Khalid Hasan (1934-2009): Columnist Par Excellance Passes Away

Posted on February 6, 2009
Filed Under >Adil Najam, People
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Adil Najam

Noted journalist and columnist Khalid Hasan died of prostrate cancer in Washington DC a few hours ago.

Khalid sahib was many things to many people. Journalist, columnist, translator of Faiz and Manto, people-watcher, press secretary to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, international civil servant, poet, intellectual-at-large, wonderful company, someone you could talk to for ever (he would do most of the talking), and much much more. To me, Khalid Hasan the person was always far more interesting than all the persona he had acquired over time. He was a true phenomenon.

He was someone I held in too much awe to call a ‘friend’, but also someone who was way too kind to me to be simply described as an ‘acquaintance.’ I had always thought that the first time I met him was also the first time I met Faiz Ahmed Faiz. I was High School student writing on cricket for The Muslim, and Faiz Sahib had come to meet the equally legendary A.T. Chaudhry, then editor of that newspaper who moved on later after learning how to become a book editor. I found an excuse to go into A.T. Chaudhry’s office and was politely introduced. I always thought that the other person in the room was Khalid Hasan. Even once mentioned it to him in later years. Khalid Sahib nodded as if he also remembered, but now I realize that it not have been so since he was not in Pakistan in those years. For the impressionable youngster that I was then, this slip of the memory only cemented Khalid Sahib’s intellectual position right there with Faiz.

Khalid Hasan’s website describes him thus:

Khalid Hasan is a senior Pakistani journalist and writer. He was born in Srinagar, Kashmir. He began his long career in journalism and writing with The Pakistan Times, Lahore as senior reporter and columnist in 1967. He was asked by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on taking office in December 1971 to join him as his first press secretary. He went on to spend five years in the country’s foreign service, with postings in Paris, Ottawa and London. He resigned in protest when the Bhutto government was overthrown by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and worked in London with the Third World Foundation and the Third World Media before leaving to join the newly-established OPEC News Agency (OPECNA) in Vienna, Austria, where he stayed for 10 years. He returned to Pakistan briefly in 1991 where he worked as a freelance journalist for the next two years. He moved to Washington DC in 1993 and worked out of there as US correspondent for The Nation, Lahore. From 1997 to 2000 he was in Pakistan as head of the Shalimar Television Network. He returned to Washington in 2000 as special correspondent of the Associated Press of Pakistan, which he left to join Daily Times and The Friday Times, Lahore in 2002. He continues to work as the correspondent and columnist of these two publications in Washington. Khalid Hasan is a prolific writer and translator. He has published over 40 books, in Pakistan and abroad.

I am not sure if this description does justice to the man. It is his writings that tell us much more about him than any blurb can (read his Postcard USA columns, his Private View columns, and specially his detailed sketches).

For me, there are at least three aspects of his legacy and for any one of these he would be a giant. He was a giant in all three. First, as a journalist par excellence. This may be the best known. But he was not a journalist. He was a journalistic presence. A ‘columnist’ in the true sense. You read him not because of what he was writing about, but simply because he was writing it. He and his person was what drew his readers; much more so than even his topics. Even when he was writing about a Noor Jahan or an Abdus Salam or a Benazir Bhutto, he was part of the narrative – and no less a part than them.

Second, as a scholar. Not an academic, but a real scholar. In essence, if you collect all his columns and longer pieces and put them in between two covers you have one of the most authentic “People’s History of Pakistan.” Someone should actually do that. Because his columns were so personal. Written as personal – and therefore honest – narratives they represent historical scholarship on teh nuances of all that we have been through as a people. Nuances often lost to ‘real’ historians.

Finally, as a literati and a translator. I am convinced that had he written nothing else – not a single column – in all his life, except for his translations of Manto, we woudl still be remembering him as a giant today. Those who have read his translations on Manto and Faiz, are struck by their power. This power, I think, comes from the fact that he knew these people and he sought to not just translate them, but to understand them. And to help all of us understand them.

I have followed his columns longer and more consistently than I have any other journalists. And I got to know him much better in the last many years while he was in Washington DC. We met often at Pakistani  events and gatherings, and spoke together on Pakistan at a few. He even wrote a line or two about me in a few of his columns; but that is what I was always most afraid of. His pen had a bite to it and he was not known for sparing anyone, friend or foe.

