Remembering Jiwan

With Mehr Jiwan Khan’s demise, we have not only lost a thoroughly professional bureaucrat but also an exceptional prose writer

Remembering Jiwan

Mehr Jiwan Khan (1941-2019) belonged to a rare breed of bureaucrats who in addition to being upright and thoroughly professional are also inclined towards continued learning and scholarship. Apart from administering their official duties, these people make it a point to study in detail various subjects in order to satiate their scholarly inclination. With Jiwan Khan’s demise we have lost an exceptional writer with a number of memorable books to his credit.

Born in a village near Jhang in 1941, life was never a bed of roses for Jiwan Khan as he had to work tirelessly to acquire his education. A hardworking and bright student, he studied in Faisalabad till he graduated from college, after which he moved to Lahore to earn his master’s degree in political science from Punjab University in 1962.  He taught as a lecturer for two years in colleges in Jhang and Kasur. He joined the civil service of Pakistan in 1965 and served in various capacities till his retirement as a federal secretary in the late nineties.

During his initial service years he served in the then East Pakistan, where he closely witnessed the tumultuous days when the entire area was in ferment. He later explained his first-hand experiences in his novel Deepti, which is one of the very few novels written in the backdrop of the East Pakistan debacle. Before writing Deepti, Jiwan Khan compiled his Urdu essays into a book under the title Tuhmatein Chand which has recently been reprinted.

After retirement, Jiwan Khan devoted himself fully to reading and writing at his residence in Lahore. In addition to being soft-spoken and down to earth, he was also a brilliant conversationalist who could speak on many subjects. An ardent book lover with a special interest in Urdu literature, he loved engaging in long discussions on various subjects. In a book entitled Niralay Log he wrote sketches of high achievers belonging to various fields such as Akhtar Hameed Khan, Dr Mohammad Yunus (Bangladeshi Nobel laureate), Martin Luther King, A.R Rehman, Shoaib Sultan Khan. Jiwan Dhara, a two-volume memoir which chronicles his life and times, can be safely termed as one of his best written works -- mainly due to his detailed study of Urdu literature. He also describes some important episodes of our national history from close quarters in the book, for example his stint at Kalat and East Pakistan. One can disagree with him on some points but he made a valiant attempt at setting the record straight.

Jiwan Khan wrote a book in English titled Beggar’s Bowl which consists of snippets from the Holy Quran, Sufi teachings and quotes from notable people like Maulana Rumi, Ibne Arabi, Baba Guru Nanak, Baba Ramdev and Mother Teresa. It’s an attempt to present before the readers an alternative world view bereft of extremists narratives that have darkened the world. He also wrote columns for the daily Jang but after some time, he discontinued and solely devoted himself to reading and writing.

Jiwan Khan will not only be remembered as a top-notch bureaucrat but an outstanding writer who had a unique way of writing prose.