Where are those great men?

Ayesha Siddiqa August 07, 2010

Watching nincompoops these days, one is reminded of some great men and women. The two I can immediately remember are veteran journalist Khalid Hasan and barrister Ijaz Hussain Batalvi. I really missed Khalid Hasan’s company during my six months stint in Washington. A man of letters, he was great at a personal level as well. He had the flair for organising gatherings and discussions in a way that even the least important or the youngest would feel as if it was all about them.

I remember one particular evening in 2005 when I was invited to a small gathering where he had everyone from Hussain Haqqani (when he was still a dissident) to a few Pakistani expatriate journalists. As Haqqani explained something on Pak-American politics, Khalid sahib stopped him to give me space and hear my perspective. And only he could do that. A man for all seasons and great taste, he had indeed seen the world, experienced the best of men and observed great events. He had learnt the art of juggling people to make the less important feel important without making the very important ones hostile to his intervention.

Khalid Hassan knew how to write in English as well as being a native writer. He knew and understood the twists and turns of expressing himself in both languages. His biographical writings on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whom he had served, and madam Noor Jehan were outstanding. One could feel the passion with which those notes were written. His personal bias for those he liked was written large in his writings and he didn’t shy away from admitting that. Strangely, no one amongst the Pakistani expat community in Washington has feet big enough to step into Khalid’s Hasan’s shoes.

Maybe we now live in interesting times when they don’t make great men any more. I am also reminded of another memorable personality, Ijaz Hussain Batalvi. He was not just an ordinary barrister but one who had practiced in England as well as Pakistan. Being at the helm of his career during the 1970s, he became a prosecution lawyer against Z A Bhutto in the Kasuri murder case which resulted in his social boycott by fellow writers. Many amongst the legal community may not be aware of the fact that he was also a fiction writer. The community of intellectuals did not like the fact that he had represented the government.

Despite the aforementioned controversy, he was a man of honour who would often tell friends jokingly that lawyers are like prostitutes who sell time and that he had done just that. Batalvi sahib certainly belonged to a different breed of lawyers who did not try to defend their actions by covering them in the garb of some higher morality. He was simply one of the best in the legal profession which is probably why he was given the case. But unlike many a present day top lawyer who follow their profession but also shamelessly begin to live the life of those they represent, especially if it is the government, Batalvi sahib was an honourable man. He stuck to his profession and didn’t dabble in politics.

He used the clout he had built in those days within the legal system to help friends in need without reminding them of his help. I cannot forget his personal act of kindness. I had gone to ask him to represent me in a case in the court of Justice Tanveer in the Lahore High Court. Batalvi sahib didn’t ask questions or let his stature come in his way to help a friend’s daughter.

These two gentlemen, about whom a lot needs to be written, represent a time of higher values. This is when corruption and greed had not made its way into our personal value system — times that also produced great writers, scientists and thinkers. These two men were the contemporaries of other great men of letter like Shaikh Ayaz, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sufi Tabassum, NM Rashid, Majeed Amjad, Jamila Hashmi and Mumtaz Shireen. There are many other names that I forget or have not mentioned due to paucity of space.

But Khalid Hasan and Ijaz Hussain Batalvi were of the generation that produced dreams and ideas worth living and dying for. Some of us will remember them for what they represented. May their souls rest in peace.

Published in The Express Tribune,  August 8th, 2010.


Meekal Ahmed | 11 years ago | Reply Yes, Madam, Khalid Hasan was a great and wonderfully charming person. Great sense of humor too. Knew him well in Washington DC and we would often meet for lunch. The people attending his 'janaza' prayers filled the huge room. I have the same reservations as Mr Habib above regarding the "greatness" of Mr. Batalvi. What a travesty of justice that was! ZAB was no boy scout but he did not deserve to be humiliated, kept in a filthy cell, treated like an animal and then hung (or maybe he was already dead). To me, that was the lowest point in our country's history.
ashwin | 11 years ago | Reply i feel asam jahangir is one more great person of the contemprary world
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