So long farewell

Mehru Jaffer Vienna 

If I knew that Khalid bhai would never speak to me again I would have long asked him for the address of the quaint café by the river Danube where I would have coffee, and he a glass of something a little more potent.

Early last month when I heard that Khalid bhai was no more I went in search of that café only to lose my way.

I first met Khalid Hasan in 1983 at a press conference in Vienna. Those were the days of Ronald Reagan's ‘Star Wars'. America had planted cruise missiles in Europe, intervened in the Lebanese civil war, invaded Grenada, bombed Libya and backed the anti communist guerrillas against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. It was a time of oil glut and a stagnant Soviet economy.

When Ronald Reagan was asked to dialogue with the Soviet leaders, instead of indulging in the most massive military build-up in peaceful times, he had ever so innocently said, "They keep dying on me."

Indeed, Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko had died in quick succession in Moscow and Vienna was the venue of many high-powered meetings between concerned Americans, Russians and Europeans.

Khalid bhai worked for the OPEC news agency. He was founder president of the United Nations Correspondents Association Vienna (UNCAV) and praised for his professionalism. He was much appreciated by his colleagues for his love for cricket, literature, poetry and music.

I was also told that part of his colourful character was to nudge a colleague when he spotted a woman he felt attracted to and say, "Poocho... dil degi kya?"

I found him both polite and preposterous. He came home for dinner once when a friend agreed to sing for us. "That is the saddest Malkaus I have heard in my life," was the verdict of Khalid bhai. Indeed, in his home his wife seemed to bend over backwards to cook desi meals for the guests and she was a hostess most gracious.

At a Ghulam Ali concert in Vienna, the ghazal singer made the mistake of stopping after every line to translate each word he sang in Urdu, into English. While most in the audience did little more than fidget, Khalid bhai stood up to say, "Don't lecture. Please just sing."

The birth of my first-born in 1983 did not prevent me from attending press conferences. I went everywhere with the infant strapped on me in a very convenient contraption. On one occasion I got Khalid bhai to hold my son while I chased a VIP for a photograph. He seemed utterly comfortable doing the job.

I preferred to talk to Khalid bhai about Pakistan. He asked me about veteran journalist and editor of Pakistan Times ZA Suleri's visit to India in 1981 and talked about Noor Jahan whom I had interviewed and photographed in Delhi in 1982. We both shared a love for Sadaat Hasan Manto and Faiz.


I wanted to know if he is the figure in the shadows who gives away Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's nuclear plans in Islamic Bomb, a documentary film from the late 1970s. If I recall correctly, he did not say yes, or no. In fact, he did not say much about his love and loyalty for both Papa Bhutto, whose press secretary he was, and for Benazir either.

Was the Pakistan People's Party government led by the Bhuttos an appearance of democracy, or the real thing? Why is Pakistan unable to allow a civilian government to do its job? Khalid bhai left Vienna with many questions unanswered in the early 1990s. But from his prolific writing it is clear that he had no time for the mullahs and for meddling of the military in civilian affairs. He deeply regretted that democracy still struggled to take root in Pakistan.

He was proud of his culture and did not find it incompatible with his stay in Washington since 2000. Born in Srinagar, Khalid bhai often pouted that the partition of India had made many refugees like him who found shelter in Pakistan. Calm and peace between nuclear India and Pakistan is what he dreamt of in the future. He readily added his voice to appeals to remove every barrier and formality that inhibited and blocked contact between the people of both the countries.

I will never forget Khalid bhai because he is an example of the best traditions in the world that consider the ink of the scholar more holy than the blood of the martyr.