Monday, November 15, 2010

ARDESHIR COWASJEE ARTICES : Wrapping up the fish

“NO one should take journalists too seriously, especially journalists themselves because what they write in the morning is used to wrap fish in the same evening. Maulana Charagh Hasan Hasrat (who forgot more about journalism than most of us will ever learn about it).”
This is what is inscribed at the head of Khalid Hasan’s website, ‘Khalid Hasan Online’ ( And this is typical of the man that was.
Khalid and I were good friends. He was a gifted man with a finely tuned sense of humour, a rare commodity in this land of the pure where laughter is generally regarded as a mortal sin. We had many a laugh, both at ourselves, and at the various members of the ruling cliques that have come and gone, some of them only to disastrously come again. We were firmly convinced that had the majority of those high flying mis-rulers possessed even an iota of a sense of humour, life in this dour country would have been far easier to bear and would have eased our clowning around.
He died of prostate cancer, discovered far too late (most of our writers are terrified of mentioning the word ‘died’ and prefer to coyly have it that so and so ‘passed away’ or ‘breathed his last’) having lived four years beyond the allotted biblical span of three-score years and ten. Now, this is a warning to those men over 40. Had Khalid been in the care of that fine institution we have here in Karachi, SIUT (surgeons Adeeb Rizvi, Anwer Naqvi, Zafar Husain, Altaf Hashmi, Manzur Husain, pathologist Mirza Naqi Zafar) he would have been subjected to a regular PSA test and perhaps would have still been with us, laughing at the world or bringing back to us memories of the old days long gone when life and those living were far more gentle.
After a stint as a lecturer in English at Lawrence College, Ghora Galli, in 1959 he sat the finance services examination of the Central Superior Services and stood first. He joined the income tax department as a Pakistan Taxation Service officer, and after a few years, during which he was writing columns for various press publications, he was posted as secretary of the committee on broadcasting and television.
He resigned from government service in 1967 — the reason being, as he told one of his close friends, his inability to cope with the shame of being a bureaucrat — and became a full time journalist. It was around this era that he and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto met up (ZAB used to refer to Khalid as the ‘Art Buchwald of Pakistan’) and at the end of 1971 when Bhutto become president one of the first things he did was to send for Khalid and ask him to handle his public relations and speech writing. Khalid explained that PR is not related to presidential matters, only to commercial organisations, and suggested that Bhutto appoint him his press secretary. He did, and thus Khalid became the first press secretary of a Pakistani head of state or government.
In 1972, with Bhutto becoming less and less tolerant of being told what or what not to do, he sent Khalid off to Paris as the press attaché to the embassy. In 1973, Khalid decided to sit the Foreign Service induction examination and again stood first. Following postings in Ottawa and London, when Bhutto was overthrown in 1977 Khalid was the sole servant of the state to resign. He stayed on in London and Vienna, returning in 1988 with the hope that he may again join the Foreign Service under the new PPP government, but no joy. Benazir Bhutto was only rehiring those who were sacked by Ziaul Haq, and punished a man who had been upright and resigned.
So journalism remained his first profession. He was a prolific writer and columnist and a very fine correspondent, and added to this were his numerous literary translations from Urdu to English. He even came up with a Stylebook: a guide for writing simple and correct English (published by Alhamra, Islamabad 2002) which the up and coming journalistic community in Pakistan would do well to study. He ably mastered the art of using one word where others would use six and shunning superfluous adjectives. His writings were clean, neat, grammatically perfect and professional to the core.
Over the past three months he has both amused and entertained in his last few columns for the Daily Times. Last Dec 7, under the title ‘Mickling away to Panipat’, he regaled us with tales of our newly appointed permanent representative to the United Nations, opening up “Like a prophet from the pages of the old scriptures, our UN ambassador, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, has been sounding warnings in quarters ranging from the UN secretary general to increasingly mystified diplomats, visitors and guests, and even a bewildered European minister, that if those now knocking at the gates of Khyber are not stopped, there will be nothing to stop them from storming their way to Panipat…. .One can only admire the zeal with which the ambassador is trying to do his job, the first he has held, barring his brief stint as the Sindh Assembly speaker; but since every word that leaves a UN ambassador’s lips is pondered over and analysed, Ambassador Haroon’s dire prediction, backed he insists by history, is causing much anxiety, not to mention confusion.”
In his column after the George W Bush shoe-throwing incident which was applauded by all, Khalid differed. As a working journalist he did not approve of the misuse of privilege or the pushing of a personal or political agenda. To him, what Muntazir al-Zaidi did in lobbing his shoe at a president was wrong. He had betrayed his trust. He should rather have used his pen, not his shoe.
His final wrapping for the fish was on Jan 18 in the Daily Times, headed ‘The Durrani Affair’, which he described as another bizarre example of how this government is fumbling. “What we have is a grouping of what has come to be known by the ugly and insulting term ‘stakeholders’, who pull the wagon to which they are hitched in different directions … I would add that lucky are those who have just two hands. In our case we have maybe half a dozen hands, each one of which operates independently.”
A good man, he enjoyed his life, making the most of it — one less friend to laugh with.

No comments:

Post a Comment