Remembering Masood Hasan

His unaffected fluency of style, says Shaista Sonnu Sirajuddin, came from a place of deep empathy and humour

Remembering Masood Hasan
The last proper conversation I had with Masood was a little over a month ago. He phoned me to ask if I had space in my ménage for two stray puppies across the road from his house—“they are very sweet little things, and I feel so sorry for them sheltering under the trees from the rain.” Much earlier in our friendship, that stretched over many years, I came home one afternoon to find an injured kite waiting on my doorstep with the message ‘yeh Masood sahib ne apnay daftar se bheji hai’. Fortunately, the bird recovered thanks to Dr. Raza’s ministrations and my gourmet meals of raw meat and took flight, clearly delighting in its freedom. I also recall when Tutu was terminally ill—Masood would just call to unburden himself for a few minutes of the dead weight of helplessness that facing the inevitable brings. He had sat in the parking lot outside his office and just wept one morning during this time. This was the kind and gentle man I remember, who found it perfectly natural to cry for an animal.

[quote]During a performance of Shakespeare in England, he asked de sotto voce, "what language are they speaking in?"[/quote]

And because he could cry, he could laugh and make others laugh. Much can be said about his wit, his Thurberesque tongue-in-cheek humour and biting critiques. Every week he would take the lid off some choice piece of what it is to be a citizen in this land of the pure. Whether it was our economy moving ‘anti-clockwise’, the idiotic platitudes and clichés that pepper our thinking and writing, the joyous Pakistani mutilation of the English language, the chained lotas in public toilets, our jaw-jaw with the bearded beneficients from hell or a poignant farewell to an old friend as he walks out of life and back towards the cricket pavilion. His range was inexhaustible, just like his seemingly endless stock of corny jokes he was ever-ready to tell, on the phone or in person. Nothing was too serious or too trivial to be filtered through the distinctive Masood Hasan lens of the quizzical and colloquially eloquent. His humour was always inclusive, within reach of one’s own experience. With a nose and an eye for our daily national inanities and an unaffected fluency of style, he was the least boastful or egotistical of writers and indeed, in my experience, of men. He could point the butt of laughter against himself—as when during a performance of Shakespeare in England, to the dismay and disbelief of his wife, herself a Shakespearean scholar, he asked de sotto voce, “what language are they speaking in?”

I feel that his love and knowledge of jazz had an integral connection with the nature and nuances of his humour. That his satiric edge was underscored by a humanity which embraced homo sapiens and creatural life alike. As a reader of his columns recently said to me, ‘woh insaniyat ki zubaan boltey they’. In this time of kali yug, as our clattering and unshepherded train hurtles toward the heart of darkness, Masood’s voice and laughter will be sorely missed. But one also realizes that life and love and loss are the price we pay for living, and the debt of gratitude we owe to men like him. His legacy is “…that of the fabulous horn,/Or that of the sudden shower/When all streams are dry,/Or that of the hour/When the swan must fix his eye/Upon a fading gleam,/Float out upon a long/Last reach of glittering stream/And there sing his last song.”

It is also important to be mindful of the role his family played in his life. His stalwart partner, Ira, who with her own characteristic qualities of warmth and honesty stood by him through the good times and the bad of their life together; the loving care and maturity of his two boys and Rachel, and of course his beloved brother. I feel certain that now Masood breathes freely and easily, and that among his many much loved “meeters and greeters” in the next world there will be a little four-footed contingent—Patch, Tutu, Cocoa and Brandy when he is ready, to rejoice and gambol around him.