YOU cannot summarise a man in a few words, least of all a close friend. But I will try, even if just to say what I know of the man. This, again, is something that can never be known to anyone in its totality; not even by the man himself.
Imran Aslam, who died on Friday at the age of 70, was extremely talented — and assured in his talent, which at times even the most talented are not.
Our common friend Usman Peerzada, the well-known actor, discovered him one afternoon speaking some part of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, all to himself, in an empty open air theatre located in the heart of the Government College in Lahore.
Usman felt this was a man after his own heart and befriended him. He also extended the baton of friendship to others, like myself, till we were a team of five close friends. Close in artistic and other pursuits, from acting to poetry to gaming around young women.
After graduation and a few forays into the world of drama, Imran left for England to complete his higher studies at the London School of Economics. Like elsewhere, he excelled at his latest alma mater. He returned sometime later, not to Pakistan but the UAE, where he headed the Emirati prince Shaikh Zayed’s fleet of aircraft.
After a sojourn there, he eventually came back to Pakistan. Here, in 1984, he found an outlet for his literary bent of mind as editor of the Star, at the Dawn Group of Newspapers, where he was at home in a fraternity of writers, columnists and political commentators.
This was not the life and luxury he had enjoyed in the UAE. But though Imran had somehow always been at the centre and helm of affairs, captaining various ships to various destinations, he was also an adventurer who liked bordering the troubled eddies at the fringes of the mainstream. This was where the rebel in the man occasionally reared its head. Briefly incarcerated for his support for Baloch rights, he developed tuberculosis in jail that left its indelible scar on his lungs.
Imran ran the gamut of an editor — including at The News where he was among those who launched the flagship English daily of the Jang group — for several years till he was offered and accepted the job of heading the upcoming channel, Geo. He remained there till his last; in the end battling a protracted illness and coping with the loss of his younger brother, The News senior editor Talat Aslam, who died in May.
Imran helped and wrote plays for the Gripps Theatre in Pakistan. Gripps is a German theatre, whose plays are designed outwardly for children but with concealed cogent political and social comment.
In the 1990s, what Imran wrote in these plays and others received rave reviews in Karachi’s social circles. At about the same time, he introduced the Italian playwright Dario Fo to Pakistani audiences. He made translations of his plays in Urdu, which were produced by Rahat Kazmi through his Theatrewallay production house and by Napa.
During this time, Imran also wrote a few serials which have left an indelible mark on television writers and producers.
As a newspaper man, Imran was close to many political bigwigs, though he never toed any one political line or favoured any one political party at the expense of another. As a friend, he provided joy wherever he went, with his quick wit, incredible impersonations of Mujibur Rehman, Z.A. Bhutto and others. His insight into worldly affairs complemented his other accomplishments. Usually it was Imran who shone, in whatever he chose to do, as well as in whatever company he chose to be in.
The writer is a well-known TV and theatre personality.
Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022
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