Abdul Basit Haqqani's world of imagination is an ill-smelling Hades where slimy creatures slither amid fumes of eternal, predetermined damnation. The farting Pir of Khaccharwaaley exerts his oily loins to give birth to a monkey and a bearded monstrosity named Gumsum; another product of his plentiful sperm is the son of the feudal lord, Malik Sahib, who marries the daughter of another semi-divine feudal lord, Shah Sahib, his bridal night copulation smelling of cow dung. Malik Sahib becomes the Prime Minister with the help of General Shamsheer-O-Sanaa' Awwal whose ace civil servant inducts his class-fellow Justice lbnulwaqat into the feudal landscape where Molvi Fitna shares the spoils of lust masqueranding as religion with Allama Fasad Baidard Sharpassand – while engineer Baikaar Mistry goes on building roads that peel off like onions. The citizens of Khaccharwaaley are welcome to read the novel as allegory.
The Punjabi phrase is ‘If a lost soul finds his way home come nightfall, we do not call him lost anymore’. That about sums up Basit Haqqani, and his book for me. As a bright young student, back in the early sixties, he wrote for, and edited the ‘Ravi’, literary magazine of Government College, Lahore. He debated, mucked about and acted in the GCDC plays in their heyday; he played a snot-nosed Barnaby in ‘The Matchmaker’ which had all the mother instincts drooling; and then a cheeky Puzer in ‘The Lawyer’. He was one of those bright young things for whom the world was their oyster.
One thought he was well on the way when he joined the College to teach English. Those were heady days with Jojo and Basit and I, fresh-faced and still green behind the gills soaking in the very best of what old Lahore had to offer. The older generation of Profs Siraj and Rashid, Dr. lmdad and Safdar Mir Saab hovered in the background, and a whole generation of the Tariq Alis and Shahid Rehmans, the Samis and Shabbus, the lggies and Khalid Ahmeds and Nigar Ahmeds came and sowed their wild oats and went their way, only to see us through the rest of our, or their, lives.
He sought greener pastures in the Foreign Service, and we occasionally caught up when he came visiting from his early postings in Bonn – having left his car parked in the middle of the Autobahn; it had CD number plates and the Hun Police could do nothing about it. Najam Sethi and Rashid had caught up with us. and our shenanigans of the time are for nostalgic evenings by the fireside, not for the inside flap of his novel.
One has delved into it to confirm what one always thought. The thirty-five years spent in the capitals of nations, whatever use they might have been. were years in the wilderness. The old fire still smoulders. and we might have done well without the interregnum. But no matter. as I said, if a lost soul finds .
Publisher: VANGUARD BOOKS
Author: ABDUL BASIT HAQQANI