When I dig into my old memories, I recall that I read my first book when I was eight years old. We used to have a library at school but all it offered were children’s books and comics. One day, my sister who was in secondary school by then brought a novel from her library. I don’t remember the name of the book but its author was A. Hameed. It was a serial from his famous Imran-Kamran series based on the adventures of two brothers. All I remember from the story is that one of the two brothers is in forced captivity and his heart is going to be transplanted in an old Maharaja’s body. One of the characters come across a grave and is told that its occupant was the first scientist who theorized that earth revolves around sun instead of the other way round. He was killed as reward for his dangerous discovery. Of course, today the storyline sounds very silly but for a child it was absolutely fascinating. So, A. Hameed was the very first writer I read. Around this time or a year or so later, his weekly column Baarish Samawaar Khushbu in Nawai Waqt Sunday magazine became my obsession. In those days he was writing one of his numerous supernatural/adventure novels as a series. It was named Weeran Haveli ka Aasaib (Ghost of the Abandoned Mansion). Forgive me if I’m carried away by emotion, but honestly the pleasure of waiting for its episode for a whole week and then reading it with such relish every Sunday morning was a glad feeling I never knew again. I was introduced to a fantastic world of endless thrill, feeling and imagination. It brought out the dreamer inside me. It was so much more than Harry Potter to me, which I read and absolutely loved a few years later. I remember reading the last episode with great sadness. The magic was gone. Unfortunately, I hadn’t saved its episodes. Fast forward ten or eleven years, one stormy October evening, I find myself in old Lahore looking for a publisher’s office. For the first time in all these years, I had seen a mention of Weeran Haveli ka Aasaib on a flap of one of A. Hameed’s books. It was compiled and published in two volumes and was only available at its publisher’s. I crossed Anarkali bazaar, came out on Circular Road and found the publisher’s officer in the corner of a building near Bhati gate. They gave me a very good discount when they heard about my obsession. However, I was in for a huge disappointment. Back home when I started reading the novel I found it extremely boring and silly. I realized that the magic was in my feelings and my childhood and not in the story. In childhood, when I read about Bombay in the novel, I imagined Indian Ocean, ships and vessels, palm trees and some really good music. Now that I was familiar with the city’s landscape and people, the image in mind came from reality instead of imagination. My thinking and perceptions had considerably matured in all those years. It’s a universal phenomenon. When you go back to dear things and places of your childhood, you don’t get that old feeling.

I went to secondary school in the spring of 2001. There was a big library in the school with an impressive collection. An entire section was dedicated to Urdu literature . I saw a number of A. Hameed titles in literature section and this is where I was introduced to his romantic literature. Bahaar ka Aakhri Phool (Last Flower of the Bloom), Jheel aur Kanwal (Lake and the Lotus), Dhoop aur Shagoofay (Sunlight and Blossoms) and Zard Gulab (Yellow Rose) were among the books I loved reading and re reading several times during my school life. My obsession with A. Hameed’s novels, particularly Bahar ka Aakhri Phool and Jheel aur Kanwal became a joke among my teachers and class mates. These books opened an endless world of dreams, beauty and imagination to me. I was so entranced that I became a loner and started spending recess and sports time in the library.      

I recall that I had the good fortune to talk to A. Hameed on telephone a couple of times. My journal tells me that it was 22nd May 2005 when I first talked to him. There’s an interesting story behind it. Even after searching for a long time, I couldn’t find A. Hameed’s contact. None of the newspapers or publishers was willing to give it away. Finally, I called famous writer Bano Qudsia because A. Hameed was great friends with her husband Ashfaq Ahmad. She too expressed her inability to help me. I had recently read her book Chahar Chaman so I thought why not “enlighten” her with my opinion. I actually had the guts to say that her stories are packed with philosophy which makes them very boring. The kind lady asked my age and said that I will understand with age. Finally, someone in a very good mood at Nawai Waqt, divulged A. Hameed’s telephone number and I dialed it. I heard a very dense and polite voice on the other end. I was finally speaking to A. Hameed. First thing which he asked me in a very secretive tone was whether I’m a Kashmiri or not. We talked about tea, jungles, rains, flowers, fragrances, eucalyptus trees, Amritsar, Burma, Lahore and so much more. He told me that Jheel or Kanwal was mostly autobiographical and a labor of love. Kamla Mathur, the radio singer was a very beautiful girl in real life. He also talked about his life as a wanderer before partition. “Can you get a visa to visit a dense forest in South India now days? He asked me. He said that he was going to start writing his autobiography (Unfortunately, it remained incomplete). Those precious few minutes passed like a flash. My second conversation with A. Hameed was as brief as the first one.   

