Remembering Inayatullah Hassan

December 30,2015

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The 6th death anniversary of former long-time ‘The News’ columnist Inayatullah Hassan was onDecember 28, 2015. Inayatullah Hassan under the shortened name 'I Hassan', wrote the 'Cutting Edge' column on the op-ed pages every Tuesday during the first 15 years of the life of this paper.

Inayatullah Hassan, or 'Janji' to his family and close friends, had a long and rich life spanning 90 remarkable years -- stretching from the days immediately following the First World War to the end of the first decade of the 21st century. A man of immense innate ability, he constantly evolved and reinvented himself as he sought and faced new challenges in life.

Born into a prosperous family hailing from a village near Kahuta outside Rawalpindi, in 1931 at the age of 12, he was sent off to the Royal Indian Military College (RIMC) at Dehradun -- the institution that came to produce the top leadership of the Indian and early Pakistan military. At RIMC, Inayatullah formed life-long friendships with, among others, (Lt-Gen) Sahibzada Yaqub Ali Khan and Air Marshal Asghar Khan, both of whom were junior to him. Air Marshal Nur Khan was also his contemporary junior at Dehradun.

Inayat was commissioned in the British Indian Army but was captured by the Japanese during World War II and joined the Indian National Army, broadcasting powerful anti-British programmes to the Subcontinent from Radio Saigon. After the war, the British tried him for treason and were about to hang him when Jawaharlal Nehru forced the British to release him by refusing to talk to the Pethick Lawrence-Stafford Cripps mission then visiting India until Inayat was set free.

After being released, Inayat became an international war correspondent covering the independence war raging in South East Asia. Imbued with the spirit of liberation, he quit journalism and became an advisor to Soekarno, who was then leading the war to oust the Dutch and was soon to become the president of Indonesia.

Upon Inayat's return to the Subcontinent, Nehru urged him to join his cabinet but Inayat chose to settle in Pakistan where he became a successful businessman and then the secretary general of Huseyn Shaheed Suharwardy's National Awami League. The usurpation of power by Ayub Khan, under whom Inayatullah had served uncomfortably in the same unit, forced him to go abroad once more. He settled in London where he became a real-estate tycoon earning millions and rubbing shoulders with the who's who of the British upper crust.

The prodigal son returned to his native land in 1980 and spent most of the last three decades of his life in Rawalpindi. His journalistic talents were re-discovered through a chance meeting in 1990 with Maleeha Lodhi who had then recently left 'The Muslim' and was heading a large team preparing to launch a new daily from Rawalpindi-Islamabad to be called 'The Independent'.

I had the good fortune to work, first as editorial assistant and then as assistant editor, in this talented team which included many future newspaper editors including Maleeha Lodhi herself, the late D Shah Khan, Saleem Bukhari, and, last but not least, Syed Talat Hussain who was then a bright spark fresh out of university. Later the same year, a host of factors, both domestic and international and all beyond anyone's control, led to the scrapping of 'The Independent' project.

Maleeha then moved the entire team, lock, stock and barrel, to the Jang Group where the paper, like a phoenix, re-emerged out of its own ashes as the 'The News' and has since gone on to become the most widely circulated English daily in Pakistan.

Following the still-birth of ‘The Independent’ I decided to sell my soul for a few pieces of silver on my shoulders and traded my pen for a baton. However, I. Hassan, like most of the rest of ‘The Independent’ crew, became a part of 'The News' family from the launch of the paper and contributed regularly during the tenures of several editors. His simple yet poignant flowing style won him a large audience who enjoyed his wit and irreverent take on many of our holy cows.

He was not one to pull punches and consequently many a times he put his editors in a spot of bother by refusing to sugar-coat his harsh criticisms of powerful actors in society and the state. His was a sane voice preaching accommodation, tolerance and modern liberal values grounded in individual freedoms, in the context of an increasingly illiberal, retrogressive and intrusive state. An extremely knowledgeable, perceptive and articulate author, he could wax eloquent on any topic under the sun straight off the cuff.

He was a writer, a poet, a soldier, a broadcaster, a politician, an adviser to liberation movements, a businessman, a real-estate tycoon, a designer, an artist and so much more. Most of all he was an enlightened, honourable, upright and learned human being of the kind one no longer finds in this land torn asunder by intolerance and ignorance. Rest in peace, you restless spirit.


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