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Khalid Hasan remembered

February 07, 2011

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KHALID Hasan, reporter, columnist, author, translator, teacher and friend to many, died on Kashmir Day, the 5th of February in the year 2009.

As anybody who has read his moving and most brilliant writings on Kashmir, the land of his birth, would know, the Kashmir cause was dearest to his heart.

On Feb 5 this year Radio Pakistan held a seminar and a classical music concert in Khalid Hasan’s memory where his friends and family and colleagues gathered to recall memories of this remarkable man, probably one of Pakistan’s top three or four great writers and columnists and whose name would not be out of place alongside the other greats such as Mazhar Ali Khan and I.A. Rehman.

His oldest and best friend Akhtar Mirza spoke so touchingly about Khalid Hasan that he moved not only himself but many of us to tears. Mr Mirza’s name can be found in many of KH’s writings about the city where he grew up and which he loved greatly: Sialkot and its Amelia Hotel in Drummanwala Chowk; Park Hotel next to Goolam Qadir and Sons, Merchants, where the young blades would gather of an evening to play billiards; and the City Cricket Club where many an all-India fixture was played.

The former BBC journalist Shahid Malik, a cousin of Khalid Hasan, read a beautifully crafted paper on the man and his times, taking us to the London of the 1970s and to memories of veteran journalist Athar Ali who too rose to the heights in the BBC and who I knew in London a few years before he passed on.

When it was my turn to say a few words I objected most strenuously, to much laughter I might add, to the fact that the photograph (a great photograph by the way, capturing the very essence of the man) of Khalid Hasan’s on the banner announcing the seminar was one in which he was not wearing a tie! Khalid Hasan owned, it was said, 400 neckties, each one painstakingly, even lovingly chosen. He never, it was said, ever had a tie dry-cleaned: if it got a stain, into the dustbin it went.

I pointed out, to more laughter, that even his brother, columnist and ad-man Masood Hasan wasn’t wearing one, Masood shooting back that he was merely following Khalid Hasan’s example as seen on the banner! I then recounted cooking him dumpukht chicken at his flat in Islamabad when he was managing director of Shalimar Recording Company. As I finished cooking, KH lifted the lid of the pot to see the result of my efforts. “Shah Ji, sabaz dhaniya kithay wey”? (“Where is the green coriander?”).

“This is my mother’s recipe, handed down by her mother, and is based on dried coriander,” I said. Not to be deterred, and in his inimitable way, he nodded his head and cocking it to one side said, “Shah Ji pa key weikho”. (“Try it and see”, ‘Shah Ji’ being his favourite term for everyone). Well, I did, and must confess that it made a good difference. I duly informed my mother, of course.

Khalid Hasan and I go back to the year 1959 when he came to Cadet College, Hasanabdal, to teach English. He was 23 years old at the time; always impeccably turned out; and madly in love with Ava Gardner. Suffice it to say that when one day we teased him about his love rather loudly he thrashed the whole class — all 25 of us — with one of the three canes that were kept in the adjutant (Captain Rashid of the Punjab Regiment)’s office, standing in a receptacle of linseed oil.

We remained friends for the intervening 40 years, meeting in London, Islamabad, Lahore and Washington D.C., wherever fate took us. How well I remember his kindness when he turned up unexpectedly to receive me at Washington’s Dulles airport 10 years ago along with Mr Afzal Khan formerly of APP and then writing for The Nation, and Shaheen Sehbai then reporting for this newspaper.

Whilst he had asked for my flight number and time of arrival, he gave me no indication that he would receive me. Neither had I asked to be received because my old army buddy Zafar Kayani would be at hand to ferry me to his home where I was going to be staying.

Imagine my embarrassment then, seeing these three friends standing there, and old Zaf there too. Explanations were made, KH nodding his head and saying “Thheek ae, Shah Ji, kal milaan gey”. (“That’s quite alright, we’ll meet tomorrow.”) On another visit six years ago, he took me to the National Press Club in Washington and after a sumptuous meal, bought me a mug with the NPC’s logo on it. It sits in a display cupboard since his demise.

He could be acerbic and there were many occasions when we fell out with each other on as many matters you could think of. For example, he objected to my referring to George W. Bush as ‘Dubya’, telling me in an email that everyone had stopped using that moniker for the man. I stubbornly continued to use it to his great chagrin, but he always remained a caring friend.

Another matter on which he needed to be persuaded was when he refused to believe that Naveed Malik, the wannabe politico who was Nawabzada Nasrullah’s sidekick for a bit, in an earlier life was the author of the forged letter purported to have been written by Benazir Bhutto to Peter Galbraith, then a staffer on the House Foreign Relations Committee.

This is what the New York Times had to say about the forgery on Oct 17, 1990: “The letter, however, is so patently a forgery that it has made the Islamic Democratic Alliance look foolish.” Naveed Malik himself released the letter in a press conference, I told Khalid Hasan in the 20th email we must have exchanged on the matter. I think he was convinced in the end.

I miss him.

kshafi1@yahoo.co.uk