Kala Kola Klub

Khalid Hasan, Manto, and Kala Kola

I knew Khalid Hasan only through his columns, which I read and enjoyed. He wrote simply, elegantly, and humorously. A lifelong journalist and a writer, he observed people closely, noting their dress and demeanor and also how they said it what they said, and commented upon it playfully, in his weekly column, Post Card. His sarcasm was specially reserved for people with puffed-up egos.

I also noticed that he was curious about the things men did to their hair. I happened to share his curiosity.

I sent Khalid Hasan a rather mischievous e-mail, my first to him, commenting upon the appearance of a Pakistani diplomat he had earlier written about as being too full of himself. Khalid Hasan’s reply, laced with his usual humor, came the same day. He was in Washington D.C and I in Islamabad.

That exchange started a back and forth that lasted for the next several months, discussing a variety of subjects, weaving the humorous with the serious.

Khalid Hasan’s messages were short and informative, and humor flew out of them just as from a grinding wheel when a dull knife is brought to bear upon it. I was the dull knife.

I reproduce some of our correspondence below. I have tried to disguise some names, but not others because Khalid Hasan had already mentioned them in his columns.

23 December 2007

Dear KH,
I remember you had once written something interesting about one Mr. Saqib (fictitious name) in the embassy in Washington DC. Recently, I saw him on TV, here in Islamabad. What I found interesting about him was not what he had to say, but how he had dyed his hair blond. In his earlier appearances, he had black hair.

I know, dyeing one’s hair is pretty common among Pakistani men, but dyeing it blond or reddish-brown seems to be a recent phenomenon, perhaps the result of the “Enlightenment”? AA

Dear AA
He is the same gentleman I used to write about. He is exceedingly fond of a person by the name of Saqib (who happens to be himself, as chance may have it). As for his going blond, it is odd but not surprising. KH

26 December 2007

Dear KH

I thought I should let you know that the hair color of the gentleman we talked about has changed to a darker shade of something. I watched him again on TV tonight. I guess, he might have utilized the services of a professional salon. Last time it looked like a do-it-yourself job. AA

Dear AA

Thank you for the update. Why don’t you suggest that our friend be Pakistan’s official entry in the Miss Universe contest next year? What better way can there be of ushering in the New Year! It will also strike a blow for the cause of Enlightened Moderation. KH (Enlightened Moderation was a phrase introduced by Gen. Musharraf as his vision when he took over the country. It became a butt of jokes in some circles.)

We dropped the diplomat and his hair color here.

Meanwhile, I started reading, among other things, Saadat Hasan Manto’s short stories, the original Urdu version, which I had not read since my college days. In college, we did not pay attention to the introductions or forewords of a book; we jumped straightaway into the stories. But now, with more time on my hands — and more patience — I also read Manto’s foreword to his collection of short stories titled “Thanda Gosht,” and found it fascinating. In it, Manto describes his court trial on charges of obscenity and the judgments given by the different judges. I wanted to know more. So, I reverted to Khalid Hasan.

May 15, 2008

Dear KH
I wonder where could one find the original court judgment on Saadat Hasan Manto’s “Thanda Gosht”. I am referring to the judgment that declared the story not obscene and had acquitted Manto. I have read the Urdu version of the judgment written by Manto himself but would love to see the original English version. (I assume the judge wrote the judgment in English.) Since you have done so much work on Manto, I thought you would probably know. Thanks and regards. AA

May 16, 2008

Dear AA,
I never looked for it, but one would have to be in Lahore (and not in Washington) to lay one’s hands on it. I will ask someone to look for it. If it comes to hand, I will send you a copy. The judgment must have been in Urdu because the language of lower courts was Urdu, not English. KH

Dear KH

Thanks!
Manto says in his narration that the first judge ( First-class magistrate, actually), who had convicted him, wrote the judgment in English. So, I assume the judgment by the higher judge (Additional District and Sessions Judge), who acquitted him, must have also been in English.

What got me interested in this was the quality of the judgment. It is so well-argued and well written (I read the Urdu version only by Manto). I wonder if any of our High Court or even Supreme Court judges of today could write a judgment like that. AA

Dear AA
The answer is no. Those who wrote those judgments were (as my friend Zafar Rathore says) “Angrez ki baaqiyaat”. Gone, as well as forgotten. KH

May 21, 2008

Dear KH

Sorry for imposing on your time. But I am stumped for the meaning of “zehmat-e-mehr darakhshaan” (زحمت مہر درخشاں ). It’s the title of the foreword by Manto to his book Thanda Gosht. Could you please help? AA

Dear AA,

Zehman-e-mehr-e-darakhshaan is from a Ghalib’s verse:

لرزتا ہے میرا دل زحمت مہر درخشاں پر

میں ہوں وہ قطرہ شبنم ، کہ ہو خار بیاباں پر

Larzata hai mera dil zehmat-e-mehr-e-daraskhshaan par
Mein hoon vo qatra-e-shabnam ke ho khaar-e-biyabaan par

I am like a drop of dew that rests on a thorn in the wild; my heart trembles at the thought of the sun that will (soon) rise (and annihilate me.)

