Dr Ajaz Anwar remembers his friend, Masood Hayat, a painter and newspaper columnist who came from a family of wrestlers
It seems like only yesterday that I met Masood Hayat, sometime in 1962, when we were students at the evening art classes at Alhamra. Now that he has departed, at the ripe age of 85, Hayat may be considered to have been my senior by at least a decade (which I always suspected because of his having witnessed the unfortunate events of the Partition).
He came quietly to my circle of close friends and then left quietly. He was a painter, a columnist and a wrestling journalist, yet he was a friend to all those who came into his life.
He was outspoken in his criticism and at the same time a very humble person. He matriculated from the prestigious Sheranwala Government High School after several concerted attempts, he once told me, a fact corroborated by his neighbour and childhood buddy, Col Imtiaz Ali.
Hayat landed a job as an accountant in the main branch of a government bank, next to the GPO and stuck to it till his retirement. It was for this bank that Sadequain worked tirelessly to paint several murals for free while the building was under construction. The emerging national painter even gave his books sealed in plastic bags to be embedded in the building’s concrete slabs and columns for the posterity to discover in some distant future. It was his first gift to the citizens of Lahore. These murals, still in prominent display, are in fact worth more than the building itself, given the prices Sadequain commands in the international market.
Later, BA Qureshi, the chairman of Lahore Museum, invited him to work for the Museum. (It is pertinent to mention here that Qureshi was one of the few ICS officers that Pakistan inherited.) For the Museum, he painted a huge ceiling over a number of stretched canvases. The fate of this rival to Sistine Chapel mural hangs in balance as it has been taken down in view of its fragile condition. Many committees were constituted to save it, not many members of which were painters, versed or skilled in conserving or restoring this type of work.
His work here also included a vast collection of murals and calligraphic canvases, which form part of the Lahore Heritage Museum.
It was at the bank that that Hayat developed a liking for Sadequain and took to painting more seriously. But Hayat was never commercial-minded when it came to selling his work. His salary as an accountant, however little, was his main means of subsistence, yet he was generous when it came to philanthropic acts.
After the marriage of Colin and Zahra caused an upheaval in the Lahore art circles, Mrs Anna Molka Ahmed left the Alhamra evening classes. Masood Hayat too chose to stay away. In his own way, he exerted his right to the institution and formed the All Pakistan Artists Association, and asked the Alhamra authorities to let the association members hold a paintings exhibition in one of their halls which they would not consent to due to polarisation.
Hayat’s project theme was a tribute to the 1965 war heroes. For this, he hired and put up tents in the Burney Gardens, in front of the Arts Council, and Ahmad Saeed Kirmani, a minister in the Ayub Khan cabinet, consented to be the chief guest. He instituted awards for emerging artists in the form of ‘gold’ medals (ref: Eric Cyprian, there is no gold in medals). I, too, was awarded one - the Zen-ul-Abedin medal for watercolours - together with a certificate.
Prof Anna Molka Ahmed also attended the ceremony. Zeno, who normally shied away from pompous functions, was there too.
The Arts Council offered its halls, but Hayat declined. At dusk, the exhibits were taken down due to bad weather and were given asylum inside the art gallery. The following morning, the exhibition was put up again for the planned duration.
Masood Hayat belonged to a celebrated family of wrestlers. The world wrestling champion Rustom Zaman Gama Pehlwan was his maternal uncle. That a writer, columnist, a poet and painter should emerge from this clan was surprising in itself.
Equally amazingly, Hayat ate very little in our lunch meetings at Co-opera Art Gallery on Tuesdays. He started writing brief but compact and to-the-point columns for newspapers. He would post copies to several Urdu dailies, hoping anyone would pick them for publication. Some did and some friend of his would show up with a copy for him. Hayat would read it aloud and pass it on.
His topics were rather sad and gloomy, perhaps due to the fact that he had seen the unpleasant events of 1947. He seemed to have lost hope in his country’s future. I disagreed with him and often asked him to look at the light at the end of the tunnel.
Even though he was related to the Mian family and known to the ruling elite of the time, he had balanced left leanings and, thus, never sought favours.
He was a frequent visitor to Chughtai’s house on Ravi Road and to Ustad Allah Bux in New Muslim Town where he would get lessons. He continued to paint in water colours and oils. His subject matter was getting gloomier: parched land, failing crops, vultures hovering over the dead and crumbling heritage buildings.
Mr Javed, the secretary of Co-opera’s Art Gallery and Writers’ Guild, invited him to exhibit his work. But when his sentiments starkly expressed in colour were displayed, everyone was flabbergasted. It is important that a work of art invoke inner feelings and this exhibition had done that. In those days of scant visitors to exhibitions and less sales, on the opening day, a lady walked in and booked a painting paying the tagged price in full.
Hayat was a complete pacifist. He never took to wrestling, yet he formed Pakistan’s Free-style Wrestling Society. He collected histories of many families of wrestlers and had some rare collection of posters and photographs of dangals. Besides, he had souvenirs like bowls, a large metal tray and a sword and undergarments belonging to his ancestors which he donated to the Lahore Museum hoping that these would be displayed one day.
He visited India and met wrestlers’ families in Baroda and was in touch with the sport enthusiasts in England. He wanted to write a book on the subject and had actually got many chapters transcribed.
He was also generous in his literary pursuits. Once, a writer was writing a book on Dastaan-i-Shahzoraan-i-Punjab. Hayat gave away all the reference material available with him.
Hayat loved Lahore and was an active member of the Lahore Conservation Society (LCS). He participated in a protest march against the demolition of a katri inside the Sheraanwala Gate. His feedback proved valuable because he lived in the nearby Farooq Ganj.
In their last meeting, the LCS members hotly debated the schedule of the forthcoming elections of the society. They forgot to offer fateha for Masood Hayat.
Upon his retirement he had demolished his ancestral house and built it anew. He said that since he belonged there, he should never move out. Then he married off his children, an act which was the fulfillment of his duties as a father because his wife had passed away some 25 years earlier.
Hayat was also skilled in making kites. He was in favour of reviving daytime Basant as a festival of Lahore, as it provided livelihood to many. His view was that all accidents related to kite-string had happened due to the fact that the trees around the city had been felled. Previously, these trees were where the twine would get entangled.
(This dispatch is dedicated to Masood Hayat’s son, Usman Masood Toni)
The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]