LAHORE: Veteran journalist, writer and secretary-general of the Progressive Writers Association Hameed Akhtar passed away in Lahore on Sunday night.
He was 87.
Hameed Akhtar had a long battle with cancer. He was taken to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital on Sunday evening in a serious condition – where he breathed his last a few hours later, according to his daughter Saba Hameed, the well known actor.
He leaves behind his wife, four daughters and a son. His funeral prayers will be offered at the ‘DD’ mosque Defence Housing Society Phase 4 after Asr prayers on Tuesday.
Born as Akhtar Ali in a village near Ludhiana in 1924, Hameed Akhtar came under a variety of influences that shaped his course in life. His family descended from the sufi saint Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiari of Ajmer and he became a ‘Hafiz-e-Quran’ at the age of 10. He ran into future literary figures Sahir Ludhianvi and Ibn-e-Insha at school and his company in Ludhiana included Anwar Ali, the famous newspaper cartoonist.
Akhtar chose to express himself in short stories, but was too occupied in journalistic and political pursuits to be writing fiction as frequently as some others.
He did work as a scriptwriter in Bombay for some time and also tried his hand at film production after partition in Pakistan.
The film ‘Sukh ka Sapna’ was a culmination of his desire to communicate his ideas of change through the popular medium of film. But it was journalism and his association with progressive leftist movements that won him more recognition and respect.
He joined Imroz in 1948 and went on to edit the paper, originally a Progressive Papers Limited (PPL) venture which was taken over by the Ayub Khan government in the late 1950s. In 1970, he co-founded the daily Azad along with Abdullah Malik and I.A. Rehman.
Hameed Akhtar was a respected columnist and wrote for many newspapers, most recently for Daily Express. His views on politics and social issues were greatly respected and in recent years, he frequently ventured down memory lane for the benefit of his readers.
In an interview that appeared in Dawn in July this year, Hameed Akhtar said: “My only concern was a just and equitable society, run on the basis of a fair distribution of wealth and resources... and even now I feel that it is this ideology of massawat (egalitarianism) that can solve our problems — those that stem from the exploitative capitalist system rooted deeply in our society.”
Drawn to communist ideals from an early age, Hameed Akhtar quickly matured into a trusted lieutenant of the Communist Party in India. He was secretary of the Bombay chapter of the Progressive Writers Association as early as 1946-47 and it is a measure of his lifelong commitment to his ideals that he was unanimously elected the secretary-general when the Progressive Writers Association was revived in Pakistan some time ago.
Hameed Akhtar’s association with left-wing politics repeatedly landed him into trouble with the authorities. He was jailed many times and his book Kaal Kothri was a memento of his time in jail.
In 1988, he published Ahwaal-e-Dostan, a collection of pen sketches of some famous people he was closely associated with. He was eminently qualified for the job, having rubbed shoulders with personalities such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sajjad Zaheer, Hafeez Jalandhari, Ismat Chughtai, Sahir Ludhianvi, Patras Bokhari, Saadat Hassan Manto, Ali Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi, Krishan Chandar and Jan Nisar Akhtar, to name but a few.
Writer Intezar Hussain describes Hameed Akhtar as a chronicler of the Progressive Writers’ Movement.
Hussain said the late Akhtar found it obligatory to pass on all those bitter and sweet memories of the very difficult times he had gone through to the next generation through his pen.
As an old friend and colleague, journalist and rights activist I.A. Rehman remembered Hameed Akhtar as an enlightened person who had many dimensions to him: He was an exceptional journalist, a good short story writer and a filmmaker.
Imroz colleagues, writers and journalists Masood Ash’ar and Munnoo Bhai said Akhtar was a lively soul, who worked relentlessly for progressive causes and whose contributions are of great value.