LAHORE: There was a full moon that night. Three different events were taking place in the serene ambiance of Peeru’s Cafe.
In the front lawn Faizan Peerzada was celebrating the birthday of his son, the cafe was full of people enjoying qawwalis being sung by Chand and Suraj and in the back lawn a group was enjoying a private event. The food was delicious, the atmosphere perfect and the weather was delightful, when the thundering sound of a blast rocked the place.
It was Saturday, May 1, 2010, when a low-intensity bomb exploded near the boundary wall of Peeru’s Cafe. Window panes and mirrors of the cafe and the Museum of Puppetry were shattered by the reverberations, the impact of which reached 150 feet away. All the three parties at the cafe came to a halt and panic ran through the crowd. After a short while, a second low-intensity bomb went off in front of the cafe. The canopy at the open air theatre adjacent to the cafe was shattered and nine people including the sonin- law of former Supreme Court judge Justice Rana Bhagwandas were injured. Almost a month has passed, tell-tale signs of the night’s events have been removed but the losses can’t be recovered.
Faizan Peerzada, the creative director of Rafi Peer Theatre and chief 0perating officer of Peeru’s Cafe, told The Express Tribune that they were planning to raise the boundary walls. Peerzada says he wrote to the chief minister, home secretary and the interior ministry for security and for the last few days, two policemen had been deployed at the cafe. “We have raised the number of our private guards to 14. Lighting is essential for our cultural activities and we use Rs8,000 worth of diesel daily. Right now, we are hardly meeting these expenses with the income generated from the cafe,” he explained.
A hurt Peerzada said he had maintained the reputation of the cafe for years. “Every week on Thursday we have Sufi Night, Friday is Ghazal Night, Qawwali Night is on Saturday and Sunday is Children’s Day. All these activities don’t have any special charges and the cafe has hosted number of concerts since it opened in 2004,” Peerzada said. “The day after the blasts, Punjab government officials came and sealed the Puppetry Museum. I was told that the museum has been brought under the tax net. I explained that it’s for free and the people who come to cafe go there but nobody listened. We rotate 14 qawwals in four months and it costs a lot of money. Instead of giving us grants, the government is imposing further taxes on us,” Peerzada lamented.
He believed that the same people were behind the blasts that had conspired against the World Performing Arts Festival. “The festival couldn’t take place last year and this year too we don’t have any sponsorship for it. This place, Peeru’s Cafe and museum, is our nucleus and has been targeted for this very reason,” he said.
He told The Express Tribune that business of the cafe had gone down almost 75 per cent after the blasts, adding that tables didn’t move quickly at the cafe. “Those who come here want to enjoy the ambience and live performances. If the ambience is gone, the performances closed, there isn’t a reason for people to come too far for having food, which hasn’t been our objective,” he explained. Whether Peeru’s Cafe can regain its lost ambience is a question for another day. The more pressing issue is whether the simple pleasure of a night out is just a pipe dream for Lahore.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 26th, 2010.