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. 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.

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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 Comments on “Khalid Hasan (1934-2009): Columnist Par Excellance Passes Away”

  1. Daud says:
    February 6th, 2009 3:27 am

    What a great loss. He was always fearless in his writings.

  2. Masroor says:
    February 6th, 2009 3:44 am

    Very sad news indeed….


    These writings are also part of his book “rear view mirror”. Excellent piece of writing by Khalid Hasan….

  3. Tahir Sadiq says:
    February 6th, 2009 3:54 am

    He was a wonderful writer and had a way with words.

    So sorry to hear of his death. My prayers are with his family.

    Your writeup is very moving and heartfelt. I would have considered myself lucky to have known him.

  4. Farrukh says:
    February 6th, 2009 4:02 am

    Great loss.

    So much of what I know about the people who have shaped Pakistan, I know from reading and enjoying his columns.

  5. February 6th, 2009 6:10 am

    Rest In Peace. Mr Khalid Hasan was an inspiration for my writings and columns.whenever I wrote to him he guided me.
    A Kind and generous man.may Heaven be his abode for eternity
    Dani sahib and now Khalid Hasan, Pakistan is losing its cultural heritage at a fast pace

  6. February 6th, 2009 6:25 am

    What a big loss. His translations of Urdu Literature will go a long way. Especially of Manto’s work

  7. YLH says:
    February 6th, 2009 6:30 am

    What a tragedy… Pakistan loses one of its most ardent defenders in Washington and illustrious sons…

    This is going to be a big void…

  8. Aslam says:
    February 6th, 2009 6:38 am

    Really a loss, May Allah rest his soul in peace (Aamin)

  9. MQ says:
    February 6th, 2009 6:48 am

    This is truly a sad news. I had read in Daily Times this morning that that he was seriously ill, but didn’t realize that it was going to be a matter of hours.

    Khalid Hasan was a highly readable columnist — observant, economical and fastidious with words, and always delightful to read.

    Rest in peace!

  10. February 6th, 2009 7:02 am

    A humble man — he would always reply to email messages of his readers.

  11. Nostalgic says:
    February 6th, 2009 8:01 am

    Such tragic news…

    I’ve read “The Umpire Strikes Back”, and his translation of Raja Anwar’s book on Mir Murtaza Bhutto, and was a big fan of his website and his articles in the Daily Times… didn’t realize he was suffering form cancer, and I don’t think he ever hinted at it in any of the recent articles…

    I just read the comments to this post and Kazim Aizaz Alam says he always replied to emails! I will forever kick myself now for not ever sending him one…

    Rest in Peace Khalid Sahib!

  12. Muhammad Rizwan says:
    February 6th, 2009 8:06 am

    His writings were, are and will be the source of inspiration for all the budding writers. He was intrepid, courageous and bold in his writings. May his soul rest in peace.

  13. Anwar says:
    February 6th, 2009 9:29 am

    A loss indeed. May he rest in peace – Ameen.

  14. Asghar says:
    February 6th, 2009 10:32 am

    Khalid Sahib’s sad demise is a great loss to English Journalism and much more to the art of translation in Pakistan, May Allah SWT bless him with eternal peace !

  15. February 6th, 2009 11:55 am

    This is tragic news.

    Khalid Hasan saab was a true giant of not only a journalist but a true son of Pakistan. Pakistan has again lost one of her most loyal sons.

    May ALLAH grant him paradise.

    Feimanallah Khalid Hasan Saab


  16. Nostalgic says:
    February 6th, 2009 12:06 pm

    Apparently, the cancer diagnosis occurred only three weeks or so ago, so says Daily Times:\story_6-2-2009_pg1_6

    He will be buried in Vermont…

  17. Sami Khan says:
    February 6th, 2009 12:13 pm
  18. February 6th, 2009 12:44 pm

    Innalillahe wa inna ilyhe rajioon.

    Another voice of reason falls silent. I am shocked to hear of his demise as it was only a couple of months ago I had an email exchange with him regarding the late Maulan Kausar Niazi.

    I enjoyed his columns and only a few days ago I was disappointed to see his website without any fresh topics. I did not realize that there could be anything wrong with him. Such is the illusion of the cyber world.

    Rest in peace Khalid Hassan. May Allah reward you for your good efforts.

  19. Nusrat says:
    February 6th, 2009 2:05 pm

    To those of us, who are still hopeful about the prospect of peace in South Asia, he was an inspiration and guide.

    I have been a fan of Khalid Hasan’s since I first read his column online in Kashmir, India, where he has many admirers among the educated class. Indeed, I have scores of friends from all over India who consider his opinions very agreeable.
    Recently [six months ago or so], I and an uncle of mine ran into the, always impeccably dressed, Hasan outside a New York museum, which was showcasing north Indian from the Gupta period.
    Upon my request, he agreed to join us for a cup of coffee and graciously indulged our queries that ranged from the, then upcoming American elections to Kashmir’s hold on Pakistani consciousness.

