Dr. Mehdi Hasan was my teacher in the Journalism Department of Punjab University and then became a colleague for a long time. He started his teaching career in 1967, and I was included in that first batch he started teaching with. In the first year, he taught feature writing, and in our second year, his subject was mass communication. Married to his MA class fellow, he was well dressed and had a soft-spoken personality. Before marrying him, his wife was a sub-editor in Daily Imroze and used to write under the name of Rakhshanda Ghulam Ali. After marrying him, she started using the name of Rakhshanda Hasan. Dr. Mehdi Hasan was proud of his love marriage and always preached them. After delivering some lectures on writing techniques in our first year, he assigned us different topics for features. I still remember my topic was ‘Ana Libraries.’
The new generation might not know about Ana Libraries. But this was the primary source of entertainment for the literate people of the lower and lower-middle classes until the end of the decade of the 1970s. These libraries were book rentals where every book was charged one Ana (there were 16 Ana in a rupee) per day. Ana libraries were located in almost every street of residential areas and were doing good business. Every Ana library was housed in a tiny space or inside other shops who had two-three hundred books on offer and did this additional business. The books mostly in demand were Nasim Hijazi’s historical novels; other famous novelists were M. Aslam, Raees Ahmed Jeffery, Razia Butt, and detective novels of ‘Imran Series’ by Ibn-e-Safi, etc. But Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Intizar Hussain and Ishfaq Ahmed, Bano Qudsia, and Bushra Rehman were also popular with the readers having some literary taste.
Dr. Mehdi Hasan gave me some good tips for feature writing. I did hard work on it, and the feature was published in the primary pages of weekly Qindeel in bold display. Qindeel was a popular weekly of those days. In our second year, Dr. Mehdi Hasan shared outstanding notes from Wilbur Schramm’s books and other modern writers of those days. He also wrote the first Urdu book on mass communication – Iblagh-e-Aam. That was a period in our history when ideological polarization was at its peak. Dr. Mehdi Hasan was attached to that group of intellectuals known as pro-Russia and socialists (Taraqi Pasand) leftists. The rightists confronted this group. On the ideological front, Jamaat-e-Islami under Abul A’la Maududi was active in defeating all such ideologies by labeling them as non-believers’ ideologies. Besides the pro-Russia lobby, there were also pro-China socialists active with all of the famous Maoism literature, including the Red Book of Mao.
Urdu translations of all of Mao, Lenin, and Marx’s books were free for journalists, intellectuals, and students. On one hand, student members of Islami Jamiat gave us Maududi’s books for reading. After finishing reading a book, we returned it and then got another book by Maududi or Naeem Siddiqui, Dr. Israr Ahmed, or other Islamic scholars. On the other hand, liberal/socialist/progressive students provided free socialist literature, and we were never supposed to return these voluminous red books to them. Both of these student groups were supported by political parties and foreign powers through local operators. It was felt that ‘psychological warfare’ would be fought in Pakistan. Sometimes, students were involved in these ideological discussions in their long sittings. Often such discussions resulted in bitterness among the students and fights between the ‘rascals’ of both sides. Firings and murders were also witnessed at the campus. Mehdi Hasan was an essential source of propaganda material for the leftist students at the campus.
After the 1960s, with the exception of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s administration, the Punjab University campus was dominated by Jamiat. In the eyes of these students, Dr. Mehdi Hasan was the ‘most dangerous’ person. Dr. Mehdi Hasan wrote articles and participated in TV discussions that propagated liberalism in his lectures; in his office, many male and female students were always present to join in the heated discussions on socialism and liberalism. He was more of a liberal than a socialist. He would like to enjoy complete freedom of thought and expression as an individual. He considered ethics a personal matter. In his opinion, one should be honest and not usurp others’ rights; that was enough for the ethics. He objected to bringing religion in when involved in academic discussions. He was an active fighter for the rights of minorities and the rights of the working classes, especially journalists.
Dr. Mehdi Hasan was a man of his ideas and lifestyle. On campus, he was one of the famous Pipe Group members, including Dr. Khalid Hamid Sheikh, Dr. Mujeeb A. Sheikh, Dr. Qamar Abbas. They were the fine tobacco lovers who often liked to sit together smoking their pipes and exchanging views about the world’s finest pipe tobacco. Dr. Mehdi Hasan was a life member of the Lahore Press Club. He also served society as a human rights activist. In his early youth, he was an enthusiastic socialist, willing to bring the socialist revolution to the society. Still, after the Soviet Union’s collapse, we see him as a true democrat, liberal, and human rights activist who had taken the western society as a model of culture and economy.