He was always a favorite of many ATP contributors – although, I am very vary sad that the post ON him that I had always planned had to wait to his death! The first time, I think, was very early on when I based a post Khalid Sahib’s recollections of Madam Nur Jahan. The most recent posts with him featured in it was an obituary of poet Ahmad Faraz. Because I could possibly not have done justice to the man, I ended up quoting extensively from a recent Khalid Hasan column about Faraz Sahib. We were to do this often. For example, when Mast Qalandar based is delightful Kala Kola Klub post on a quote from a Khalid Hasan column. Like me, Mast Qalandar is also a regular Khalid Hasan reader – another of his posts, on Pakistani physicians in USA, also used Khalid sahib’s colorful descriptions as a basis to build upon. Indeed, Khalid Hasan also shows up in his post on The Good, Bad and Ugly of Islamabad. There he was, again, when Asma Mirza wrote about Ibn-i-Insha. Of course, Khalid Hasan was right up there in Hassan Abbas’s list of Pakistan’s top ten columnists. And Raza Rumi shared with us his wonderful review of one of Khalid Sahib’s many books – O’ City of Lights – a collection of English translations of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, including Khalid Hasan’s own. I also had a post on a review of his translated biography of Fatima Jinnah.

Khalid Hasan was also a regular reader of this All Things Pakistan. On a number of occasions he emailed or mentioned posts or discussions here. Sometimes, I would get a taste of his acerbic style when he did not approve of something on the blog. He did get a kick that one of our occasional writers was also called Khalid Hasan, but happy that he has an “R.” in the middle of his name to avoid confusion. I remember one conversation with him on what blogs were doing to journalism. He was not tremendously fond of blogs although he had become an avid (very avid) internet user himself. But in typical Khalid Hasan style, his final verdict was something to the effect that “the end of journalism in Pakistan has come at the hand of bad journalists, and not because of good bloggers!

As I read all of the above, I realize that I have just gathered a few of my own many memories of him. What I have recounted above was probably of little or no consequence to him. But it was of immense importance to me. I recount them to lull my own feeling of loss. As catharsis. These memories mean nothing to the totality of the talent we have lost. Better tellers than myself will no doubt write about him and his life in more detail in the coming days. As they do, we will try to add some of them here.

For now, let me end just with these words for the cricket fan that he was, “Khalid Sahib, well played, Sir. That was a great innings you had!”

40 responses to “Khalid Hasan (1934-2009): Columnist Par Excellance Passes Away”

  1. Mukhtar Chaudhry says:

    Hadithey bekhabran hai tu ba zamana basaz,
    Zamana ba tu na sazad tu ba zamana sateez. Iqbal

    In contemporary Pakistani environment late Khalid Hassan would have become a billionaire because of his family connections and his extraordinary talent. He was exposed to lots of money making opportunities but he preferred to earn his livelihood by mere hard work.He was an income tax officer and resigned to become a journalist He was political secretary of Bhutto and was sacked for not approving duality of character. He joined the Pakistani Foreign service and resigned when hawk eyed Zia appeared on the scene. And labored to feed his family. Surprisingly his American wife always supported him in all his endeavors and difficult enterprises. He was very short tempered and touchy person but had a heart of gold. He had friends and well-wisher all over the world. He was a journalist of par excellence. He could translate a book in just one month.

    The last email he sent me was a week before his death. He never mentioned me that he is seriously ill. Only one of our common friend Mr Akmal Aleemi told me that my friend id dead. It was a shock to receive this bad news.

    We all miss him badly. May Allah bless his soul and shower his Rahma on him. He is burried in America-far away from his beloved country and relatives.

  2. MF says:

    oh! khalid hasan we are missing you .

  3. Naveed Abbas says:

    Great people are remembered with accolades when their epithets are written. In case of Khalid Sahib, people have run out of superlatives. Surely, what a great innings he played!
    Here, I recall my stalwart bother Dr. Ejaz Haider (Deputy Secetary Ministry of Commerce, he met his Lord on 11th of July, 1999 in Pakistan High Commission , New Delhi).
    He used to say about Khalid Hasan, “Not all, only a few have become evident as tulips and roses”. May his soul rest in peace!

  4. neyaab says:

    Thanks for sharing

  5. Nostalgic says:

    And from across the border, Aakar Patel writing in The News:

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