RIP Masood Ahmad Barkati – the unsung hero of my generation, the voice of patriotism, morality and equality between all Pakistanis

Published: December 12, 2017
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Naunihal’s mission of love, peace and tolerance is one that Barkati sahib continued for a long time.

It pained my heart to read that Masood Ahmed Barkati, the renowned author of children’s literature and the editor of the Urdu magazine Hamdard Naunihal, is no more among us. The last three generations of Pakistan are in a state of total grief right now. There is a strong sense of loss, a feeling as though an important piece of our childhood has been taken away, leaving us bereft.

For people who loved reading books during their childhood, he was the superhero without a cape. Barkati had been the right-hand man to Hakim Muhammad Saeed, the owner of Hamdard Naunihal, and together they carried out the mission of producing literature for children, that would serve the supreme purpose of moral and social reformation. Every story, every poem and every editorial piece ever written by Barkati always ended with a lesson about how important is it to love your country and be proud of your cultural heritage. He dedicated 65 years of his life to Naunihal as an editor, and not once did he miss an edition!

A post on Facebook broke the news to me that Barkati sahib had passed away. I remember going numb. Silent. Static. It felt like the book in my hands also went silent. I could see the words on the page in front of me going still as well in a nanosecond. Hushed. They were laughing with me just a minute ago. We were in the middle of a hysterical incident. They were telling me the tale of a brooding Londoner who loved his sister – but now they knew I was no more interested so they went back to their hoods.

I kept the book aside. Inhaled. I remember going through this trauma before. I remember mourning one more death like this before. Who was that? My mind was frozen. Yet I could hear my heart telling me it had been ripped open before. My heart had mourned a death before. Who was he that I mourned, I asked my mind. No reply came. But then, my heart whispered  it was Hakim Muhammad Saeed.

I wasn’t even three when my mom and dad introduced me to Naunihal. My dad would say to me,

“It is written by someone who loves Pakistan.”

And I believed him. Every night, my dad would read me a story from Naunihal before bedtime, with every story telling me how beautiful my country was and how we are all equal. One nation. One dream. One ummah. And I would listen, and believe what the stories told me, and sleep and dream beautiful dreams.

When I was six, I remember waking up one night as my mom tried to push me under a sofa. “Bullets”, “fire”, “we’re safe”, “nothing to worry” – I could hear voices say in the background. I asked my mom what was going on. “Nothing,” she said. We were in Karachi, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. We had all our lights turned off that night; a dark silent house. Next morning, the news bulletin was in chaos. The six-year-old me picked up a few words from the bulletin, and asked her grandfather,

“What is Mohajir? Are we bad people?”

That evening, my grandfather gave me a huge pile of Naunihal from his personal collection. He told me to read Jago Jagao, the editorial piece written by Hakeem Muhammad Saeed. He told me Mohajir is not a bad word, and asked me to find my answers in the magazines. I struggled. Urdu was a hard language, one I couldn’t read. Nonetheless, I tried.

The answers I found in Naunihal were affirming. They were the same bedtime stories my dad read me, where no one was Mohajir, Sindhi, Pakhtun, Baloch or Punjabi. We were one. We loved each other. It all started to feel okay again, and the dynamic duo of Saeed and Barkati were behind it. My vacations were over and school started again. I moved on, yet my connection with that children’s magazine was stronger than ever now. I tried reading, and when I couldn’t, my mom would help. I fell in love with those stories of unity, faith and discipline.

October of the same year, I remember seeing another news bulletin, this time one telling me that Saeed is no more. The man who always had a Jinnah cap on, the one who told me it’s going to be okay, and shaped my perfect world around me with his words, was no more. I remember going numb. Silent. Static. The sounds of bullets and fire echoing stronger than ever in my mind.

My dad told me the world never stops, and I believed him. I always believe him. He told me Naunihal won’t stop. I believed him again. But I could never un-see the image of my blood-stained hero that I accidentally saw in the newspaper. I could never un-hear the bullets and the word “Mohajir”.

Yet Naunihal came the next month, and Jago Jagao was still there – this time with an addition of “late” with my friend’s name. Barkati sahib continued it, for that year and the decades to come.

The element of social reformation in Barkati’s stories grew stronger with the growing inner turmoil in the state. Pehli Baat, a column he wrote regularly for his magazine, continued talking about life, patriotism, nationalism and the importance of our traditional moral values.

I’m no longer a six-year-old. I have heard and seen a lot in my life by now. However, I’m numb again. Silent. Static.

I don’t want the upcoming generations of Pakistan to grow up in a world where neither Barkati nor Saeed sahib exist. What will become of them? I feel scared when I dwell on this.

Naunihal’s mission of love, peace and tolerance is one that Barkati sahib continued for a long time. He is the unsung hero of my generation and of the generation before me as well. Rest in peace, Barkati sahib. Thank you for sowing the seeds of patriotism, love and peace in our hearts! We promise to honour your legacy, and keep the lamp lit.

Zubia Shakeel

Zubia Shakeel

The author is a reader, procrastinator, teacher, nerd – all in that order. She would not be caught dead without a book and a lipstick. She tweets at @ZubiaRizvi (twitter.com/ZubiaRizvi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • syedasadia

    whoa this left my heart wrenched!!!Recommend

  • Muhammad Taimur Akber

    May Allah bless Barkati sb and Hakim M Saeed and grant them the highest honors in Jannah, Ameen… Naunehal was such a big part of our lives growing up, and then there were translation from Shakespeare, 3 hansti kahaniyaan, 3 roti kahaniyaan and many more…Recommend

  • Sane

    I just know that Naunehal inculcated love for Urdu in my children and my nieces. Also contributed lot of knowledge with morality. I having mature age was reading Naunehal even since I was in school till I was in my professional career. Hakim Muhammad Saeed Saheb and Masood Ahmed Barakati Saheb both must be remembered and acknowledged as those who really made best of their effort in nation building. And it worked. Masood Ahmed Barakati Saheb must be acknowledged by some national award like Tamgha e Khidmat or Sitara e Imtiaz.Recommend

  • Wasim Syed

    so sad..
    Recommend