    On every issue, not only was his insight original [a rare phenomena amongst south asian journalists], but prescient – he correctly predicted the outcome of the American Presidential election.

    I hope Mr.Hasan’s family finds solace in the thoughts expressed by his fans.

  20. February 6th, 2009 6:50 pm

    This tribute from dear friends and former colleague (in The Muslim days), Anwar Iqbal, is worth sharing…. Anwar is now teh Washington DC correspondent of Dawn, where he spent much time with Khalid Sahib:

    Khalid Hasan sets aside his pen
    By Anwar Iqbal
    WASHINGTON, Feb. 6

  21. February 6th, 2009 6:58 pm

    Since i wrote this hurried post late last night (3AM my time), I have spent all day carrying the burden on sadness. Khalid Sahib led a full and fruitful life. A life well worth celebrating. He would want us to do no less.

    Yet, the loss is real. And meaningful. I have had many conversations with friends today on him and what he meant to me, and to all of us. One thought that I shared with a journalist doing a story on him is worth sharing here too.

    If Khalid Hasan had done NOTHING that we are remembering him for today – and the ONLY thing he had done was the translations of Manto. That alone would have left him a legacy that would have made us grieve today. The irony of having many talents is that you do not sometimes get fully recognized for many of them. Those who have read his Manto translations or his Faiz translations would vouch that those alone give him a legacy worth cherishing.

    I am adding this and some other thoughts on his legacy to the post above.

  22. Javaid Aziz says:
    February 6th, 2009 8:49 pm

    In times of sorrow there is little one can say. Such news just makes a whole in your heart.
    The funeral services will be in the town of Woodbridge, Virginia (near Washington D.C.) on Saturday, Feb.7,200.9, at 1:30 P.M. The burial will be in Vermont. (Many of us can go to Vermont from New England. Please post if you have more details.)

    Aden Muslim Funeral Services
    near 1242 Easy St, Woodbridge, VA 22191-2003
    Phone 703-490-1212

  23. February 7th, 2009 1:34 am

    Here is a moving tribute to Khalid Sahib by Afzal Khan in Daily Times:

    Last year, when he wrote a stirring piece on Benazir Bhutto after her assassination, I emailed Khalid Hasan to reiterate my firm belief that nobody writes better obituaries in English than him and in Urdu than Munnoo Bhai. He was six years older to me but fit as a fiddle. I often wondered whether he would also be tempted to write about me, and if so, what it would be like.

    Khalid is no more. Little did I imagine that I shall have to do the obituary. More so because he was a friend who had been so caring and was generous to a fault, and had always encouraged me to continue writing political analyses. He would appreciate them and even pass them on to others, including BB.

    A couple of weeks ago, when I learned that he had a running fever, I called him in Washington to inquire about his health. I found him more worried about my own post-operation condition that has kept me from writing anything for some months, and he urged me to come to the United States for further check-up.

    Khalid was a most gifted and versatile journalist, outstanding author, caring human being and an extremely loyal friend. Innately shy, he was finicky about dress, demeanour, taste and standards. A journalist of deep commitment and profound knowledge, he was also an author with great flourish, a prolific pen, and a peculiar, sharp, but affable style.

    He passed his CSS exams, but left the income tax service for journalism in the 1960s. At the Pakistan Times, he served under Khawaja Asif, one of the finest editors this country has produced, who polished his writings and tamed his exuberance. Khalid settled down to write tantalisingly fresh and lively columns, full of humour, gibe and barbs that attracted instant attention in the country. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was so impressed by Khalid

  24. February 7th, 2009 1:35 am

    Here is an eqally moving tribute to Khalid Hasan, in an editorial in Daily Times:

    Khalid Hasan (1937-2009) has died in Washington DC on Friday where he began living in 2000 and became correspondent for The Friday Times (TFT) and Daily Times (DT) in 2002. People who have known him personally will mourn him deeply because of his generosity and an ever-ready willingness to help friends in trouble. He was hardworking, with a nose for the story of the day, sending in half a dozen reports daily plus extremely readable and popular weekly columns for TFT and DT. He was easily the most readable Pakistani journalist around with the best writing style

  25. takhalus says:
    February 7th, 2009 9:42 am

    A great writer, he could be a bit biased against ZAb’s contemporaries in favour of him but that was his right..he sounds like a good man and someone who contributed much to Pakistani culture.

