Hasan and the sea of stories

Khalid Hasan,who died last week in Washington,where he was the special correspondent of Lahore’s Daily Times and Friday Times....

Written by Inder Malhotra | Published: February 10, 2009 2:51 am

Khalid Hasan,who died last week in Washington,where he was the special correspondent of Lahore’s Daily Times and Friday Times,was a gifted and versatile journalist and author,whose passing leaves both journalism and literature in his country the poorer. He had wide and varied interests — ranging from politics and literature to music and photography — a deep understanding of the subjects he wrote on,a scintillating style and an enviable flair for the right phrase. This makes it all the more ironic that he started life as an officer in Pakistan’s income-tax department.

Luckily he realized soon enough that his forte lay elsewhere. He joined the Pakistan Times where his promise and potential became obvious immediately. Among those impressed by his incisive analytical writings,spiced with wit and humour,was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. A week after coming to power in the wake of the Bangladesh War,ZAB asked Khalid to work for him. In Khalid’s own words,“until then the press officer of the president — which is what ZAB then was — was called the Public Relations Officer (PRO) which I thought was appropriate to someone selling soap. I said that to Bhutto and suggested that I should be called his press secretary. ‘Fine,’ he replied,‘but not the kind they have in America’.”

Khalid was present at Bhutto’s famous meeting with Pakistani scientists under a marquee in Multan on January 20,1972 at which ZAB demanded a Pakistani Bomb in three years and the nuclear scientists said they would deliver it. Several years later,after Bhutto was overthrown by General Zia,Khalid spoke about the Multan meeting to the makers of the German TV documentary,The Islamic Bomb.

It was an indiscreet remark of Khalid at a press briefing in Lahore that annoyed ZAB who packed him off to Paris as minister (press) in the Pakistan embassy. Later,he served in this capacity in Ottawa first and then in London. He was in Britain’s capital when the news of Zia’s coup against ZAB hit him,He resigned instantly and sought shelter overseas until it was safe to return home and rejoin the profession he loved.

During the last two decades his base was Washington where he built up a wide network of friends of all nationalities — among whom I was one — who were attracted to him because of his personal and professional qualities. He was a gracious host and an excellent raconteur. An admirable attribute was his unfailing devotion to professional ethics. Nothing underscores this more vividly than one of his last pieces,in which he was critical of the Iraqi colleague who had hurled a shoe at George W. Bush. Whatever we and the world might think of Bush,he wrote,a journalist should use his pen or camera to express his views,not his shoe.

Khalid was born in Jammu just less than 70 years ago,which perhaps explains why he felt so strongly about the lack of a settlement of the Kashmir issue. This he discussed with me frequently and at length. But there was never a trace of acrimony in the discussion. Whenever I would say to him that the peace would have to be slow and gradual,he would reply,“No,there should be a quantum jump”.

Since he was close to the Bhuttos,father and daughter,he has written at very great length about both ZAB and Benazir. His obituary on her was deeply moving,where he pointed out that if Benazir was to be summed up “in one word,that word would be kind”. Unlike her father,who never forgave anyone who crossed him,or who he thought had crossed him,Benazir was “forgiving”.

A prolific writer,Khalid authored 40 books,which is more books than many of his colleagues,Pakistanis or Indians,might have read. However,he will be remembered for his superb translations of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s superlative poetry and the equally memorable short stories of Saadat Hasan Manto.

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