From Work Mistry to Word Mistry

Sahil Rasgotra. Updated: 6/21/2017 9:25:57 PM

Khalid Husain is one of the most celebrated writers of this era, known world over for his short stories in Punjabi and Urdu. The fact that he has carved out a niche for himself in Punjabi and Urdu literature fraternity as the leading short story writer despite of being born in and growing up in a Dogri speaking place speaks of his greatness. Author of over 150 short stories, the huge respect he commands in the contemporary literature is further accentuated by a plethora of awards and honors conferred upon him. This renowned writer is also respected in administrative circles of the state as he has served in administration in various capacities, joining service as a Work Mistry (a Mason) before moving up the ranks and retiring as the Deputy Commissioner. But has the journey to the top been easy for Khalid? No! In fact, his journey has been nothing short of an up-and-down roller coaster ride.
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Khalid was born in Ramnagar, a Dogri speaking area of Udhampur. He was hardly 2 years of age when he lost his entire family except his mother, in the communal violence that erupted in 1947. The following years were very difficult as her mother along with him lived in different refugee camps of Jammu for 6 years, sewing clothes to make the ends meet. Later the family relocated to Ustad Mohalla in the old city, home to mainly Punjabi speaking Muslims, where Khalid was influenced by their raw and unsophisticated Punjabi dialect full of idioms and proverbs, which he later adopted in his writing. As it was getting difficult with the meager income his mother used to make, Khalid took it upon him to earn something for the family. He recalls the incident, “After my Matriculation exams in 1960, I went to then Development Commissioner Agha Muzaffar and asked for a job. He appointed me as a Work Mistry, my salary being Sixty rupees per month. After I passed my exams, I was promoted as a Clerk.”

The life went smooth for years as Khalid got married too. It was only after the birth of his first daughter that he realized his income would be barely enough to give his children a safe and comfortable future. This made him resume his studies as he completed his graduation and then a correspondence certificate course in Journalism from Hyderabad University. While his enhanced educational qualification saw him getting promoted in his job, Khalid also started editing various Urdu magazines like Sandesh, Amarat and Waqt in jammu; and Hamdard, Political Times, Roshni , Canvas and Zamindar in Kashmir in his spare time, contributing towards his income.

His editing stint along with extensive reading led Khalid to write as well. Knowing many languages like Urdu, Hindi, English, Pahari, Gojri, Dogri, Kashmiri and Punjabi, it was very difficult for Khalid to choose one to begin with and he chose Punjabi in the end. In the All India Punjabi Writers Conference that was held in Jammu in 1973, Khalid recited his work with greats writers like Krishan Chander, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Tapasvi, Ramanand Sagar, Prem Dhavan. But the turning point of his journey as writer, in his own admission, was when he wrote an Urdu Afsana named “Shama Har Rang Mein Jalti Hai”. The story that took Khalid’s popularity to a whole new level was ‘Bede Ki Lanka’, a Punjabi story that was published by renowned Amrita Preetam in Nagmani magazine. It became so popular that Khalid had to translate it in Urdu on the request of a famous writer, poet and lyricist, Ali Zafri, for publishing in Zafri’s magazine Guftgu in Mumbai. The story was later translated in English by the great Khushwant Singh for his magazine ‘Illustrate Weekly’ in 1980.

While Khalid was shaping up as the great writer, he was doing exceptionally well in his profession also. He was appointed as the Block Development Officer in 1980 and later promoted to hold various positions such as P.A. to the then Deputy Chief Minister, J&K Government; Public Relation officer (Information Department of J&K Government at Jalandhar); Project Officer, DRDA, Doda, Poonch, Kathua; Assistant Commissioner Development, Doda, Rajouri,Poonch; Deputy Director Estates, Jammu; Additional Registrar, Co-operative Societies, Jammu; Additional Deputy Commissioner, Jammu; Deputy Commissioner, Poonch; Registrar, SKUAST, Jammu; Director, Employment J&K Government; Managing Director, SC/ST & Backward Classes, Development Corporation, Jammu and was retired from the post of Special Secretary to Government, Food and Supply Department ,J&K. Even after retirement, he served as the member of J&K State Consumer Protection Commission from 2003 till 2008.