It was spring season and the year was 2011. One day, I was skimming through Bahaar ka Aakhri Phool when I thought I should get A. Hameed’s autographs on his books. So after many years I once again dialed his telephone number. When I asked for him, A. Hameed’s daughter in law told me that he’s being treated for acute pulmonary complications at Jinnah Hospital for two months and was taken into intensive care fifteen days ago. I was shocked and deeply saddened. The very next day, I picked up a bunch of yellow and red roses and went to see A. Hameed. ICU was on the second floor. A nurse told me that flowers are not allowed inside ICU. I left them on the counter outside. A. Hameed’s bed was right in front of the entrance. He was lying there unconscious. Several tubes were attached to his body. An oxygen mask covered half his face. There was swelling at many places on his body. I couldn’t bear this sorry site for more than a few minutes nor did the staff allow me to stay for too long. When I was picking my flowers from the counter, the nurse told me “If you want to meet his wife, she’s in room 18”.

I was admitted to room 18 with a polite “Aa jaen” (come in). A little old woman was sitting on a couch beside the window. She was looking at me with interest. “You must be his admirer” she said when she saw flowers and A. Hameed’s books in my hands. Rehana Hameed was a beautiful woman even in her later years. She had a pinkish fair complexion. There was a deep sadness on her face. Her gray hairs were simply tied in a knot. She was wearing a light lipstick. I remember her shalwar qameez had a beautiful design of an orange base and pink and scarlet floral pattern. And I thought Maharani Vishali from Bahaar ka Aakhri Phool has come to life. She had a newspaper in her hand and a telephone beside her. She was reading a column on A. Hameed written by Atta ul Haq Qasmi. I presented flowers. “What use are they to me? You brought them for him.”

Hameed and his wife Rehana

“They won’t let me take flowers inside ICU. You keep them. To me it’s the same thing”.

“You tell these flowers to stay fresh until he recovers” Her eyes were glistening with little tears. She took a deep breath and said “Inshallah, he will recover. Allah has promised me that. He’ll give autographs on his books. It’s not a big deal for Allah to heal an ailing man. It’s just asthma, not a fatal disease.”  She wiped her tears. “I have been weeping here for one and a half months now. It has ruined my eyes. These doctors are good for nothing. He was absolutely fine when we brought him here. He could walk, meet people, and eat without help. I don’t know what they’ve done to him. It’s all a hoax. They kill a healthy man with their treatment. He was so healthy that he used to write all night long and never even had a headache.”

She had to call and thank Atta ul Haq Qasmi for his column so I went to ICU’s waiting area to wait for A. Hameed’s son Masood, who is an artist and a lecturer at National College of Arts. I was actually there to see Masood Hameed. Meeting Rehana was a very lucky coincidence. After some time I spotted a tall man with salt and pepper hair and mustache entering the hall. It was Masood. He greeted me most graciously and took me to his father’s bed. A nurse briefed him about his father’s condition. Masood was very calm and pleasant with the staff and everyone seemed to have good terms with him. His courage and faith in such a difficult time greatly surprised me. We came out of the ICU and proceeded to room 18.

Rehana Hameed

“I am more worried about mother. I don’t know how to handle her if something happens to my father” He said on our way. When we entered the room, Rehana had finished talking to Qasmi. Mother and son started talking in a beautiful Punjabi dialect.

“Qasmi was saying that he has talked to doctors. They say that when we brought him to hospital there was no hope that he would survive,” said Rehana.

“Yeah, and when his condition deteriorated, you didn’t let them take him to ICU for two days. Ammi, please come out of ‘novel, afsanay.’ Doctors know their job. Abbu’s internal condition was so bad which we couldn’t see,” Masood said. “I am going home; I’ll bring lunch for you. Why don’t you come home with me and take some rest? You are here for so many days”  

“No, I can’t go home” Rehana was very sure of herself. “When my mind is not at peace, house is no different from hospital.”

“Yar, these flowers are very beautiful,” Masood said.

“Yes, very beautiful,” Rehana added.

“I’ll take them home.”

“Yes, show them to the children.”

We took our leave. I was at a complete loss of words. There was no way I could console Rehana. I could only say “He’ll recover soon. Your love will bring him back.”

“You have affection for him too. Do pray for him”

Masood Hameed

I find it difficult to describe my feelings about that brief meeting with Rehana. I was absolutely amazed and speechless. They were people from another time and their love was a love from another age. I had never seen something like that before. It felt like A. Hameed’s stories have come to life. They were not fiction. It was all true, the talk of pure love, selflessness and beauty. I had seen A. Hameed barely alive in the ICU but his wife was confident that he will come back. She was tormented by the separation from her beloved just like a young girl. She just could not bear the thought of his dying. They were together for fifty seven years and still hopelessly in love with each other. I was my good fortunate that I have seen a true love with my own eyes, truer than all the love legends.    

I was overwhelmed with emotion when Masood thanked me for coming when we left the room. “That man has given me so much, so many worlds I could never have known otherwise. He brought out my sensitivity, my sense of beauty. I had to come. It was the least I could do.”

It was the first and last time I saw A. Hameed. For many days after that, I was so overwhelmed by feeling that I couldn’t think of anything other than A. Hameed, Rehana and Masood. I finally gathered my thoughts and wrote an essay on that day’s meeting. I talked to Khalid Behzad Hashmi Sahab of Nawai Waqt Sunday Magazine about it. He said he would like to see what I’ve written. The next day, when I went to his office he had a sad smile on his face and said, “Haven’t you heard? He died last night.”

I remember it was a beautiful rainy day.