As I write this, I can hear Hasanat sahab’s authoritative voice going over the words and giving me feedback on how to make my copy stronger by tweaking a little bit of this and that. That was his relationship with two generations of journalists — of a teacher, a mentor and a guide.
I met Hasanat sahab (full name Abul Hasanat) in 2011 on my first job in journalism as a sub-editor at The Express Tribune. At the time, after a long association with Dawn from 1995 to 2010, he was working as an editorial consultant. Of a thin frame, with salt and pepper hair always parted perfectly to one side, and a crisp white shirt, he sat on the desk, often a cup of chai in hand and a cigarette nearby.
We were a desk of 5 to 6 young journalists with little experience, and Hasanat sahab didn’t let us forget how inexperienced we were — or to use his words, how "kachchay" we were. He did so to remind us that there was much to be learned, much to be seen to develop our judgement. "Journalism is no joke" he would say, peering over a copy and marking it with his notes.
But, the “bright eyed” journalists in whom he saw potential, he would give extensive feedback and take them to task over the what we, at the time, considered small mistakes. "Dictionary lao" was the only thing he would say if any of the sub-editors tried to explain what they meant by a certain word.
Many of my basics in journalism come from him. He was the embodiment of everything I had read in journalism books — to the point, and a man who valued language and the ethics of reporting.
He taught me to question the use of a particular word and its implications, how not to edit a copy so much that it loses the writer's voice completely, and how to treat stories of a sensitive nature. “We are not butchers,” he once said, as he looked at the page and disapproved of a particularly gory picture.
For him, court stories were the way to test a reporter as well as a sub-editor. He referred to the quotes of judges and lawyers during a case as "sacred text”, emphasising that they should be minimally edited.
Hasanat sahab was a lively man, sharing the stories of his youth and then telling us to live more. He loved Urdu poetry, and regretted that people today were missing out by not giving Urdu enough importance.
My first trip to the Karachi Press Club, that too for a mushaira, was with Hasanat sahab. Going to the press club with him was a treat; it was like accompanying a VVIP. Everyone would come over, shake his hand, and discuss one or the other issue with him.
Hasanat sahab was as witty as he was wise. His sharp comebacks, no-holds-barred criticism and his wry smile were well known to his peers, acquaintances and his apprentices.
One could talk to him for hours about politics, history and journalism. In my last conversation with him, two weeks before his demise, he was very unhappy with the direction journalism in Pakistan seemed to be taking.
"It's all about making money now," he said woefully, particularly upset about a story which he said went against everything journalism stood for. He was also upset with how censorship was being handled by the media. Passing down advice on censorship given to him by his father, also a veteran journalist, he told me, "Fight back as much as you can but leave some space for flexibility. But give them enough hell that they think twice about calling you the next time."
The writer is a News Editor at Dawn.com.