WASHINGTON DIARY: A master of wordplay —Dr Manzur Ejaz

Khalid Hasan did not spare much thought for worldly affairs. I am sure he has not left any big bungalow or bank balance for his wife, son and daughter. But he has left a treasure of books and rare music recordings and photos in his little townhouse where he lived for the last many years

Khalid Hasan left the world with many stories untold. He left in such haste that I did not even get a chance to tell him things I had always planned to tell him. He had two complaints against me: one, it was always he who called me and I never called him; and two, I didn’t read his column regularly.

It was always my bad luck that whenever I called, either his wife or the answering machine replied as he could seldom be caught in the comfort of his home. Even at the age of 74, he was spending more time in the wilderness of Washington than his younger journalist colleagues.

I did not get a chance to reveal the embarrassing reason why I did not regularly read his column.

Sometimes, as a deliberate defensive mechanism, I would not open his column. The reason: whenever I read his column, I was overwhelmed by his command of English and the power of his subtle phrases and wordplay. I was sure I could never be that good. I wanted to keep writing and not abandon this profession, just like I had quit writing short stories after reading Dostoevsky.

Ustad Chhote Ghulam Ali Khan used to say that when listened to Baday Ghulam Ali Khan, he would fall sick, frazzled by the fact that someone could sing so beautifully. Similarly, the late Faiz Ahmad Faiz disclosed to me that when he read Waris Shah or Bulleh Shah, he was convinced that he could never write like that and therefore decided to pursue Urdu poetry.

Therefore, in my defence, if stalwarts like Faiz can be intimidated, a small fry like me should have the same right.

Khalid Hasan was the master of wordplay. He could elevate a small episode into such a big story that the reader could not help being drawn to it. Few others could match his skill.

For Khalid, writing was not merely the mechanical usage of language. He had developed the art of penetrating people’s passions, desires, fears and pleasures, and employed it unyieldingly in his interviews.

He once asked Nur Jehan: “Bibi, how many love affairs you have had in your life?” Of course, Bibi would stop at number fifteen or sixteen in a few years and leave Khalid Hasan with an episode that he always narrated with fondness.

Sultan Bahu had said that the rivers of the heart are deeper than the oceans. The rivers of the heart that Khalid Hasan wanted to explore were even deeper than that. It is inevitable that one would lose oneself in such a pursuit and turn into a dervish. To translate Manto the way Khalid Hasan did, one has to look at life from Manto’s flaming window and go through the burning agonies that don’t leave you alone even when you drown yourself in alcohol.

So Khalid Hasan, going through the agony of Manto, Faiz and many others, ended up penning about three-dozen books.

It was in the vain of Khawaja Farid, who had said:

Aian peelon chunan dey sanghay, orak thian fareedan wangey / Chore Aram qarar hakian bakian ni vey…

[They just came to pick the berries but became like Farid. Their comfort and peace was gone and they are left wondering aloud]

Contrary to the perceptions of some, Khalid Hasan did not spare much thought for worldly affairs. I am sure he has not left any big bungalow or bank balance for his wife, son and daughter. But he has left a treasure of books and rare music recordings and photos in his little townhouse where he lived for the last many years.

The world has changed so much that even a dervish has to put up some worldly make-up to survive. For Khalid Hasan, journalism was a befitting garb so he could make a living and pursue his yearning to look into the various dimensions of human life. Along with the Foreign Service and other high profile jobs, Khalid Hasan had the honour of being one of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s confidants. He had all the opportunities to build palaces for himself, but, probably, he was one of those who could not resist laughter whenever he was close to his prey.

The story of not resisting laughter comes to me from Munnoo Bhai, another great columnist. Once he was asked that he appeared to be doing everything that could make a journalist very prosperous, so why was he always struggling?

Munnoo Bhai said that the same question was asked of a vulture: she flies like an eagle and snaps like him too, so then why does the eagle always go for live flesh and she makes do with dead meat? The vulture replied that this was all true, but when she gets very close to her prey, she can’t resist laughter. This was probably applicable to Khalid Hasan as well.

Khalid Hasan had preserved an innocent child in himself who could be very blunt and could be easily tickled into laughter or anger. But if he was displeased with someone due to any reason and wrote something pinching about that person — no one can deny that with his cutting phrases, Khalid Hasan could shake anyone — he could not bear to remain angry for long and would take exceptional measures to make up to that person. If he was offended by Aitzaz Ahsan or Asma Jahangir because of their specific statements or policies and wrote against them, then next thing you hear, Khalid Hasan was arranging a get-together for them.

He followed Shah Hussain’s path who said:

Dunia khaid eey char deharey kaun kissay naal russey / Kehay Hussain faqir sain da moot wtaindi rassay

[Since this world is play of a few days who can afford to remain angry with others. The death is closely knitting the thread, says Shah Hussain, the dervish of his lord.]

The writer can be reached at [email protected]

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