The magazine was the nucleus of all dissident journalists
By now most of you know well that I did a stint at the weekly Viewpoint whose praises I sing even in dreams. This nostalgia stems from warm friendships I forged, and some sense of mission I derived from some of the giants that populated the magazine between 1989-1992.
Zafar Iqbal Mirza (ZIM) headed the magazine. He was surround by Zafaryab Ahmed, Adnan Adil and others. Though others worked full time, I was only a contributor. Yet I was there most of the time after finishing my duties at the hospital. So, I got to know most of the staff and visitors.
In the process, I insensibly absorbed the spirit of the magazine.
The magazine also housed the Awaji press which was conceived, I think, as the business arm of the magazine but did not generate enough business to keep the magazine going.
Viewpoint was founded by Mazhar Ali Khan sahib in 1976 after a series of long deliberations with friends on the need for a radical weekly in times of political repression and censorship. Professor Amin Mughal was lured out of his teaching job. ZIM and Tahir Mirza, both of the Pakistan Times, worked as part-time staff, forging an association that lasted till the closure of the magazine.
My fascination with the Viewpoint began quite early before I landed in Lahore around September 1983. In Chakwal, my hometown, I was one of the few buyers of the magazine between 1979 and 1982. When I first went to buy the magazine from the much-respected Adeeb Sahib, he sold me my first copy with an appropriate health warning, he said, in an almost whispered tone, that the magazine was meant for adults and generally the not-so-respectable people read it, hinting that the magazine had the strong whiff of dissent about it.
Little did he know that this was the precise reason I wanted to read the magazine.
This sturdy dedication to the magazine persisted throughout my medical studentship in Lahore where I spent my frugally managed money on its regular subscription. The news vendor was not even aware of the magazine when I placed my subscription order with him for the first time.
It was not an auspicious time to bow again before the footlight of journalism (ito borrow Maulana Johar’s phrase) by the giants of Pakistani journalism towards the tail end of the first democratically-elected government. Very soon General Zia seized power. Viewpoint faced censorship and its staff served jail. It was a given for those wedded to the idea of principled journalism in those oppressive days. By default, the magazine became the nucleus of all dissident journalists either sacked from other compliant press houses or grossly maladjusted to the prevailing conformity of the times.
I.A. Rehman sahib worked there before he was appointed the chief editor of the Pakistan Times when Benazir Bhutto came to power after the death of Ziaul Haq. ZIM sahib remained a permanent feature, shuttling between the Dawn and Viewpoint offices. In fact, there was much toing and froing between the two-respectable publications, stationed within a stone’s throw of each other.
Another important figure was Shafqat Tanveer Mirza. His articles focused on the Punjabi literature. Alys Faiz was another reassuring presence who represented continuity with a long tradition of progressive struggles. Alys wrote mostly on women and human rights issues.
Zafaryab was the most interesting character at the magazine. In fact, he was one of the most enduring and loveable characters in journalism. He was assistant editor of the magazine. His liveliness would uplift our spirit.
In those days, Maria Del Novo, a British journalist, and a friend of Cassandra Balchin, another ex-staffer, also found berth at the Viewpoint. Both, sadly, are no more. They died relatively young.
The magazine attracted a new generation of young contributors, not wholly wedded to journalistic inquiry. Ayaz Amir was the exciting new voice. He used to write on a spectrum of topics which ranged from dusky beauties to the joys of literature and the love of reading.
Khaled Ahmed wrote a column by the pseudonym Janus.
Professor Khawaja Masud was another learned contributor. His column was educative, wide ranging, outward looking, embracing Brecht, Marxism, philosophy, history and literature.
I can still picture the magazine and its many covers. One of the covers was particularly prescient about the coming age of internet and computers. The staff was quite proud of the edition.
Viewpoint’s coverage was global and its selection was judicious. It was at the Viewpoint that I came across other radical weeklies such as The Nation from the US. In fact, the articles from The Nation were regularly reproduced in the magazine. The Viewpoint coverage was wider than its budgets, boasting of district correspondents.
By far the highlights of the magazine were its editorial pages and between-the-lines columns. Mazhar sahib authored them and it was always a treat to read the editorials in judicious language and sound political judgements informed by deeper history.
The magazine folded in 1992 due to financial difficulties. The last rescue effort, spearheaded by Zafaryab, to drum up advertising and printing revenue came to nothing. Immediately afterwards, Mazhar sahib began his column for the Dawn. He contributed a score of columns before his sudden death. The loss of the Viewpoint might have been too much for him to bear.
As Saul Bellow, the US novelist, writes, "Among the debunker and spoofers who formed the tastes and minds of my generation H.L. Menken [prominent US journalist] was the most prominent." I can say pretty much the same thing about the Viewpoint which shaped my temper and political outlook.