I first met Imran Aslam when Hameed Haroon took me across to his flat at Sidco Centre (near the Karachi Press Club) with the promise of introducing me to a writer I would love to have as a columnist for The Star Weekend that I was editing in the eighties. I must confess to being somewhat sceptical as Imran’s last job, I was told, was managing the royal fleet of aircraft for the UAE rulers. Hameed knew better, of course, having studied with Imran at the London School of Economics and since then becoming lifelong friends.
Soon, Imran started writing a weekly column for The Star. Always handwritten and often appearing with missed deadlines, his columns were not overtly political or critical of the government. They were more allegorical, something that was not entirely due to the indirect censorship in place at the time. His style was figurative, with an imaginative use of the English language. Perhaps he found no challenge in blunt expressions of opposition to the military regime; he derived greater satisfaction from using symbolism or satire.
Shortly after he began writing, Imran joined the editorial team of The Star and was later appointed editor. However, editing a newspaper and writing a weekly column were not enough to satisfy his creative urges and he became involved in Karachi’s burgeoning theatre scene, writing scripts as well as acting. His adaptations of the German GRIPS Theatre plays were outstanding successes, with people sitting on the floor at the full-to-capacity PACC Auditorium. Ostensibly for children, Imran packed a political punch a minute, delighting both children and adults. His adaptation and sharp wit gave these German plays a distinct Pakistani relevance. Imran’s wit has been much talked about and it was always evident. Once during a concert in Bhit Shah, when the power went off as soon as Abida Parveen came on stage, he immediately branded her, “Wapda Parveen.”
Imran’s was a restless soul. In his exploration of new avenues for creative expression, he conceived a show capturing Pakistan’s history through a kaleidoscope of fashion styles, music and other forms of culture, transiting from one period to another. An ambitious project at a time when there was no technological or professional support (not to speak of financial), he managed to hold the show together – a combination of a live fashion show, synchronised with clips from Pakistan’s history.
There are also many other achievements that most people do not know about, including writing several powerful political plays. In 1984, when The Star planned a special report on Karachi, Imran proposed doing a map of Karachi, satirising the characteristics of the city and its people as well as the names of its various well-known areas. I still have a copy that I treasure.
Imran was an immensely popular person at The Star office. His wit – and warmth – charmed everyone. When he dubbed The Star’s most prolific columnist, Kaleem Omar, ‘Column Omar’, the columnist himself couldn’t help but chuckle over the aptness of the title. Even as he joked about his colleagues, he was always empathetic and supportive. When Kaleem didn’t have a place to stay, Imran took him in and every evening when they left the office, Imran would quip, “I’m taking my work home with me.”
However, it was at The News and Geo that Imran took on challenging leadership positions. As president, he was responsible for steering the media group through its highs and lows. Once, when I asked him about his position there, he replied: “I am Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz rolled into one!” It wasn’t arrogance that brought on this reply but a desire not to be taken too seriously. He was fully confident of his capabilities but remained unassuming.
Imran Aslam will be remembered fondly and with respect – as a witty friend, a helpful colleague and a guru to many young journalists. Above all, a loving husband and parent.
Zohra Yusuf is Chief Creative Officer, Spectrum VMLY&R.