Khalid Hasan, the one-time compatriot and Press Secretary to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and journalist par excellence is well known for his literary writings. For years the life and times of Madame Noor Jehan have been celebrated in his writings. He has translated several titans of Urdu literature including Manto, Abbas, and Faiz. In his endeavours, Hasan has made an immeasurable contribution to introduce Urdu literature to the English-reading world making them more accessible to many Pakistanis given that the reading culture faces near-extinction in Pakistan.
Due to his close association with him as a friend Faiz has been a prominent subject of Khalids writings. The Oxford University Press and Khalid Hasan teamed up to produce a mesmerizing collection of Faizs poetry in English. O City of Lights is not only a collection of Faizs translated verse but also includes accounts of Faizs poetry, stature and place in contemporary Pakistani history as well as snippets of Faizs life in his own words.
O City of Lights is divided in two parts: the first part presents his choicest prose pieces that include a detailed write-up on Faiz and a few interviews translated by Hasan. In addition, there is a fascinating sketch of Faizs childhood days where we learn how he acquired the habit of reading and the encouragement he received from his father to read books from the local library. The picture of Faiz that emerges is in keeping with all past narratives concerning his personality: tolerant, magnanimous, humble and deeply humanistic.
Like a devotee, Khalid Hasan is a little apologetic at times. For instance, in writing about Faizs stint at the Governments war publicity department during the Second World War; and his eventual promotion to the rank of a lieutenant colonel, Hasan states:
he [Faiz] felt that in the struggle against Nazism and Fascism, if a uniform had to be worn, then a uniform should be worn. Perhaps it was for his work during the war that he was given the Order of the British Empire.
While this explanation is a rational one, it glosses over the fact that there were several strands of opinion within undivided India; and native resistance against Nazism was neither widespread nor a popular cause. The Second World War is also viewed as a major cause for famines in India and the use of Indians as fighting fodder for an essentially imperial war. This digression is ...
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