KARACHI: Book lovers at a gathering organised by the Readers Club enjoyed discussion on In Search of Sense — My Years as a Journalist, the autobiography of Dawn’s longest-serving former editor Ahmad Ali Khan at the Defence Central Library here on Thursday.
Khan Sahib, as he was known among his colleagues at Dawn, had been editor of the newspaper from 1973 to 2000. He returned as caretaker editor for a few months in 2003 as well. Khan Sahib began writing his memoirs after retirement but unfortunately he could not complete his life story before his death in 2007. By that time he had penned seven of the book’s nine chapters.
Now his daughter, Dr Naveed Ahmad Tahir, has published the book. To make it a complete piece of writing, she had to carefully go through Khan Sahib’s published articles and rough notes while selecting those which carried the account further from the point where he had left. She also requested journalists who had known him and worked closely with him to write about him.
The introduction to the book has been written by I.A. Rehman, columnist and secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Some family members have also contributed personal accounts about him. The book includes some letters he wrote in Urdu to his noted writer wife Hajra Masroor with their translations.
Dr Tahir said her father was in the habit of conveying his thoughts to them in writing. “I have several notes from him that he would leave for me to read on the kitchen counter, too,” she said.
About the material she eventually used for the book, she said: “It was very difficult selecting matter from his rough notes. I was continuously faced with the dilemma about what to take and what to leave out. I hope he won’t be too angry at me for using them to take the story to conclusion. I also had letters which he had written to my mother and including some of them also made me feel guilty because my father was a private man who would not have appreciated this. But as I.A. Rehman Sahib told me, the letters would help bring out his personality,” she said.
Muhammad Ali Siddiqi, the Readers’ Editor at Dawn, said that when he learnt about Khan Sahib’s plan on starting work on his autobiography, he advised him to employ a technique that would narrate his life’s story but with the unfolding of historic political events as he witnessed them in his life. “And Khan Sahib has begun with Ataturk’s death,” he said.
When he became editor of the paper at a very crucial time in 1973, there was constant pressure on Dawn from the government to toe its line or close the newspaper. The editor of the paper at the time was Altaf Gauhar, who was in jail due to the turmoil. But Khan Sahib saved the newspaper and brought it out of those testing times as he believed that if the paper was to close down, it should be on principles and not on a whim of the government.
“As the editor of Dawn he groomed many journalists. He would urge us to think before asking questions. He would tell us little things that no one would even care noticing. There is a letter by him, which I have with me about how to deal with human beings. I have made copies of it for my sons and daughters-in-law,” Mr Siddiqi said.
Senior journalist Babar Ayaz said he admired the way Khan Sahib would stand up to the newspaper management. “He kept them at a distance when it came to the running of affairs at the paper. Interference was just not allowed,” he said.
The evening was conducted by Dawn columnist and former assistant editor Zubeida Mustafa, who said that she liked to sit and listen to Khan Sahib because just doing so helped her learn a lot from him. “He was a very good teacher with an impressive personality and so much integrity that he could easily convince people to follow his point of view,” she said. “Going through his book one is reminded of the values and ethics of journalism.”
Later, Khan Sahib’s daughter engaged the audience with reading from the book, including a very wise and touching letter that he had penned for his wife.
Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2015