Every year in November, a group of us (former Express Tribune staffers from the City Desk) would get together for an annual dinner at the Karachi Press Club. The occasion? Abul Hasanat’s birthday.
It would take a lot of careful planning to get everyone together. It was a must because if you didn’t go, you knew he would call and ask you why you didn’t show up. He didn’t want presents nor did he let us pay for the meal – he just wanted the old and current desk to get together for a meal and catch up on what all of us were doing. For us, he was kind of like the head of our ‘newsroom’ family. We went to him for advice on stories and life.
When my father passed away in April 2015, he came to see me every day for a week. He didn’t want to talk about my dad or what had happened or anything related to that day – he just didn’t want me to give up on writing. He told me to go back to work when I was ready to and that he was there if I needed anything. It was one of the nicest things anyone had said to me during a terrible period of my life.
Born in 1950, Hasanat sahib received his primary education in Hyderabad as his father, Abul Akhyar, a veteran journalist, was working for a local newspaper there. He attended the Government College for Men, Nazimabad and was once arrested during a movement against the dictatorial rule of General Ayub Khan. He graduated from Karachi University in 1973 with a BA in history, philosophy and international relations. He spent several years (1995-2010) as the City Editor for DAWN’s Karachi pages as well as an Editorial Adviser. He retired as Assistant Editor in 2010. He also worked at Saudi Gazette and Morning News. He spent the last eight years at The Express Tribune as Senior Editorial Consultant.
Every step of the way, Hasanat sahib helped me – when I had trouble writing on a certain topic, when I needed some contacts (he knew everyone) or how to report on city issues and get that quote. When he learned that I was joining DAWN, he sat me down and told me I should spend as much time as I could with Jamil sahib (then news editor) and Shahid sahib.
He said that if I was serious about becoming an editor one day, I needed to develop my news sense. I would often call him for advice on stories. He insisted that as a reporter, it was criminal to let your personal bias colour a story – you have to remain objective. Recently, I did a court story and missed him so much because I couldn’t figure out if I had used ‘reprimand’ correctly.
It is strange to think how all of us came to rely on him so much, despite a bumpy start. When he joined The Express Tribune, we were just five girls on the desk and Hasanat sahib. We didn’t really know how to interact with him. On more than one occasion I danced around him shouting obscenities while he rolled his eyes. We knew what time he wanted his tea, we knew what made him tick and we knew he started to accept us. We knew winter was here when he would come to work wearing his winter shirt, white trousers and a red scarf.
In time, he opened up to us. He took us to the Press Club for dinners and mushairas. He also gave us nicknames. I was ‘Iblees’ because I was naughty. He would often call my father to complain that he was stuck with his ‘Toba’ (taubah).
On the desk, we even came up with a nickname for him: ‘Natty’. We thought it was pretty cool.
Once, while working on a long list of obituaries, I asked him if he expected me to write one for him. Without a flicker, he said: “I hope not.” I wonder what he will think about me writing this…
Hasanat sahib helped and trained several reporters at The Express Tribune, like myself. Oonib Azam was one of the last cub reporters he worked with at The Express Tribune. Talking to Aurora, Mr Azam said: “He taught me all about local government. Provided me with contacts and finding sources. Had he not been there, I would have never learned about local government reporting.”
Remembering an incident from his early days Mr Azam recalled: “It was my second week on the job when Hasanat sahib waltzed in and asked me and four other reporters what were our areas of interest. I told him I was keen on civic issues. He immediately asked me how many districts Karachi had and the total number of towns in the city. I was blank. Then he asked me the postal code of my area and I said 0213. He laughed and left the room with his signature grin. A few days later, he gave me the transport beat and afterwards, local government. He was a great teacher who taught me how to highlight public hardships in stories.”
He left behind a wife, three daughters, a son and two grandchildren all of whom loved him dearly and a score of subeditors and reporters who are lost without him. His son, Khurram, remembers his father’s powerful personality and charisma. “We have spent five Sundays without him and the house is too quiet. He had charisma and a personality that could be felt.”
The last time I met him, he was upset with me for not visiting him more often. We made plans for breakfast on Sunday but it didn’t happen. I wish I could turn time back and go see him once more, just to catch up with what he has been up to…
Tooba Masood is a subeditor/reporter at DAWN. firstname.lastname@example.org