Dr Afzal Mirza
When in 1967 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto launched Pakistan Peoples Party at a gathering of like-minded people it was not just a coincidence that majority of them were intellectuals. They were quite different from the later crop of the politicians that emerged after 1985 elections who were mainly from feudal class or businessmen and other nova riche upstarts. The reason was that the political parties boycotted the elections and genuine politicians did not contest the elections.In spite of his feudal background ZAB had an intellectual streak in him. His Oxford days friend Prof Rashid Badshah used to tell me that Bhutto was a voracious reader. So among that group in 1967 one could find those who used to participate in heated political and academic discussions at different forums and were determined to change the exploitative system of the country. Haneef Ramay happened to be an important member of that group. I had first seen him in Government College Lahore where he was a little senior to us and was doing masters in economics. In early 1950s GC could rightly boast of a number of students who later rose to prominence in different walks of life in the country. Ramay’s contemporaries were Muzaffar Ali Syed, Ghalib Ahmad, Javed Shahin, Mahmud Salim Jillani (now Dr M.S.Jillani) Shahzad Ahmad, Dr Mahbubulhaq and others who were all boarders of the new hostel where the famous poet and academician Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum was the superintendent. The atmosphere was thus most congenial for literary and artistic activity. Ramay a thin lean. an introvert and shy person at that stage did not show any interest in the college union activities and college politics but loved to paint and participate in the literary gatherings of the college as a back bencher.
After his masters he joined the family publishing business and used to embellish the books published by Maktaba-e-Jadid with his calligraphic designs. During those days his company published two beautifully Ramay designed books of poetry authored by Majid Amjad and Akhtarul Iman. He was also involved in Company’s literary quarterly magazine Savera and to him goes the credit of introducing famous novelist Abdullah Hussain to the literary world. As the story goes Abdullah Hussain whose real name is Mohammad Khan wrote his novel while working as a shift chemist in Daudkhal Cement Factory and brought it to him for publication. Ramay suggested to him to change his name to Abdullah Hussain as Mohammad Khan would not attract the readers and before publishing the novel he published some of his short stories and novellas in Savera under his new pen name to prepare the ground for publication of Udas Naslein. His plan worked and Abdullah Hussain is one of the country’s important writers. As after the take over of Progressive Papers Ltd by Ayub government the circulation of Lail-o-Nahar was dwindling Ramay took the right decision of starting a weekly magazine Nusrat. As against the original Lail-o-Nahar Ramay’s magazine was apolitical with emphasis on literary writings of all schools of thought. Ramay as portrayed by some writers was never a supporter of progressive writers’ movement. He was more inclined towards religion and spirituality which can be seen from his later writings in his books Dubb-e-Akbar, Islam ki Roohani Qadrein, Maut Nahin Zindagi and his only English novel Again. It seems that at a later stage he drew inspiration from his teacher Safdar Mir who was experimenting in metaphysical thought after delving deep into Marxism. So his magazine Nusrat started publishing articles on religious issues written by the writers who espoused for Ijtihad and bringing Islam in line with modern day requirements. Among them one could find Ghulam Ahmad Parvez, Safdar Mir, Ghulam Jillani Barq, Prof Muhammad Usman, Fateh Muhammad Malik and others. It was during that period that I met him for the first time in his small office on Macleod Road. I was accompanied by Prof Tahir Farooq .I had written a few poems and a translation of Alberto Moravia for Nusrat and Ramay was happy that I came to see him. He had a pleasant personality. Being artist he grew long hair and interestingly he never changed his disposition even after becoming the chief executive of the provincial government. Incidentally my old College friend Javed Shaheen was also working in Nusrat those days. Both Ramay and Javed Shaheen entertained us to tea and discussed the current literary situation including a few of my contributions to the magazine.
