz left this house and went into self-exile in Beirut, Lebanon where he spent two years in an apartment of a high-rise building overlooking the sea.
Perhaps what keeps us grounded from nostalgia and estrangement in a foreign land are the many ways we seek to imprint what is strange around us with emblems of familiarity, of home, and of rootedness. The distance from his once warm and intimate home did not settle well with Faiz. His tiny apartment in Beirut was arranged in a manner starkly reminiscent of his bedroom in Lahore. More than anything, Faiz missed the sensation of being home, of having the earth of his homeland beneath his feet. The melancholia was almost tangible in the air he walked.
But for a man like Faiz, a revolutionary and rebel at heart, memory of home, however welcoming, was also inextricable of its share of betrayal and its subsequent anxieties. In a sense, after leaving Lahore, Faiz was doubly estranged. And perhaps the house Faiz and his family had left behind, the house they would return to after two years, would do little to restore the innocence and sanctuary of what was once home. In the two years of his absence, Faiz would return in ailing health to a house deteriorating into significant disrepair. The furniture lay covered in bedsheets and the items wrapped in newspapers. But a colony of termites had swarmed inside, eating away at the furniture, their slow consumption a forbidding metaphor for the country itself, a country whose failings and rancor had gradually depleted the dream and promise for his homeland and its people.
The rest of the feature, showcasing such greats as Bapsi Sidhwa, Saadat Hasan Manto and Habib Jalib, and with more exclusive photos of Faiz Sahib in his home, appears in the print edition of Papercuts Vol. 14. Pre-order your copy here.