Through his pen and activism, he toiled hard. Hameed Akhtar’s contribution to journalism and literature and his struggle for a progressive society, spanning over six decades, bore no fruits for him. But the foundation he laid for a peaceful and equitable society, is ray of hope for everyone.
With these words, eminent writer Ashfaq Saleem Mirza summed up the efforts of the veteran journalist and writer who passed away last month. He was speaking at a memorial meeting ‘A farewell to Hameed Akhtar’ organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SPDI) on Monday.
The participants, including IA Rehman, veteran journalist and rights activist, Dr Anwar Ahmed, Chairman National Language Authority; and Mirza, highlighted the struggle and different aspects of the life of the late Hameed Akhtar.
“It was journalism and his association with progressive leftist movements that won him more recognition and respect,” said IA Rehman.
“When Akhtar was the labour union president of Punjab chapter he succeeded to hold a massive strike to highlight the miseries of labourers,” Rehman added. Hameed Akhtar worked throughout his life to promote enlightenment in a country that descended deeper and deeper into obscurantism.
According to speakers, Akhtar was among the few who continued, through his columns, to speak out against a blind orthodoxy that tore apart the tolerance the country had once known. He was a lone warrior against other powerful forces in the society that held back change.
The written memoir of Hameed Akhtar’s elder daughter, Saba, regarding her observations about the life of her deceased father was also shared with the participants. She wrote that her father faced many hardships but he never complained. “He gave us freedom of expression at home,” she said.
“Hameed Akhtar’s association with left-wing politics repeatedly landed him into trouble with the authorities. He was jailed many times and his book Kaal Kothri was a memento of his time in jail,” said Dr Abid Q Sulehri, Chief Executive SDPI.
He said that there are eight books to his credit, including ‘Aashnayian Kia Kia’, “Royedad-e-Anjamanand’ and ‘Kal Kothri’. Akhtar had a close affiliation with key progressive writers and leftists of subcontinent, such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sajjad Zaheer, Hafeez Jalandhari, Ismat Chughtai, Sahir Ludhianvi, Patras Bokhari, Saadat Hassan Manto, Ali Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi, Krishan Chandar and Jan Nisar Akhtar.
He was secretary of the Bombay chapter of the Progressive Writers Association as early as 1946-47 and was unanimously elected the secretary-general when the association was revived in Pakistan some time ago.
Akhtar started his journalism career by joining Imroz in 1948 and went on to edit the paper, originally a Progressive Papers Limited (PPL) venture which was taken over by the Ayub Khan’s government in the late 1950s. In 1970, he co-founded the daily Azad along with Abdullah Malik and IA Rehman.
“I grew up reading books of Hameed Akhtar which were must read at that time for young people,” said Suleri. Referring to writers such as Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi and Hameed Akhtar, he said that progressive writers played a very important role in struggle for social justice in the country.
Akhtar, the recipient of Presidential Pride of Performance, passed away in Lahore in October 2011. He died of cancer after prolonged illness at the age of 87. He is survived with three daughters and a son. Hameed Akhter was born in Ludhiana, India.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2011.