  26. wasiq says:
    February 7th, 2009 10:52 am

    Adil Najam Sahib: You’ve been blessed to know and have grown up with so many beautiful minds from Pakistan and these experiences have clearly shaped and formed you for the better. For those of us who grew up largely outside Pakistan, however, the experience of forming one’s intellectual identity has been quite different and perhaps more difficult — I for one have always been a bit obsessed by things Pakistani and scraped together whatever I could find outside the country in newspapers, the infrequent arrival of English books by Pakistani authors (so few were then available in the West), and visits home to come up with my own sort of personal Pakistani canon — always incomplete and always quite Western — reflecting the fact that our literary and intellectual canon (in English) has been created by Westerners to serve their personal or political goals and, so, we read about ourselves and see ourselves through eyes from elsewhere — a double alienation. Barack Obama writes about the formative effect that reading W.B. Dubois, Langston Hughes, and Booker T Washington had on his conception of himself as an African American. These books went a long way to saving the man and making him who he is today. We desperately need our own Pakistani-Diaspora cannon and I imagine this would include the works of many who have recently passed (i.e. Ahmad Faraz, Khalid Hasan, Ahmad Dani). The great thing about ATP as that it is inadvertently creating a common intellectual experience that distills and refines the thoughts and musings of the many millions of us who are detached from the homeland yet seek intellectual sustenance and some sort of cultural affirmation in our transoceanic abodes. We too will one day produce great leaders and world changing social movements, but we must first understand and make sense of the connection that lies deep within us of our links to South Asia and how these links translate to our transplanted selves wherever we may be. Wasiq (in Lugano Switzerland)

  27. Javaid Aziz says:
    February 7th, 2009 12:20 pm

    Funeral (janaza) prayer (namaz) for Mr. Khalid Hasan will be held on
    Saturday, 7 February 2009 at 2 pm at the Dar ul Huda mosque, 6666
    Commerce Street, Springfield, VA 22150 USA.

  28. ATP Administrator says:
    February 7th, 2009 1:28 pm

    Some other editorial cleanup and additions have been made to the post above.

  29. Sami Khan says:
    February 7th, 2009 1:50 pm

    Obituary written by Beena Sarwar in The News today:

    Khalid Hasan: A progressive, secular vision and acerbic wit.

    “Khalid Hasan never suffered fools, gladly or otherwise. He was particularly allergic to the self-promoting variety, and lost no chance to take such specimens down a peg or two in his own inimitable way.

    An immensely humanistic, progressive and secular vision, a great love of literature, poetry, art, sport (particularly cricket) and music, a deep knowledge and understanding of history, principled stands and an acerbic sense of humour

  30. Amina K Lodhi says:
    February 7th, 2009 6:46 pm

    Another tragic loss of Pakistani talent, scholarship, and vision. His contributions to the literary circuit extend far beyond his columns, for which he is well known. I credit him for my first English introduction to Faiz, and my subsequent thirst for Urdu political literature and poetry.

    @Wasiq: you have written eloquently what I have felt strongly over the past several years.
    While much of the focus of ATP is the immediate diaspora community, this site has served those of us born and raised outside Pakistan more than many may realize.
    As I read Muslim Rizvi’s recent post, “A Tale of Two Migrations,” the themes of nationality, relocation, identity, and duty were again brought into to the limelight on this forum. (Just reading the comments is enough to get an idea of the diversity of opinion regarding the country and values).

    For us Pakistani’s who never lived in Pakistan (yes there is such a thing), people such as Khalid Hasan have provided access to literature and commentary on an otherwise distanced nation. At least for me, he and others like him have contributed vastly to my own identity, culture, and intellectual growth. The contributions of Khalid Hasan will be difficult to challenge, but I somehow take some optimism in knowing that he has influenced many to succeed where he has now been silenced.

  31. Nostalgic says:
    February 8th, 2009 10:45 am

    Tribute by “Admiral” Ardeshir Cowasjee…

  32. khairsoomro says:
    February 8th, 2009 10:49 am

    We will really miss Khalid Hassan’s wonderfully witty columns and his no-nonsense and erudite analysis.

  33. Nostalgic says:
    February 8th, 2009 12:39 pm

    And of course, one by Ejaz Haider, who used to call him “Sir Ji”… the two would often mention each other in their articles…\story_8-2-2009_pg3_4

  34. Nostalgic says:
    February 9th, 2009 3:42 pm

    And a brief note from his son, I believe his name is Jeffrey…

  35. February 10th, 2009 12:19 am

    I would have been a different person if I had not read Scorecard (1984) by Mr. Khalid Hasan. This book opened up the world of Faiz and Noor Jehan for me. For this I am eternally grateful to Mr. Hasan. May his soul rest in peace. Ameen

  36. Nostalgic says:
    February 11th, 2009 8:09 am

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

  37. neyaab says:
    January 29th, 2010 4:54 am

    Thanks for sharing

  38. Naveed Abbas says:
    October 20th, 2010 6:07 am

    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!

  39. MF says:
    January 31st, 2011 2:03 pm

    oh! khalid hasan we are missing you .

  40. Mukhtar Chaudhry says:
    November 28th, 2011 10:33 am

    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.

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