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Requiem for a raconteur —Mahmud Sipra

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mahmudsipraaddressed KH as ‘Guru’ simply because as a prolific and peerless writer, he was as quick with his lash as he was with his bouquets when it came to half-baked, ill equipped “writers of my ilk”. My ego is still smarting from the searing reprimand I received from him on having used this last phrase inappropriately once

I wish I never had to write today’s
column. It is about a personal loss that all of us, at some time in our lives, have to learn to deal with.
The death of Khalid Hasan is the kind of loss I, along with countless others, will now have to learn to live with. That such a fate is written for each and every one of us in the end does not in any way diminish that sense of loss.
There will be many columns written by those fortunate enough to have known him personally, along with those whose lives he somehow touched through his columns and writings. Among them will be a few written by those who KH prized both personally and professionally during the life of his times. Ardeshir Cowasjee and Ejaz Haider are two such people I happen to know that KH considered to be of that distinguished stamp.
They both have dedicated their eulogies to him by reminding us of the human and the acerbic side of one Khalid Hasan, writer, raconteur par excellence and, above all, a kind and considerate friend.
I addressed KH as ‘Guru’ simply because as a prolific and peerless writer, he was as quick with his lash as he was with his bouquets when it came to half-baked, ill-equipped “writers of my ilk”. My ego is still smarting from the searing reprimand I received from him on having once used this last phrase inappropriately.
I remember having met KH in 1972 within days of his taking over as ‘press secretary’ to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. It was a cold January night, it was late, and in those days the only place in Karachi that served anything worth eating at that ungodly hour was Café Suroor at the Intercontinental.
Samina, the mother of my two sons, was expecting our first child. She turned up her nose at the thought of having another bland burger that the swish crowd seemed to be enjoying, leaving me somewhat mystified as to how to indulge her. Enter Khalid Hasan, accompanied by Gulgee and his wife, looking to be seated in the packed restaurant. I offered to let them have our table as we were about to depart. I had met KH only once before, through his younger brother Masood Hasan, who is a friend of mine.
Naturally, KH asked why we were leaving. I must have muttered something about the food not being to the liking of the lady in waiting or something equally banal. To my surprise, he said: “I could not agree with her more, but I do happen to know exactly the place that will serve her some real food. C’mon, let us all go and enjoy Sabri’s Nihari on Burn’s Road. Chalo.”
The invitation to go slumming was enthusiastically echoed by the two ladies with a ‘chalo-chalo’ and we proceeded down the lobby towards the car park. By the time we reached our respective vehicles, KH had corralled at least six other couples to join the impromptu party. I suddenly realised how one warm, ebullient individual could light up a dark and dreary night by his mere presence.
The next time I heard from KH was when he sent me a small note after reading of my troubles in the UK in the mid-eighties. He was genuinely concerned about some of the wild allegations that a Labour MP called Brian Sedgemore was making about me in the Commons with “parliamentary privilege”. I sent a note back to KH, thanking him for his concern and his good wishes and suggesting to him that the MP be allowed his short legend in his lunchtime status, and not to worry as the man was merely living up to the initials of his name.
To which KH, in his inimitable fashion, promptly replied: “Bravo! Keep injecting until the patient dissolves in his own poison!”
Years later, KH was on one of his short visits to Lahore where I was living in self-imposed exile at the time. I invited him to stay at my place. He said he accepted my invitation because he wanted to see for himself how “an alleged profligate like you lived”.
I wanted him to feel comfortable and at home, so I pretty much left him alone. We rarely met, except occasionally over a meal and once over breakfast. I noticed he was a bit pensive that morning and then I observed him peering into my bowl of porridge.
“Oatmeal, right?” asked KH.
“Uh huh. Want some?” I offered.
“No, no. I’m fine. I just wanted to see if it is the regular kind or have you, er, spiked it, to give you that extra buzz.”
“No, it’s plain old Quaker’s oatmeal, for
God’s sake, KH!”
He then neatly folded his newspaper and announced in a somewhat solemn voice: “I don’t know if I should be saying this, but I think you are in deep trouble.”
“What for, eating porridge in the morning?”
Ignoring my insouciance, KH continued, “No. This could get dead serious, Sip. Just look at what you are putting your Man Friday here through. The man is a wreck. He is most distressed, and listening to him, so am I,” KH stated using the most sombre of tones.
I looked at the robust, heavyset and well-fed figure of ‘Man Friday’ serving us breakfast, cautiously observing: “I didn’t know he was sick. He doesn’t look it.”
I was totally at sea.
“He’d probably die before he told you of his suffering,” said KH, sprinkling some salt on his sunny side up eggs.
“That bad?” I asked, alarm bells going off in my head.
“Ok. I might as well tell you. Let me explain. It seems that the three ladies who have come visiting you in the past three days that I have been here are all devotees of the three big saints. They being, in case you have forgotten, Data Sahib, Gamey Shah and Bibi Pak Daaman. Now, all of them go there to perform the ritual of ‘mannat’ and also to seek some divine help in achieving their ‘common goal’, if you know what I mean.”
“Their ‘common goal’?” I asked incredulously, “and what might that be?”
“Well!” KH gave me a doleful look, and pronounced, “To bring about an end to your bachelorhood!”
Then, sipping his tea, he added: “And your bachelor ways, naturally.”
“And where does Man Friday come into this?”
“His concern is well founded. He worries for you, and being a native Lahori, he is absolutely convinced that one of these days their wish will be granted. But his real worry is: what if the prayers of all three are granted! What will you do then? Your arms aren’t long enough to box with saints! The dice of God are loaded, my friend,” KH stated with a deadpan expression.
I suddenly lost my appetite and asked: “So what do you think I should do, KH?”
“Leave town, Sipraji.”
I took KH’s advice and eventually did leave town, and heard from him when I moved to Dubai.
His very first email read: “You owe me for saving your life! I now expect to read from you, not read about you! Isn’t life full of compensations though, Sip? Cheers!”
Cheers, Guru! Life is indeed full of compensations. What you forgot to tell me though was how one compensates the loss of a friend like you. Except to find comfort in one of Omar Khayyam’s classic quatrains:
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it

We’ve not been deprived of just a great and erudite man, we’ve also lost a man who brought wisdom and wit into our lives.
We are poorer today for not having one Khalid Hasan in our lives any more.

Mahmud Sipra is a best selling author and an independent columnist. He can be reached at

Article reproduced by permission of the author and DT.\02\12\story_12-2-2009_pg3_2

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