Khalid Hasan, Manto, and Kala Kola

Posted on February 11, 2009
Filed Under >Mast Qalandar, People
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Aziz Akhmad

I never had the privilege of meeting Khalid Hasan. I only knew him through his columns, which I usually read, and always enjoyed.

He wrote simply, meticulously, and playfully. A lifelong journalist, he observed people minutely, noting not only what they said and how they said it, but also their dress and demeanor, and commented upon them playfully and bluntly. His satire was particularly reserved for people with puffed up egos.

In his columns, I also noted he had a particular curiosity about the various things men did to their hair and heads. I happened to share this curiosity with him.

A little over a year ago, I sent Khalid Hasan a rather mischievous e-mail, my first to him, commenting upon the appearance of a Pakistani diplomat he had earlier written about as being too full of himself. I was only half expecting a reply but, to my pleasant surprise, Khalid Hasan’s reply, laced with humor, came the same day.

That frivolous exchange, triggered by me, started a stream of back and forth e-mails, over the next several months, discussing a variety of subjects, weaving the humorous with the serious.

Although Khalid Hasan’s e-mail messages were short and impersonal, sparks of humor emitted from them just like they do from the grinding wheel when a dull knife is brought to bear upon it. I was the dull knife. Also, there were nuggets of knowledge buried in those messages.

I reproduce some of the correspondence below. I have tried to disguise some of the names, but not all because Khalid Hasan has already mentioned them in his columns:

23 December 2007

Dear KH,
I remember you had once written something interesting about one Mr. Saqib (fictitious name) in the embassy. Recently, I saw him on TV, here in Islamabad. What was noteworthy was not what he had to say, but how he had dyed his hair. Blond! (That is how it looked to me on TV.)

I know dyeing one’s hair is pretty common among Pakistani men, but dyeing it blond or reddish brown seems to be a recent phenomenon. Perhaps the result of “enlightenment”? AA

Dear AA
He is the same gentleman I used to write about. He is exceedingly fond of a person by the name of Saqib (who he happens to be himself, as chance may have it). As for his going blond, it is odd but not surprising. KH

26 December 2007

Dear KH

I thought I should let you know that the hair color of the gentleman in question has changed to a darker shade of something. I watched him on TV tonight. I guess he must have utilized the services of a professional salon this time. Last time it looked like a do-it-yourself job. AA

Dear AA

Thank you for the update. Why don’t you suggest that our friend be Pakistan’s official entry in the Miss Universe Contest next year. What better way can there be of ushering in the new year! It will also strike a blow for the cause of Enlightened Moderation. KH

We dropped the diplomat here, and there was no discussion of hair colors for the next several months. Meanwhile, I started reading, among other things, Saadat Hasan Manto’s short stories (not Khalid Hasan’s translation, but the original Urdu version), which I had not read since my college days. In college, we did not pay much attention to the introductions or forewords to a book; we jumped straightaway into the stories. But now, with more time on my hands and more patience, I also read Manto’s foreword to his collection of short stories titled “Thanda Gosht,” and found it fascinating. In it, Manto describes, in great detail, his court trials on charges of obscenity and the judgments given by the different judges. I wanted to know more. So, I reverted to Khalid Hasan for information.

May 15, 2008

Dear KH
I wonder where could one find the original court judgment on Saadat Hasan Manto’s “Thanda Gosht”. I am referring to the judgment that had declared the story not obscene and acquitted Manto. I have read the Urdu version of the judgment written by Manto himself but would love to see the original English version. (I assume the judge wrote the judgment in English.) Since you have done so much work on Manto, I thought you would probably know.

Thanks and regards. AA

May 16, 2008

Dear AA,
I never looked for it, but one would have to be in Lahore (and not in Washington) to lay one’s hands on it. I will ask someone to look for it. If it comes to hand, I will send you a copy. The judgment must have been in Urdu because the language of lower courts was Urdu, not English. KH

Dear KH

Thanks!
Manto says in his narration that the first judge (first class magistrate, actually), who had convicted him, wrote the judgment in English. So, I assume the judgment by the higher judge (Additional District and Sessions judge), who acquitted him, must have also been in English.

What got me interested in this was the quality of the judgment. It is so well argued and so well written (I read the Urdu version only). I wonder if any of our High Court or even Supreme Court judges of today could write a judgment like that. AA

Dear AA
The answer is no. Those who wrote those judgments were (as my friend Zafar Rathore says) “Angrez ki baaqiyaat”. Gone, as well as forgotten. KH

May 21, 2008

Dear KH

Sorry for imposing on your time. But I am stumped for the meaning of “zehmat-e-mehr darakhshaan”. It’s the title of the foreword by Manto to his book Thanda Gosht. Could you please help? AA

Dear AA,

Zehman-e-mehr-e-darakhshaan is from a Ghalib’s verse:

Larzata hai mera dil zehmat-e-mehr-e-daraskhshaan par
Mein hoon vo qatra-e-shabnam ke ho khaar-e-biyabaan par

(I am like a drop of dew that rests on a thorn in the wild; my heart trembles at the thought of the sun that will (soon) rise (and annihilate me.))

