Two outstanding personalities
belonging to the world of art, literature, journalism and diplomacy
passed away recently.
One in Delhi the other in
Dhaka, both places relate closely to our heart in recent or distant
past. The impact of both was somehow profound in this country although
for quite different reasons. Here I would like to pen down my own
impressions about both who somehow relate to me in strangely different
First Amrita Pritam
(1919-2005), a doyen of Punjabi literature whose works now form part of
classics especially pertaining to the heart rending tales of partition
and her own life had been full of struggle and disappointments making
her writings ever so poignant and expressive of her inner feelings.
During her lifetime, she published more than 75 books, including 24
novels, 15 collections of short stories, 23 volumes of poetry, two
biographies and a number of works of prose. She received the highest
civilian awards in India, including Padma Shiri, Padma Vibushan, Shitya
Academy Award, Bhartiya Jhanpith Award, as well as honorary doctorate
degrees from five universities.
For a girl who was born in the
obscurity of a backyard of Gujranwala, in a deeply religious Sikh
household all this fame and name was a far cry when she breathed her
last in Hauz Qazi, New Delhi on October 31. However, thoughts on her
place of origin - Gujranwala - had been constantly on her mind, as she
often enquired about her ancestral city from various Pakistani visitors
who met her. One is not sure whether she was able to revisit her
birthplace ever. As someone hailing from the city I had often wondered
about her roots and the exact location in that city of Sikh
stranglehold, Maharaja Ranjeet Singh and dozen Misels (Qilas), as I knew
the city well like the palm of my hand.
Then the penny dropped, as in
one of her recent conversations Amrita had said she was born in Basti
Arian, a locality where I grew up. Located in between Tootianwala
Mohalla, just beyond Ghanta Ghar (Clock Tower) and in between the
sprawling and affluent Guru Nanak Pura, was Basti Arian or known as
Arianah Di Gali, a run down area with mixed population of Muslim urban
peasants (Arians) and Sikhs, mostly consisting of poor families. The
area was renamed as "Mallick Street" back in the 30's after my
maternal grandfather late Hatim Ali Mallick, built a haveli and a mosque
on the top roadside. A few other havelis all by Mallicks (Kasmiris) gave
it a new identity. The only other well-known resident of that Arian
Basti, with a shimmering white haveli built in the middle of katchi
abadi was by Ustad Jhande Khan, the famous Music Director of Bombay
Talkies, who composed such masterpiece music for epic films like "Pukar"
and "Chitarleka" and had returned home after partition to live
his last days there in his ancestral city.
Just to update readers, those
once enviable Havelis of Mallicks are now mostly in ruins and those
non-descript and kacha houses of the gali (street) have been replaced
with modern multi-storey buildings as most local residents have made
riches in UK and Gulf where they emigrated in strength over the years.
This news may surely have uplifted the spirits of Amrita had she known
it or seen with the own eyes before her death about the transformation
of the neighborhood where her roots belonged.
Passing away of a "dear
Another recent loss of an
eminent personality in Dhaka was of Enayatullah Khan, founder and editor
of Holiday, an influential political weekly of Bangladesh and one of the
driving forces behind SAFMA.
Tall and ever-smiling and
friendly Enayatullah was known as "Minto" to close friends,
and I happened to be one of them. It was way back in 1961, I had met a
young tall and lanky reporter of Pakistan Observer, who was to become a
life long friend and with whom I had the privilege to work closely for
many years in the newly launched weekly Holiday. Scion of a
distinguished family, son of former National Assembly Speaker Abdul
Jabbar Khan, he was one of eleven siblings who made their own identity.
One elder brother became a top senior civil servant and a younger
brother Rashid Menon, headed NAP (Menon Group) with his radical
policies. Enayatullah had been one of few Bengali journalists whom late
ZAB befriended but the honeymoon could not last long.
After army action in East
Pakistan, Enayatullah, as like other Bengali intellectuals, were up in
arms especially after the reported "mass killing" of
intellectuals. But Enayatullah soon found himself disillusioned even
with "Bangla Bandhu" who promptly jailed him for his highly
critical views about his policies. It was only after late General Ziaur
Rehman came to power that Enayat got liberty to first become the
powerful Chief Editor of newly launched Bangladesh Times and then a
Cabinet Minister. Minto, who kept his "Holiday" paper going
throughout was soon to become the new country's Ambassador - first to
neighboring Burma (Myanmar) and then to Peoples Republic of China. Even
after his return he remained in limelight as a voice of reason and
sanity in the country often in the midst of political chaos and turmoil
between leading rival parties. Enayatullah was a regular visitor to
Pakistan and never lost touch with his old friends. He had found a
fitting role to support and help SAFMA become a force to reckon with.
In his departure one has lost a
dear and affectionate friend and someone who was one of fast diminishing
links with what was known as "East Pakistan". God Bless you my
friend and my deep condolence to his family.