Remembering Ajmal Khattak – by Harris Khalique

Sunday party

In the darkness and apathy that surround us, the passing of another great man, scholar, poet and politician, Ajmal Khattak, was yet another blow to his comrades and disciples who believe in creating a modern, progressive and humane society in this country. A man of impeccable character, Khattak struggled all his life for what he stood for – a socialist, secular, democratic and enlightened Pakistan where fundamental issues of class and nations inhabiting the state are fully resolved and everlasting peace is established in the subcontinent and Afghanistan.

I always find it hard to express condolences to the bereaved family or close friends and it becomes harder when someone larger than life passes away. As it was mentioned once before in this column, no one lives forever and people die in every society but sooner or later their place is taken over by some able successors. Our tragedy is different. Great people who leave us are seldom replaced. We are losing our major intellectuals and politicians of integrity at an alarming pace. It is a kind of a social deforestation where large trees with thick foliage protecting us from scorching sun are falling down and since no saplings were planted, watered and nurtured by society for years, this is fast becoming a barren land. But we must refuse to give up hope and as long as someone continues to believe in the same ideals and professes, preaches, struggles to realise these ideals, things will eventually change.

We remembered Ajmal Khattak at Abdullah Jan Jamaldini’s place last week when we saw his picture on the cover of Nawa-i-Bolan, a magazine with meagre resources but a lot of drive and substance. Each Sunday, literati, academics, journalists, political activists and youth gather at Baba Abdullah Jan’s place in Sariab, a suburban part of Quetta. They call it Sunday party. Baba is virtually the last of the Mohicans in strife-torn Balochistan. He is sad at what is happening to Balochistan and fully supports the struggle for Baloch rights but his innate humanity does not make him revengeful and bitter. The sagacity that he espouses is rare, simplicity is the hallmark of the thinkers of his generation and the magnanimity he exudes touches his audience in an eternal way. At 87, his memory is as sharp as a knife and being physically paralysed for years has failed to affect his cerebral powers. When his son Dostain lit up a cigarette and handed it over to him, he looked at me with a smile and humbly said, “I just smoke on Sundays when friends come to meet me. I enjoy the conversation and take a puff or two while being educated by these learned men.”

He told me stories about his stay in Karachi in the 1950s and 60s, his association with the Communist Party and other progressive writers, thinkers and activists, experiences with the stooges of the oppressive state and literature written in those times. He fondly recited lines from a poem titled Vaadi-e-Bolan (The Valley of Bolan) by Sajjad Zaheer who he called Bannay Bhai. This was written by Zaheer when he visited Quetta or perhaps when he had to go in hiding in Balochistan. He also shared his views on the issues of higher education in Balochistan in particular and Pakistan in general. He taught for many years and retired from the University of Balochistan after making significant contribution towards developing curriculum and promoting research. May he live long!

The writer is a poet and advises national and international institutions on governance and public policy issues. Email:

Source: The News