I hope this makes Manto’s intent clear and conveys to you the state of mind he was in when he chose this snatch from Ghalib. KH

PS: Where are you based?

Dear KH

Thanks a lot. That really opens a whole new window on the subject. On my own, I wouldn’t have quite understood it. Your translation, and the context you provided, have lighted a bulb in my head.

I am currently in New York and shuttle between Islamabad and New York. Thanks once again. AA

Khalid Hasan replied the same day and brought up the subject of the diplomat once again. We dropped Manto and reverted to the business of hair colors.

May 21, 2008

Dear AA

Every time you read Ghalib you find something new. Meanwhile, Saqib of old Hotel Sheherzad, Islamabad, continues to glow on TV, his hair getting closer to blond from its earlier brunette. KH

Dear KH

Ha, hahaha! I think you should write a column on why Pakistani men, especially politicians, have this obsession with dyeing their hair. Have you seen Ch. PE lately — dyed to the gills? AA

Dear AA

A friend of mine calls such dyed to the gills Pakistanis: sat-rangay kabootar. Why single out PE? What about Musharraf? Or Shuj? Or Gul? Why, do they think it makes them look younger? The face and the jowls cannot be rejuvenated. When do you think these people will start using Botox? KH

We revert to Manto, once again, but didn’t quite forget the Kala Kola crowd.

May 22, 2008

Dear KH

One last question about Manto. As you might have guessed, I am a recent convert to Manto. And, you know, converts are more ardent than the people born in the faith.

In Zehmat-e-mehr-e-darkhshaan (now I know exactly what it means) Manto writes that the Sessions judge had acquitted him of the obscenity charge and finishes the story of his trial there. But I found elsewhere that the government of the day went to the High Court against the acquittal, and the judge, who happened to be Justice Munir, reversed the decision of the lower court and re-imposed the fine on Manto. Is that true? AA

Dear AA

Yes, what you report is true. The judgment acquitting Manto was reversed. Aitzaz Ahsan has the record and even made a move to have the court rescind its judgment. I did not keep up with it because of AA’s immersion in the lawyers’ movement. I will ask him for the PLD reference so that we can fish out the judgment. So that makes it Munir’s second judicial crime, the other one being the Maulvi Tamizuddin Case leading to Doctrine of Necessity. KH

June 7, 2008

Dear KH,
Enjoyed your Post Card today. While reading it, one could not help but wonder if this particular Special Envoy has ever been to school.

On a different note, I watched K tonight talking to a news channel. He, too, seems to have joined the Kala Kola Club! I hadn’t noticed it before but tonight one couldn’t miss it. AA

June 8, 2008

Dear AA

The Envoy has to be heard to be believed. In one single visit, he did more damage than India has done us in one entire year in this town.

Yes, K is now a member in good standing of the Kala Kola Club. KH

Khalid Hasan wrote the column “Kala Kola Klub” in his next weekly Post Card, in Daily Times and forwarded me the link with a one-line message:

June 14, 2008

Dear AA

I have fulfilled your “farmaish”. KH

June 14, 2008

Dear KH

Thanks! You have taken a load off my chest.

Yes, I already read your Post Card — colorful as always — and I also shot off a letter to the editor. I simply couldn’t resist.

By the way, I suspect Mr. H also belongs to the Klub. He may be using a different technology or a different product but his hair invariably looks like a freshly laid tarmac, glued tightly to the surface. No? AA

June 15, 2008

Dear AA

No, Mr. H still has his own hair color. He keeps them glued down because he is losing them from the front, hence the hairdo. He is around 52–53 but, don’t worry; give it a few years and he will be graying — and coloring. KH

June 15, 2008

Dear KH

I think someone should bring to Mr. H’s notice what Dean Rusk (US Secretary of State) was reported to have said about people going bald. (Rusk himself was bald.) He said that people who go bald from the back of the head are thinkers; those who bald from the front are sexy, and those who bald both from the back and the front think they are sexy.

On the second reading of your Post Card (I had to read it twice to relish it), I think you have come down a bit too hard on poor Tully (why do they call him Tully, by the way?). AA

Khalid Hasan did not reply to this message. Most likely, he was not well. Six months later, he died. RIP

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