Dr Ajaz Anwar recounts the story of Pakistan’s earliest publications and the kind of hurdles they faced in the way of free and fair journalism
Hameed Nizami started publishing Nawa i Waqt as a fortnightly newspaper on March 23, 1940. Four years on, it became a big daily.
Back then, Urdu papers had limited circulation because of the paucity of funds and the low literacy rate among Muslims, though the adherents of other religions too were comfortable in reading Urdu script. Also, the papers in Hindi were more critical and witty in their opinions.
Among the weeklies, Nairang-i -Khayal, Shiraza and Alamgir were popular. Editions published on various festivals and the annuals fetched some extra income. Accomplished painters like Ustad Allah Buksh and Abdur Rehman Chughtai allowed their paintings to be reproduced on the title pages of these papers. Thus, politics and culture were amalgamated. Later, Humayun was published by Justice Shahdin. Adabi Dunya too published a number of pictorials which are a source of much history.
Among the English newspapers, Civil & Military Gazette was popular. It was initially an Anglo-Indian paper that was founded in 1872 and closed down in 1963. In 1960, it was given to Naseer A Sheikh who after making a desperate attempt to keep it going finally called it a day. Today, the Panorama Centre stands on its vast chunk of land, on the prime location on The Mall.
Many famous writers used to contribute articles in this daily. They included Col Golding who compiled these published articles in book form, titled Old Lahore. It remains the earliest classic account of Lahore in English language. Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling worked for it, and there was a plaque dedicated to him which mysteriously disappeared.
In the same building, Progressive Papers Limited started their paper, The Pakistan Times. Its first publication was in the form of a supplement announcing the arrest of Begum Shahnawaz on January 24, 1947. On the same page, it was announced that the regular publication would start from February 4.
The publication was facilitated by Mr Jinnah after the offices of the daily Dawn in Delhi were gutted in communal riots.
The Progressive Papers Limited had been floated as a left-leaning organ whose majority shares were acquired by Mian Iftikharuddin, a noted landowner from Baghbanpura whose family were also the custodians of Shalamar Gardens.
The Pakistan Times’s first chief editor was esteemed poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Mazhar Ali Khan was the editor. It was soon allotted the premises of the Tribune on Rattan Chand Road, next to the Bharat Building. It evolved into a very successful and respected paper.
The Pakistan Times soon started publishing sister papers and magazines. Imroze was the finest Urdu-language paper lithographed by very able calligraphers of the day. Lail-o-Nahar was a weekly with an all-colour title page manually scanned by Ashraf Ali. It had a variety of articles including cartoons by Zaidi and Qazi Aslam, short stories, political satires, fine portraits in black-and-white. It was edited by Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi. Zaheer Babar and many other luminaries of the day worked for these publications.
Sports Times was another weekly of the time. It would carry full figures or portraits of athletes painted by Mahmud Butt. The reporters’ room was generally vacant during the day because the reporters would be on the beat. Once, Faiz happened to see some reporters hanging around. On being told that there was no event going on at the time, Faiz advised them to go the Coffee House.
The hall would be teeming with reporters by the evening when the copy was being pasted. Legendary photographer FE Chaudhry would be back at sunset to develop his exposed films in the tiny dark room to be turned into positives and pasted in time.
The weekly’s team included big names like HK Burki, Jameel Ahmad, Khwaja Asif, Sibte Hassan, Sufi Tabassum and Chiragh Hassan Hasrat.
Government officials were afraid of the press and they strove to fix the issues highlighted in the press. In other words, the government and the officers in those days were afraid of their misdeeds being reported. The first jolt the organisation suffered was in the form of the arrest of its chief editor, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy case on March 9, 1951. Mazhar Ali Khan was already working as the editor, so there was no policy shift by the paper.
In March 1957, the paper proudly celebrated its 10th birthday. On the occasion, a grand buffet lunch was arranged for the whole staff, both serving and retired, at the Shalamar Gardens. The print order for the day was 50,000, the highest in the country.
Two months later, the centenary of the May 1857 uprising was commemorated by all the four publications. A portrait of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, holding his sword, alongside his wife, Zeenat Mahal, was published. The various events of the episode were also printed as verbal part of oral history.
The Progressive Papers Limited was a benevolent organisation. They were both good masters and good paymasters — that is, they gave respect as well as good pay to their staff. The staff could get advance during the month.
There was a fairly large hall which served as a record room, with two large tables. It could be used to go through old copies/ files. Along the walls, open shelves contained volumes bound in two months each, stacked vertically for easy removal. Thus, a visiting scholar or researcher could easily consult old papers.
One could also purchase the old papers.
The year 1958 did not turn out to be a very auspicious one for the PPL. The 1951 coup planned by Maj Gen Akbar Khan might have failed but it set a precedent for further exploits. Gen Ayub Khan, for instance, tried to throttle all opposition and have a mouthpiece paper. The Progressive Papers were taken over in a rude and sudden sweep. Mazhar Ali Khan resigned immediately. He didn’t even let his name be used in the following day’s paper.
After a few years, Mazhar Ali Khan started Viewpoint, a news weekly that dared tell the truth in the dark ages (more on this in later despatches).
The Pakistan Times continued to serve successive dictators as a pliant organ and its various editors felt obliged to be more faithful than the previous ones.
To be continued
(This dispatch is dedicated to the late IA Rehman)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org