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Goodbye Khalid Hassan

Pakistan Link, Commentary, Ras Siddiqui Posted: Feb 20, 2009

Veteran journalist, author and chronicler of Pakistani and South Asian arts, sports and entertainment, Khalid Hasan Sahib passed away at the age of 74 at a Northern Virginia hospital last week. With his passing ended an era of writers who not only participated in but carefully documented the lives and works of other great contributors to the rich culture that we used to cherish.

Be it the translation of short stories of Saadat Hasan Manto, letters to and from the Queen of the Urdu novel Qurratulain Hyder, the poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz or Ahmed Faraz, the politics of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) and Benazir Bhutto, or the triumphs and downward spiral of the Pakistani cricket team, the suffering of Kashmir (he was himself born in Srinagar), and last but not least, the contribution of the greatest female voice in Pakistans history, the Melody Queen Nur Jehan, indeed history itself flowed out of Khalid Sahibs pen, typewriter and computer keyboard for close to half a century.

Our condolences go out to the Hasan family, his wife Juanita, son Jeffrey and daughter Jehan here in the United States as well as his other surviving family members in Pakistan .

We in the small journalism community originating from Pakistan here in America will miss his words of encouragement and not to forget his criticism. Khalid Hasan left quite a writers legacy which we can hope to carry on and this huge void of talent from his passing will not be possible to fill any time soon.

One has to appreciate good writing whenever or wherever it is found. One such article titled Narcissus in Bloom caught my eye close to two decades ago. It was about an Indian actress by the name of Fatima Rashid. It was about both her and the flower that her screen-stage name described which we in South Asia call the Nargis. It was an article of such beauty that I remember it till today even though no copy is present anywhere that I can still access. I have been a Khalid Hasan fan ever since. Incidentally, the Nargis flower is one more beautiful part of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, once a paradise-like tourist haven for honeymooners but today sadly a focal point of terror.

I did not know Khalid Hasan personally and only met him once when he came to Sacramento in the early 1990s. But over the years we did interact on few issues via email including on Mukhtar Mai, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and of course Benazir Bhuttos assassination story. On one occasion he did send me a column which he wrote in ZABs defense on tearing up of notes on the Polish Resolution at the UN during 1971. In the article Khalid wrote, The Polish resolution has been used to malign Zulfikar Ali Bhutto; added to which is that other urban legend: the Idhar hum Udhar tum, words never uttered by Bhutto, but words that keep getting attributed to him so that he can be held responsible for the dismemberment of Pakistan. While I have no illusions that my writing one more time on this will make the two myths disappear, it is still something that needs to be done every now and then so that ZAB is at least not attacked for things he did not do. (From ZAB: poet, revolutionary, patriot. Private View: The Friday Times January 20 th, 2006 ).

For many who are not familiar with Khalid Sahibs many works in book and article form in both English and in Urdu (he had a superb command of both), he will be remembered as Zulfikar Ali Bhuttos press secretary. He left Pakistan upon the arrival of the Zia Regime there and did not return for several years like Urdu poets Faiz and Faraz. The history that he wrote about was especially accurate because he was often a part of it (unlike many of us who have to deal with second or third-hand information).

He had a friendly-working relationship with many of the famous people that appeared in his articles and they in turn also sought him out for his advice and intellect. And as far as Pakistani-American journalism is concerned nobody that this writer is aware of came close to Khalid Hasans stature as a contributor. And that brings us to his postcard.

Every Sunday without fail many read Khalid Hasans Postcard USA article series in the Daily Times newspaper online. I certainly looked forward to reading it because it had wit, humor and also an American flavor, one that we here have become familiar with and understand quite well after decades in the US. But his weekly journey through past and present also contained the fragrance of our collective nostalgia. This background made Khalid Sahibs articles a must read. The absence of his column after January 18 in the Sunday Daily Times signaled that something was wrong. Unfortunately that was his last Postcard and along with its writer it will forever be missed.

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