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December 31, 2017

Remembering I. Hassan - a man for all seasons


December 31, 2017

This Thursday, December 28, 2017, was the 8th death anniversary of former long-time ‘The News’ columnist Inayatullah Hassan who, 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, at the age of 12, in 1931 he was sent off to the Royal Indian Military College (RIMC) at Dehradun - the institution which came to produce the top leadership of the Indian and early Pakistan military. At RIMC Inayat formed life-long friendships with, among others, Lt. General Sahibzada Yaqoob Ali Khan and Air Marshall Asghar Khan, both of whom were junior to him. Air Marshall Nur Khan, was also his contemporary junior at RIMC, 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 Sub-Continent 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 liberation war raging in South East Asia. Imbued with spirit of liberation, he quit journalism and became an adviser to Soerkarno, then leading the war to oust the Dutch and soon to become the president of Indonesia.

Upon Inayat’s return to the sub-continent, Nehru urged him to join his cabinet but he chose to settle in Pakistan where he became a successful businessman and then the Secretary General of Shaheed Suherwardy’s National Awami League. The usurpation of power by Ayub Khan, under whom Inayat 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, following his marriage to Khalida Adeeb Khanum, then a respected senior producer at the Radio Pakistan, spent most of the last three decades of his life in Rawalpindi. His journalistic talents were re-discovered through a chance meeting 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, Talat Hussain who was then a bright spark fresh out of university. Saddam’s invasion of Iraq, together with the near simultaneous overthrow of Benazir’s first government in August 1990, lead to a scrapping of ‘The Independent’ project and Maleeha 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’ which, since, has gone on to become the most widely circulated English daily in Pakistan.

Following the stillbirth of ‘The Independent’, while I decided to sell my soul for a few pieces of silver on my shoulders and traded my pen for a baton, I. Hassan, like most of the rest of ‘The Independent’ crew, became a part of ‘The News’ family from the very 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 the one to pull punches and consequently many a times he put his editors in a spot of bother by refusing to sugar-coat his hard criticisms of powerful actors in the 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 soldier, a broadcaster, a politician, an advisor 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 of the likes of Khadim Rizvis of this world. Rest in peace, you restless spirit!

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