I hope this makes Manto’s intent clear and conveys to you the state of mind he was in when he chose this snatch from Ghalib. KH

PS: Where are you based?

Dear KH

Thanks a lot. That really opens a whole new window on the subject.

I am currently in New York and shuttle between Islamabad and NY. AA

Dear KH

And, by the way, it is a wonderful couplet. Had I come upon it on my own, I wouldn’t have quite understood or appreciated it. But with the translation and the context you have provided, it has lighted a bulb in my mind. Thanks once again. AA

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Khalid Hasan replied to my above message the same day but also brought up the subject of the diplomat again. So, we dropped Manto for the time being and reverted to the business of hair colors:

May 21, 2008

Dear AA

Every time you read Ghalib you find something new.

Meanwhile, Saqib of old Hotel Sheherzad, Islamabad, continues to glow on TV, his hair getting closer to blond from its original brunette. KH

Dear KH

Ha, haaaaa!

I think you should write an article on why Pakistani men (particularly politicians) have this obsession with dyeing their hair. Have you seen Ch. Pervez Elahi lately — dyed to the gills? AA

Dear AA

A friend of mine calls such dyed to the gills Pakistanis: sat-rangay kabootar. Why single out Pervez Elahi? What about Musharraf? Or Shujaat? Or Hamid Gul? Why do they think it makes them look younger? The face and the jowls cannot be rejuvenated. When do you think these people will start using Botox? KH

We revert to Manto once again, but didn’t quite forget the Kala Kola crowd.

May 22, 2008

Dear KH

One last question about Manto. (As you might have guessed, I am a recent convert to Manto. And, you know, new converts are more ardent than the people born in the faith.)

In Zehmat-e-mehr-e-darkhshaan (now I know exactly what it means) Manto writes that the sessions judge had acquitted him of the obscenity charge and finishes the story of his trial there. But I found elsewhere that the government of the day went to the High Court against the acquittal, and the judge, who happened to be Justice Munir (!), reversed the decision of the lower court and re-imposed the fine on Manto. Is that true? AA

Dear AA

Yes, what you report is true. The judgment acquitting Manto was reversed. Aitzaz Ahsan has the record and even made a move to have the court rescind its judgment. I did not keep up with it because of AA’s immersion in the lawyers’ movement. I will ask him for the PLD referece so that we can fish out the judgment. So that makes it Munir’s second judicial crime, the other one being the Maulvi Tamizuddin Case leading to Doctrine of Necessity. KH

June 7, 2008

Dear KH,
Enjoyed your Post Card today. While reading it, one could not help but wonder if this particular Special Envoy has ever been to school.

On a different note, I watched the Great Khan tonight talking to a TV news channel. He, too, seems to have joined the Kala Kola Club! I hadn’t noticed it before but tonight one couldn’t miss it. AA

June 8, 2008

Dear AA

The Envoy has to be heard to be believed. In one single visit he did more damage than India has done us in one entire year in this town.

Yes, Imran is now a member in good standing of the Kala Kola Club. KH

Khalid Hasan wrote the column “Kala Kola Klub” in Daily Times and forwarded me a copy with his one line message:

June 14, 2008

Dear AA

I have fulfilled your “farmaish”. KH

June 14, 2008

Dear KH

Thanks! You have taken a load off my chest.

Yes, I already read your Post Card —- colorful as always — and shot off a letter to the editor. I simply couldn’t resist. I hope they publish it.

By the way, I suspect Mr. X also belongs to the Klub. He may be using a different technology or a different product but his hair invariably looks like freshly laid tarmac, glued tightly to the surface. AA

June 15, 2008

Dear AA

No, Mr. X still has his own hair colour. He keeps them glued down because he is losing them from the front, hence the hairdo. He is around 52-53 but don’t worry, give it a few years and he will be graying — and colouring. KH

June 15, 2008

Dear KH

I think someone should bring to Mr. X’s notice what Dean Rusk (US Secretary of State) had once said about people going bald. (Rusk himself was bald.) He said that people who go bald from the back of the head are thinkers; those who bald from the front are sexy; and those who bald both from the back and the front, they think they are sexy.

On a second reading of your Post Card (I had to read it twice to relish it), I think you have come down a bit too hard on poor Tully (why do they call him Tully, by the way?). AA

Editor’s note: Read Mast Qalandar’s post on the Kala Kola Krowd at ATP, here.

13 responses to “Khalid Hasan, Manto, and Kala Kola”

  1. Zahid Cheema says:

    Very fitting tribute. The type of writing that KH would have enjoyed.

  2. khair says:

    Wonderful.

  3. G.A. Siddiqui says:

    Khalid Hasan was always witty. But I thought that he sometimes became a little too cynical. But always enjoyed reading him. May he rest in peace.

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