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HomeThe PulseRemembering Hameed Akhtar, 10 years on

Remembering Hameed Akhtar, 10 years on

One of Pakistan’s best progressive writers, the journalist, compiler and translator Hameed Akhtar passed away a decade ago today (October 17) in Lahore.

A son of Ludhiana in Eastern Punjab – that fabled region which has given the Urdu language some of its brightest stars like Saadat Hasan Manto, Ibne Insha and Zahid Dar – Akhtar came from a deeply religious pir family but then in his youth fell in with a gifted cohort of talented young writers and poets in Ludhiana led by Sahir Ludhianvi.

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His life-story reads like mythical fairy tale. Before the partition of India, Akhtar even found time to dabble in the film-world in Bombay, where he even successfully acted in a film, before leaving the glamor and gilt to come to Pakistan to serve literature and ideology. However before he was to come to Lahore, he endured an appalling 3-month stay at the Nakodar refugee camp, where the struggle between life and death increased in him the resolve to stand up for the oppressed and fight for their emancipation all his life.

In the cosmopolitan Lahore of 1943-49, Akhtar seamlessly melded with a motley group of young writers and poets who were all to become legends in their field and who like him were wedded to the cause of socialism These included his best friend Sahir, as well as Insha, Fikr Taunsavi, Arif Abdul Mateen, A. Hameed, Qateel Shifai, Ahmad Rahi and occasionally, Manto. However as conditions worsened in undemocratic Pakistan leading to the departure of Sahir and Fikr,  Akhtar and his comrades bore the full brunt of the armed postcolonial state. Akhtar, who had begun writing and organizing the Progressive Writers Association as a full-time member of the Communist Party of Pakistan, was arrested in 1951 under the Safety Act. This – one of many subsequent stints in jail – led him to write his magnum opus Kaal Kothri (Death Cell), which has an unenviable place among the jail writings of the Indian subcontinent. The book was later banned owing to the graphic but true description of unbearable conditions prisoners had to face, but it also led to improvements in the diet of prisoners in the jails of Punjab. Akhtar’s other major literary achievement was his collection of pen-sketches titled Aashnaiyan Kya Kya (What All Friendships) which seamlessly melds the writer with his distinguished subjects to produce micro-histories documenting the very history and evolution of the PWA in united India and Pakistan.


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