There is no greater tribute a writer can be paid than to be read posthumously. In the case of Khalid Hasan, who passed away on January 5 two years ago, I wish he wasn’t quite so relevant. I recently reread The Umpire Strikes Back, a collection of his columns from the days of the Zia era, which I had taken from a friend about 10 years ago. Once borrowed, this is a book that is not to be returned.
Khalid Hasan’s lucid prose is timeless; unfortunately, so are his targets. Nothing has quite rammed home the reality that the Pakistan we inhabit is the offspring of Ziaul Haq’s vision than perusing Hasan’s columns from the time.
One of his articles mocked an amendment to the Whipping Ordinance of 1979, which was later passed by the Punjab government, at that time headed by Nawaz Sharif. The revision to the law declared that “women should be administered lashings only by men.” Such religious hypocrisy, which had no issue with cruelty or violence but would blush at the thought of women mingling with men to whom they were not related by blood or marriage, was ripe for mocking by the inimitable Hasan. He took the amendment to its logical conclusion, declaring: “The Whipping Ordinance could be further amended to include the provision that if any children are to be whipped for their own good, the exercise should be performed by children.”
What makes this, and just about every other column Khalid Hasan wrote, so readable is not just his cultured, classic liberalism. It is that he observed the country with detached amusement, even bemusement in many cases. Right now, many of us who share his ideology are fretting about our outsider status. Unable to organise coherently, we should at least write coherently.
Despite living in Zia’s Pakistan, it is still possible to occupy the miniscule space that is Khalid Hasan’s Pakistan. Sure, that space would be at the back of the classroom throwing spitballs at the headmaster, but it’s better than being shut out altogether.
There is something to be recommended in using humour as a weapon to prick the hypocrisies and prejudices of the villains that were the inevitable result of Zia’s disastrous reign. Most editorialists rage and thunder against their foes, occasionally offering what they euphemistically call solutions. Mocking, when done with style and élan, can actually be more useful at articulating a concern than bile.
That notion was rammed home when I read about the Senate discussing whether to condemn a private citizen as a blasphemer simply because she had sent a text message to a senator prefixing the honorific ‘shaheed’ to Salmaan Taseer’s name. It is not possible to laugh off such ‘debate’ as idle gossip, but it is desirable to treat legislators who hold such views with laughable contempt.
In another column from The Umpire Strikes Back, Khalid Hasan did much the same with the Senate. Even back then, this august body was preoccupied with all matters of religious morality. Hasan wrote about the Senate considering “the fateful question whether it was right and proper for Chinese women hockey players to wear shorts and what was to be done about the moral health of the nation now that they had been seen on the television screen.”
Anyone who needs further convincing that the nation is being subjected to a rerun of Zia’s rule need only read a column Hasan wrote in 1987 on our then-cricket chief, a certain Butt — Ghulam Safdar Butt in this case. Hasan’s imploration that “Butt should be done away with” is a sentiment that transcends differences in politics and eras.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2011.