Tribute to a nationalistic hawk-turned-peacemonger with a SouthAsian vision

Lahore, 1992: Dr Syeda Hameed with Dr Mubashir Hasan, uncle, comrade and mentor. Photo by Reza Kazim.

With the world in the grip of the novel coronavirus pandemic, it’s hard to find space for anything else. As horrors unfolded in country after country, exposing the hollowness behind military might, glittering capitalist facades, and exploitation, a gentle soul slipped into the hereafter at his house in Lahore. At 98, he had spent the last half of his life fighting for exactly the kind of egalitarian, people centered system that would have mitigated the ravages of Covid-19. There have been some wonderful tributes to Dr Mubashir Hasan. Two of the best I’ve seen are by his old friend I.A. Rehman and Indian journalist Nirupama Subramaniam in Indian Express, also published in Aman Ki Asha.

Below, my tribute to Dr M. in The News on Sunday last weekend, a follow up to my piece in The Wire earlier. Also below, two previously unpublished pieces I am honoured to present here — a powerful, poignant poem in Dr M’s memory by his niece in Delhi, and a lively little remembrance by a 12-year old based on her memories of the Chaukas collective meetings she attended with her mother, that led to A New Social Contract published by Dr M, 2016. Also linking here this tribute in Mainstream Weekly magazine, Kolkata, founded by Dr Mubashir’s friend Nikhil Chakravartty — “one of the greatest journalists of the subcontinent” as Dr M called him — now edited by his son Sumit Chakravartty.


A poetic tribute to Dr Mubashir Hasan in Lahore by Dr Syeda Hameed, his niece, protegee, and comrade-in-peace, in Delhi

Lahore, 1992: Dr Syeda Hameed with Dr Mubashir Hasan, uncle, comrade and mentor. Photo by Reza Kazim.

Woh dekha jaye kab ye zulm dekha jaaye hai mujh se
(How shall I bear to see this, this injustice)
— Ghalib*

Who was he?
Statesman poet writer ornithologist visionary?

His tall frame
Strode across South Asia
Rose to pinnacle of power
Rose and rose
Then easily gently
Let the power go into the void.

Soldier for peace
I saw him in halls and streets
Of Lahore Delhi Karachi Kolkata Bangalore
Amidst women and men who
With banners and songs
Asserted the longing of masses
For a world free of concertina wires and bloodied borders.
People whose voices usually are drowned in war
Until someone blasts that lethal noise

I saw him on Kolkata Esplande on Karachi stage
In Lahore Islamabad Madras Hyderabad Dhaka Kathmandu Columbo
He gathered South Asia in his embrace
In his long arms, his hands, his eyes,
His words were carefully chosen
Before Prime Ministers, Presidents, Students, Peasants
His voice was gentle, firm
His message unequivocal
Demanding the raising
Of the banner of humanity
Above all national flags.

Soft speech, kind touch, cluttered room uncluttered life
He guided our vessel
And left this earth with markings everywhere

I see him
Somewhere in the dark depths of unknown
Raising a salute to comrades left behind
On the parched terrain of South Asia
Knowing they will not let go
The plough and the furrow
Until the earth relents and dead land is torn by new sprouts.

*Mubashir Hasan lived and breathed the poetry of Mirza Ghalib

Dr Syeda Hameed is one of the founding members of the Muslim Women’s Forum India, a former member of the Planning Commission and the National Commission for Women, writer, activist, and educationist, and Padma Shri awardee.

“One of the greatest men I have ever met”

By Zahra Noorul Sahr Hasan

I’d like to say the first time I met Dr Mubashir Hassan remains fresh in my mind, but to tell the truth, I don’t remember it. In my head, I’ve known him all my life, and there’s never been a world where, somewhere, someplace, he didn’t exist. I can’t say that now. Today, on March 14th, 2020, Dr Mubashir passed away. He slipped away – he had been unwell for some time, around 11 AM, never to return. I heard the news in the car, on my way to Lahore – my father was speaking about it. Instantly, I was lost in a sea of childhood memories, as far back as I can remember.

I think my first actual memory of Dr Mubashir was going to a Chaukas, or as we called it, Samosa Party, meeting with my mother. I hid behind her legs the whole time and shied away when she made me say hello to everyone. Eventually, I grew to love saying hello to him, though I’m certain I didn’t show it, because (and I have no idea where this came from) he would call me Prime Minister – I was special.