Ramay’s involvement in political affairs began in 1964 when Ayub Khan contested elections against Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah. As we remember it was a tough competition and ruling circles were greatly scared of the popularity of Miss Jinnah. The ruling party appointed ZAB as its general secretary and Ramay joined its publicity wing and I believe that not only Ramay’s company made some money out of it he also came closer to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In 1970 elections therefore ZAB made him in-charge of the publicity wing of PPP and he discharged his job with great success. Ramay’s Nusrat which was hitherto apolitical suddenly became a political magazine and its enormous popularity led Bhutto to make Ramay as the editor of daily Musawat. When Bhutto’s manifesto of socialism came under fire from the rightists and ruling circles it was Ramay who gave it the name of Islamic Socialism and wrote forceful articles in its support. These articles and writings of some other writers were later published in the book entitled Islamic Socialism edited by Haneef Ramay. After the dismemberment of Pakistan when PPP formed the governments in the left-over country Ramay served as finance minister and chief minister of Punjab. His appointment as chief minister of Pakistan ‘s feudal dominated biggest province where thus far only politicians of feudal background had assumed this office was indeed unprecedented . Unlike other Punjab politicians Ramay came from a middle class background. Their family had migrated to Lahore from a small village near Shiekhupura a small town a few hours’ distance from Lahore. As expected his tenure therefore did not last long and soon he had to part ways with his party and its chief. His fault was that he espoused the cause of the ordinary people of Punjab. Unfortunately his political career took him away from literature but as chief minister he made it a point to initiate some of the development projects related to art and literature. Among these the building of Arts Council designed by Nayyar Ali Dada is a living testimony to his devotion to art. Whenever free from his other obligations he would also participate in literary functions. I remember that only once I met him in passing when he was in power. He had come to preside over the launching ceremony of Mahmood Shaam’s book entitled Cardiospasm. It goes to his credit that in spite of his heavy duties he made it a point to chair the function of his old literary friend.
Falling from grace cost him heavily. He had to undergo incarceration and that too in Lahore Fort‘s infamous interrogation center. He was released when the government changed. Ziaulhaq like all military dictators wanted to elicit the support of all those who were victimized by the previous government and for a while Ramay did think of supporting the dictator . Those days he and Shaheen Ramay came to an exclusive dinner at my brother in law Dr Salman Siddiqi’s house and we talked about the current political situation . He was upset with what happened to him but soon regained his poise and gave up the idea of supporting the martial law regime because it was against the principles he stood for. During that period he took some decisions that he would later on regret. To participate in the elections called by Zia which were then called off by him Ramay formed Musawat Party. Soon he realized that a politician with middle class background and scarcity of funds can not run a political party and he merged it into Jatoi’s National Peoples Party. When the elections were postponed indefinitely he chose to go into exile in USA. There he ran a gas station and concentrated on calligraphy and worked on a novel in English . When political activities were resumed in Pakistan he returned to Pakistan and rejoined Peoples Party. During the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto he contested elections from Lahore and won a seat in the provincial assembly. He was then elected as speaker of the Punjab Assembly.
As speaker and later when Farooq Leghari dissolved the assemblies he resumed his public activities holding exhibitions of his calligraphic paintings and speaking at functions. Disgusted with another dictatorship in the country he shifted to America again and was living in Florida with his second wife Joyce for the last few years. His English novel Again was published by Xlibris Corporation USA in 2000. The novel as its flap indicates is, “An elegant vision of the regeneration of our global human family, symbolized by Adamian, Second Adam. He is sent to the first Adam to obtain the essential human experience on which to rebuild a more loving, joyous and hopeful world.” He recently returned to Pakistan for a short stay but slipped and fell in his son’s home just a day before his departure for USA. Perhaps the fate wanted him to be buried in the soil of his native land. Ramay was a down to earth person. Last time I met him when he was waiting in a queue to enter the hall in Lahore where Naom Chomsky had come to speak. He had no pretensions of being a former speaker, governor or a chief minister. He was the same thin lean and tall person but his long thick hair had gone gray and there were wrinkles of years on his face. It never occurred to me that I am meeting him for the last time.(End)