Khalid has so far written 14 books in total, comprising of over 150 short stories in Urdu and Punjabi while some of them have been translated in English and Hindi as well. His Punjabi short stories collection includes ‘Te Jehlum Wagda Reha’ (1976), ‘Gori Fasal Di Sodagar’ (1981), ‘Doonge Panian Da Dukh’ (1991), ‘Baldi Baraf Da Saik’ (2005) and ‘Soolan Da Saag’ (2010); while his popular Urdu works are ‘Thandi Kangri Ka Dhooan’ (1989), ‘Ishtiharon Wali Haveli’ (1993) and ‘Satisar Ka Suraj’ (2011). Apart from these, Khalid has also written a Punjabi novel ‘Gwachi Jhanjhar Di Cheek’, ‘Noori Rishman’, an autobiography of Prophet Mohammad Pbuh and ‘Ghar Main Hai Bairag’, a collection of selected short stories translated in Hindi. He has also edited ‘Dasht-e-Talab’, Urdu Poetry of Vidya Rattan Aasi and written a collection of articles in ‘Mere Rang De Akhar’. A regional movie called Lakeer, has also been made based on one of his short story.

Khalid’s popularity can be gauzed by the fact that about 60 of his Punjabi short stories have been translated into Hindi, English, Urdu, Telugu and Malayalam languages. Many magazines have published specials issues on his life time and again. His work has been published not only in the leading literary magazines from all parts of India but across the borders too. His stature as a writer in Pakistan is as tall as back here in India. Khalid has been published over 100 times in Pakistan and was also felicitated recently by Press club, Lahore.

Khalid, who was the group leader of travelers that travelled to Muzaffrabad from Srinagar in 2005, through the Karvan-e- Aman bus, the first to ply from Srinagar to Pak-administrated Kashmir after 1947, has been very vocal about erasing the lines of enmity between the two countries. “For me, India, Pakistan, Srilanka and Bangaldesh are one big country with India being the head of the pack. These lines which we call borders, do not last forever. We have a number of Mughal Sarai’s in our state on the Mughal road, Janghad, Nowshehra, Chingas, Rajouri, Thanna Mandi and the last one is in Peer Gali. These sarai’s hosted Mughals first and hence the name. Later they were occupied by Pathans and then Sikhs and in the end by Indian army. Mughals didn’t know who is going to stay in those Sarai’s after them, neither did Pathans nor did Sikhs. Likewise, we don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. We need to spread love and harmony, not hatred and enmity.”

Much has been written over Khalid’s writing style which is a beautiful painting of linguistic expressions full of idioms and proverbs that he had adopted from his childhood spent in the lanes of Ustad Mohalla. Khalid credits his style, which he calls ‘Va-Muhavra’, to extensive reading. “When you read a lot, you notice different writing style of each writer. I read Urdu, Punjabi, English as well as French Literature, from short-story perspective. This made me develop my own style, which is unlike any one else’s so far. I am happy that my style has remained consistent from my first story till now,” he explains. His writing style is so different and unique that students have been doing research work for their PhD’s on this very subject. Not to mention, many of his stories have been a part of the syllabi of many universities. Many students have been doing their M. Phil’s and PhD’s in various universities in Lahore, Delhi and Ludhiana.

There is a long list of achievements in Khalid’s portfolio. He has been awarded the best book award twice by the J&K Academy of Art, Culture & Language on for ‘Te Jehlum Wagda Reha’ and ‘Gori Fasal de Sodagar’ in the year of 1977 & 1982, respectively. Government of Punjab felicitated him with a Robe of Honour on the eve of golden Jubilee celebrations of Punjabi University Patiala, in 2012. Beside many other awards from various organizations from India and Pakistan, he has been bestowed with the honour to be a visiting fellow to the Department of Punjabi, GNDU Amritsar and is also a member of Indian Council for Cultural Relations Advisory Committee (ICCR) New Delhi. In recognition of his outstanding contribution towards development of Punjabi Language & Literature, Khalid was conferred Shrimoni Punjabi Sahitkar Award (2014) with cash prize of Five Lakh Rupees by ‘Bhasha Vibhag’ (Languages Department) of Punjab Government, March this year.

In literature world also, Khalid has held various important positions which include Vice-President, Kendri Lekhak Sabha (1980-81 & 1983-84); President, Punjabi Sahit Sabha, Srinagar (1974-75 & 1979-80); Member, Advisory Board, Sahitya Academy, New Delhi (2002-07); Member, Punjabi Academy, Ludhiana; Chairman Punjabi Adbi Sangat, Jammu; Peace Activist & Member of Pak-India People's Forum for Peace; General Secretary, Civil Society for Art & Literature, Jammu, J&K ; Member of Syndicate for Development of Punjabi Language, Punjabi University, Patiala; Member and Advisory Board of Baba Farid Centre for Sufi Studies, Punjabi university, Patiala.

Like we said in the beginning, all this has not come easy to Khalid. Behind all the awards and recognitions, lies a path that was not at all easy to walk upon. That fate is an important aspect of his stories can be understood through his life’s story. In his own words, “I haven’t jumped from ground to the sky; I climbed up step by step. I lost my family when I was barely able to understand anything. However life sailed on, as it always does, without waiting for anyone or anything. To come from there to here has been a long, tiring journey. But I am happy I made it.”


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