Finally, it was time for the meeting to begin. I remember I always tried to listen in the beginning, but soon it got too boring, and I would reach into the bag I always brought and take out a book. I’d read, and when I was done, I’d look around the room. Aside from the people in it, the room was filled with the most interesting things; photographs on the wall, pictures of birds, and most excitingly, books! Books I could not yet read, but books that I promised myself, one day I would read. Then would come the samosas, and of course, the jalebi and chai, and everyone would eat and drink and talk and laugh, and finally, I could contribute. And after that, we would leave and come back next week, and the next and the next. Every week.

There are, of course, other memories, but that was probably the closest I got to him – just a meeting a week, perhaps a few lines of dialogue. It is my greatest regret that I never got to know him better than a couple of hazy memories of meetings and his dog. It is my greatest regret that my last memory of him was a body covered by a sheet. But I can’t change that now.

What I can do is say that even though I didn’t know him very well, Dr Mubashir was one of the greatest men I have ever met. He was so much more than just a random guy with Wikipedia page, and so much more than just a politician, and so much more than anyone could ever say. He was compassionate and incredible in every way. He smiled brightly and his eyes sparkled, and he was kind to me, and there is really no more I can say. Just that if he could make such an impression on me, through ten encounters, I can’t even begin to imagine the mark he left on others.

The man who wanted the world to be a better place

Visionary, nationalist, peacenik and birdwatcher, Dr Mubashir Hasan was all this and much more. Yet he found himself in the grip of a world not of his choice

by Beena Sarwar

There may be a potential film in Dr Mubashir Hasan’s 1966 blue Volkswagen Bug going around Lahore before the Pakistan People’s Party is launched in his garden. The VW bug will be a familiar sight for years in Dr M’s long red brick-paved driveway. His modest, single-storied bungalow on Gulberg Main Boulevard, is now sometimes hard to find, dwarfed increasingly by high-rises.

Lahore, 2013: Dr Mubashir Hasan at home, one of his framed bird photos behind him. Photo: Beena Sarwar

Until recently, on a sunny day in Lahore’s cold winter months, visitors can find Dr M, lying serenely on a charpai in the veranda overlooking the lawn where the PPP was launched in 1967. Behind the outward calm is an active mind constantly contemplating life, peace, politics – his passions – and trying to figure out how to make the world a better place.

Dr Mubashir Hasan’s regal bearing is accentuated by his tall, angular form. A slight, bemused smile typically belies his sharp gaze. He has the authoritarian manner of a man used to being heard and obeyed. But he also listens. And he continues working until he absolutely can’t, producing articles, books, papers and reports.

He worked with the top leadership in the Z.A. Bhutto’s year and was “senior enough to act as prime minister” during Bhutto’s absence from the country. Yet, he found himself to be, like his prime minister, “powerless in power”. These experiences inform his memoir The Mirage of Power (OUP, 2000). In 2016, he led the initiative along with over a dozen Pakistanis, to study what was wrong with Pakistan and suggest remedies – a new social contract outlined in “Making Pakistan a Tenable State”.

In his front living room, framed photos of birds line the walls. Dr M’s other passions include birds and photography. His Birds of the Indus (2001) is a ground-breaking book authored in collaboration with Tom J. Roberts, author of several photo-books on Pakistan’s birds, butterflies, and animals.

Even when bedridden in the last months of his life, he is concerned about peace in the region, never complains about his health. His voice when he speaks, is surprisingly strong, measured. Just days before he passes into the hereafter, when asked what message he’d like to give, he thinks not of his immediate family but of humankind at large. Every human being, he says, speaking with an effort, must try to be someone, to do something regardless of whether they are rich or poor, tradespeople or farmers.

It is fitting that the last public declaration he endorses is a joint statement by South Asian citizens expressing concern about India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act, in December 2019.

After all, he is the person who guided the launch of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy in 1994, a bold, unprecedented people-to-people organisation. PIPFPD brings Indians and Pakistanis together to discuss contentious issues, from Peace, Demilitarisation and Peace Dividends (after the 1998 tests, this includes Denuclearisation), to Kashmir, Religious Intolerance, and Democratic Governance. Globalization and Regional Co-operation are added at the 5th joint convention in Bangalore, 2000.

PIPFPD, Bangalore, 2000: Admiral Ramu Ramdas, Dr Mubshir Hasan, I.A. Rehman. Photo courtesy Lalita Ramdas

He pulls me, a young journalist in Lahore, into this loop, with the first PIPFPD convention in Delhi, 1994, and to South Asia related conferences. These aren’t joyrides. To be accepted into Dr M’s unofficial peace team without even knowing you applied, you have to prove yourself by writing reports, minutes, papers, making presentations. He is a strict taskmaster. There are deadlines. You don’t ask for payment.

