A. Hameed had earned public fame and critical acclaim with his very first story Manzil Manzil (Destinations) which was published in Adab-e-Latif, one of the premier literary magazines of the time. He had established a distinct identity for himself in the literary world. He was now known as a gifted romantic writer who weaves magic with his pen. After working for some time with the newly established Radio Azad Kashmir, A. Hameed gave some direction to his nomadic life and became a full time writer. He used to earn good royalty from his stories which he spent on best clothes, best cigarettes and all day long tea session at Pak Tea House, Shezan, Chinese Lunch Home and other restaurants and tea houses. He also started working with several magazines; most of them run by his friends. He was living a beautiful life. He abhorred the idea of status and riches. To him, a man’s dreams were his greatest possessions.

A. Hameed wrote his debut novel Darbay (Boxes) in 1952. The story was based on his personal experiences and observations of the partition and the suffering and human tragedy it brought. The title Darbay refers to the tiny, barely habitable houses in which the refugee families were living after being uprooted. The novel reads more like a prolonged observation through the miserable lives of people who had to leave their homes and possessions, lost their loved ones and are bearing the burden of their lives. The narrative is gripping and takes the reader’s imagination to the depth of human condition. When it was published, Darbay was highly appreciated for its realistic portrayal of a great tragedy and empathetic approach. Partition was a fresh wound in the hearts of many and Darbay became a source of solace for them. I read somewhere about an old man who used to keep his copy of Darbay all wrapped up in a cover just like a holy book. Today, like most of A. Hameed’s work, Darbay has become an ignored masterpiece. Its last edition which came out ages ago is still available but only at its publisher’s outlet.

Majority of A. Hameed’s audiences were school or college going young women. Every day, he received a bunch of letters from his female fans. Rehana Qamar, who attended Kinnaird College, was one of A. Hameed’s many die-hard fans. She was herself a writer. Her short stories had been published in magazines. She fell in love with A. Hameed’s fiction. A pen relationship between them soon turned into a passionate romance. They used to spend afternoons together in Lawrence Gardens. A. Hameed had finally found the love of his life. However, prospects of marriage were bleak. He earned enough from his work with different publications and as a freelance writer but both families seemed to think that he doesn’t have a serious job. His in-laws had a simple question for him: “What is a writer?” It was most certainly a refusal at first but Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi intervened and gave assurance to Rehana’s family that the groom earns well and will be able to take care of their daughter. They were finally married in 1954. A. Hameed and Rehana would spend rest of their lives madly in love with each other. Their love story which I have witnessed with my own eyes was more real and passionate than any love legend I have ever heard.

A. Hameed and Rehana Qamar

In 1955, A. Hameed joined Radio Pakistan, Lahore as a script writer. It was the golden age of Radio Pakistan. It had gathered a galaxy of the finest musicians of the age, maestros of classical music, senior poets, writers and intellectuals within one institution. After Partition, a whole new generation of artists from all fields joined the radio and took it to such glory and excellence which remains matchless to this day. A. Hameed worked as a staff artist at radio for four decades. It was an ideal job for him. There were no specific working hours. All he needed to do was to write scripts for the day. He spent rest of the time with radio artists. At Radio Pakistan, A. Hameed met and built lifelong friendships with legendary artists and intellectuals from all fields. The environment at the radio enriched his life and work. It was a soulful, beautiful world of music, poetry and drama. It was just like a dream in a world full of reality. In 1980s, A. Hameed got the opportunity to travel to United States and work for Voice of America’s Urdu service. He started missing Lahore on his very first night in the US and spent the rest of his days waiting to come back home. It was a prestigious job and also offered an opportunity to permanently settle in United States, but he didn’t stay a day longer than his contract required. Throughout his time in Washington, he kept dreaming about the narrow lanes of Mochi Darwaza, Kulchay of Delhi Darwaza, flower shops outside Lohari, winters of Lahore, and Goonglu Gosht (turnip and mutton curry) cooked by Rehana. Out of his years in America came out the masterpiece travelogue America No! which was written as a series for Nawai Waqt’s Sunday magazine. It starts with the night of his arrival in United States and moves on to explore a strange country and an alien culture in his characteristic style and humor. A major part of the book is about Pakistanis living in America. America No! is one of A. Hameed’s best works.

Apart from his work at Radio Pakistan, A. Hameed kept writing as a freelance writer. He wrote over 200 books, mostly to meet the ends. As a result, over the years his fiction became repetitive. There were similar story elements in every novel. When asked about it, he simple replied:

“The spring is always the same every year, yet people adore it”.

In his stories, there was always a burning love story pitted against the entire world, an ailing girl with an illegitimate pregnancy, a brave angel like romantic hero, natural imagery, coffee, tea, flowers, rains, lots of Burma, lots of Lahore and lots of Amritsar. It’s a pity that a truly gifted writer like A. Hameed had to become a laborer of pen and waste his talents in writing sub standard and popular fiction which may have sold out well but faded away soon. Still, A. Hameed was able to write some works of fiction which are masterpieces by every definition of the term. A few are discussed in the following.

A. Hameed playing sitar

Bahaar ka Aakhri Phool (Last Flower of the Bloom) is based on the life and times of an Indian royal princess who spends her life wandering from one country to another in pursuit of true love. The story takes the reader to the fascinating world of royal palaces of India, beauty of Paris and rural France, mystique of the jungles of Bengal, thrill and excitement in the world of thugs in central India, spirituality of the Bhakti and the horrors during the Second World War in Burma. The style of writing is absolutely marvelous, delicately making its way through nature’s abundant beauty and sensitivity of protagonist’s feelings and leaving a lasting impression on the reader’s mind. 

Jheel aur Kanwal (Lake and the Lotus) is another fine novel from A. Hameed’s pen. It’s based on a young Indian man’s experiences through love and life in early 1940s Burma. Anwar reaches Rangoon, the capital city of Burma after crossing black waters of the Bay of Bengal in search of livelihood. Rangoon is the city of pagodas, rains, coconuts, lotus flowers, gardens, music and romance. Anwar finds work at Urdu service of Radio Burma and starts enjoying an independent life in Rangoon which slowly unfolds its beauty to him. His heart wanders in search of love from the extinguishing light of an ailing neighborhood girl’s eyes to the beauty of a Bengali girl’s melodious voice to the purity of a Burmese girl’s soul. His days and nights in Rangoon are spent just like a beautiful dream. Soon, flames of the Second World War turn this dream into a nightmare. Later part of the novel presents a painfully real picture of the Japanese occupation of Burma, bombing on Rangoon and other cities, mass exodus of Indians towards Bengal, the horrors they faced during their frightful escape in the Arakan Mountains and the tragic end seen by very few who could make it to India alive. Jheel aur Kanwal is a masterpiece of storytelling and a novel worth reading.

A. Hameed

Zard Gulaab (Yellow Rose), a novelette is one of the best works of A. Hameed. One fine day, he saw a beautiful yellow rose while passing through a garden. It fascinated him deeply and became the inspiration for this novelette. It’s the story of a young girl who was just like a yellow rose. She was the youngest daughter in the family and was very quiet and shy. Being a dreamer, she found a companion in literature. She used to live in a quiet, romantic world of her own. There was a world of difference between her dreams and world’s reality. Soon, life started robbing her of her dreams. She endured the cruelty of life until her last dream was broken and died with it.

To be continued...