THE WAY IT WAS: Sadequain — as I knew him
Till his last breath
Syed Abid Ali
The campaign which was obviously aimed at inciting a public frenzy failed and the exhibition was extended beyond its scheduled closing date. All through this trying period Sadequain did not loose his cool even for a moment and his typical reaction was “Badnam agar hon gay tou kia naam na ho ga!”
Thinking of Sadequain, my memory gets over-crowded. Images and episodes chase one another. Another memory which is etched deeply in my mind and does not fade with the passage of time is the exhibition of his paintings that was held at the Punjab Art Council. While the discerning public and the English media praised the work and welcomed the revival of Sadequain’s painting prowess after a prolonged love affair with calligraphy, one of Lahore’s well known Urdu newspapers launched a campaign of vilification — using words like fahashi and uryaini to describe his works.
One columnist even had the nerve of calling him haramzada Sadequain. Probably the editor of the paper shared the writer’s bad taste for this phrase was not edited out and was published. The citizens of Lahore thankfully had better taste. The campaign which was obviously aimed at inciting a public frenzy failed and the exhibition was extended beyond its scheduled closing date. All through this trying period Sadequain did not loose his cool even for a moment and his typical reaction was “Badnam agar hon gay tou kia naam na ho ga!”
In late 1981 I shifted to Karachi to look after the establishment (and eventually would end up managing the BCCI foundation). By this time Sadequain had also settled down in Karachi and once again we enjoyed a prolonged period of being together in the same city and could meet and enjoy each other’s company regularly. This lasted almost till his last breath. I purposely said almost, because a day before he died, I had to accompany the dead body of my brother in law, Ajmad Akram to Lahore. He had been visiting his newly-wed daughter, Shirin who was my niece and daughter-in-law and had suffered a massive heart attack. He passed away immediately and I was compelled to go to Lahore. I was still there when my son, Sarmad Ali, rang me up at 3 o’ Clock the next morning to say that Sadequain was no more.
He had died of various complications in the OMI hospital, some two weeks after I had him shifted there from the Jinnah Hospital. The well-known heart specialist who was supposed to be looking after him at Jinnah was not doing a very good job. Disgusted with his “couldn’t care less” attitude, we thought it better to shift him to a private hospital.
I still remember how we reached this decision. Nazi and I visited Sadequain in the so-called CCU of Jinnah hospital, located in century old barracks that stank like a toilet. And if that was not enough, there were flies and mosquitoes everywhere. When I went to complain to the cardiologist in charge of the Unit who knew Sadequain well and had attended him earlier, he accompanied me to the CCU.
The first thing he said to Sadequain as he walked in was, “Sadequain, after smoking like a Glasgow chimney and drowning yourself in the water of Scotland, what miracle do you want me to perform?”
This put me off and I made arrangements to shift him to the care of Dr SM Raza, the well-known and friendly cardiologist, at OML.
His condition did improve but he soon suffered another heart attack and was re-admitted to the CCU on February 4, 1987. Seriously ill, even in those days he kept working. He finished a beautiful pen sketch of a female figure and the calligraphy of Iqbal’s verse
Hava hay go tund-o-tez laiken chairagh apna jala raha hay
who mard-e-dervesh haq nay jis ko diyay hain andaz-e-khisrwana
How appropriate it turned out to be when the end came a few days later. According to his wishes, Anwar gave his last two works to me. They are my most cherished and prized possessions.
Having spent a lifetime with him, one can continue to talk about Sadequain... but perhaps some other time.
Syed Abid Ali is a former Director General Public Relations Pakistan, Punjab and the founding Secretary-General of the PNCA. This is the last part of a three-part series