The first assignment he gives me is to write a paper on ‘Strengthening democracy in South Asia: The role of human rights and rule of law’, presented at a South Asia Dialogue in Kathmandu, November 1994. Another task is to compile a directory of peace and human rights organisations in India and Pakistan. Dr Mubashir typically plays his cards close to his chest. He mentions later that he sent the directory to Stephen P. Cohen, the American political analyst and South Asia security expert who passed away last year. We don’t know what Cohen did with it.

Indian journalist Nikhil Chakravartty: A SouthAsian vision shared by his friend Dr Mubashir Hasan.

Dr Mubashir also articulates a vision for a South Asian Union along the lines of the European Union. If they can have visa-free borders, and common currency, and allow trade, travel, and tourism, why can’t we?

This from a man who was once a hawk and hard-line nationalist, Z.A. Bhutto’s close aide, finance minister who helped establish Pakistan’s Ministry of Science in 1972, as well as the Kahuta Research Laboratories and Pakistan’s nuclear project.

When India and Pakistan test nuclear weapons in 1998 Dr Mubashir staunchly opposes the adventurism, along with the organisations he helps steer, PIPFPD and HRCP. The PPP-Shaheed Bhutto party he had joined also issues a strong statement.

Dr Mubashir’s “remarkable transformation” as I.A. Rehman has termed it, takes place in the late 1980s during the Gen. Ziaul Haq military government. He becomes a founding member of the HRCP, joining Asma Jahangir who is behind the initiative together with other luminaries she gathers like retired justices Dorab Patel, Khuda Baksh Marri and Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, besides other luminaries like Air Marshal (rtd.) Zafar Choudhry. Most of them are no more.

Jan 2020, Lahore: I.A. Rehman and Dr Mubashir. Photo: Beena Sarwar

Despite occasional differences with Asma, Dr Mubashir admires and respects her open-heartedly. She too often seeks his counsel. Their discussions hone and add nuance to their views. He once observes happily that so many just called her “Asma” — not ‘Madam’ or ‘Begum Saab’ — showing how people ‘own’ her.

Asma Jahangir: Invited Dr Mubashir Hasan to be one of HRCP’s founder members, 1987. File photo, BBC

It is through the HRCP that I get to know Dr M, after being elected to its Council in 1993. As perhaps the youngest, least experienced member, I learn much at the twice-yearly meetings. Looking back, it is remarkable how much space seniors like Dr M gave novices like me to express ourselves, genuinely curious about our views.

Dr Mubashir Hasan’s remote, aristocratic demeanour bely his socialist heart and loving nature. We stay in touch over phone and email after I leave Lahore. In one phone conversation, after my move to the US some years ago, Dr Mubashir mentions a friend in the Boston area who I must meet, “a big peace activist” and author. One of his must-read books is The Lost Art of Healing (1996) about the importance of empathetic healthcare and the dangers of overmedication. Another is Prescription for Survival: A Doctor’s Journey to End Nuclear Madness (2008) a memoir about the formation of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, containing essential lessons in activism relevant even today.

Dr Bernard Lown’s Prescription for Survival and The Lost Art of Healing; Dr Mubashir Hasan’s The Mirage of Power.

The friend is Dr Bernard Lown, recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize along with fellow cardiologist, Russian Dr. Yevgeny I. Chazov, for having started IPPNW and countering the Cold War nuclear threat.

Dr Lown is about a year older than Dr M. He and his wife Louise hosted Dr Mubashir and his wife Dr Zeenat at their home years ago. When I meet him in 2017, Dr Lown terms Dr Mubashir as “the most beautiful, noble, refined human being”.

His focus has shifted to climate change as the biggest threat to the world today, but Dr Lown graciously endorses a statement for peaceful relations between India and Pakistan, that Dr Mubashir and over 1000 other eminent personalities of India, Pakistan and elsewhere have signed. The statement may have helped counter the war hype-narrative of early to mid-2017.

Boston, August 2017: Nobel Peace Laureate Dr Bernard Lown endorsing India Pakistan peace campaign. Photo: Beena Sarwar

After our meeting Dr Lown makes a phone call. He says later he is pleased to have had “a more than one-hour conversation with Mubashir and Zeenat in Lahore”. Regrettably, Dr M sounded pessimistic, he observes.

The pessimism is not new. In a 2015 email, Dr M writes, “…We find ourselves in the grip of a world not of our choice. We live in Pakistan and in many other places on this planet and in the circumstance of our world in a civilisation decline with no end in sight”.

But this is also the man who always found hope in political activism. No progressive movement, he tells me in one of our talks, has ever taken people backwards. I hold on to that as I now bid him farewell.

28 March: Post updated to include more links and Lahore photo credit.

One Response

  1. Another great post Keep it up

    Get Outlook for Android



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: