We knew Gul Hameed Bhatti was dangerously ill after suffering repeated strokes; we also knew that another stroke would prove fatal. Gul had become reclusive and had withdrawn into a shell.
However, it was a proof of his great spirit that he attended Newsline’s 20th anniversary bash because of his special association with the magazine his late wife Razia founded, and edited till her last breath. He hadn’t left the house on many occasions before that, so seeing him there raised everyone’s hopes that he would be able to make it back to health.
But it was not to be. The downslide in health was gradual but definite, and then on February 4 we heard that he had passed away. Even though the shock may not have been there for the multitude of his friends and well wishers, there was a deep, deep sadness at having lost such a wonderful person. Sadness also because of the very little time Sara and Kamil had been able to have with their parents, both of whom were such special people.
In the journalist’s fraternity, this sadness and grief found instant expression. While we cannot reproduce here all that was written about him, or was said at the memorial meeting that was held at The Second Floor, we shall try to focus on the different facets of his personality as highlighted by those who had the privilege and pleasure of having known him and worked with him.
Of course, colleagues do not know how he turned out to be the warm, funny, laid back yet totally dedicated person we all knew, but his brother Jalal shed light on that, saying:
“My heart continued to cry as his funeral procession reached the Defence graveyard and when he was finally laid to rest. He then disappeared as mother earth embraced this great man forever.
“So this was the life journey of the man, born in 1948 (September 8, 1948, to be exact, not, as some writers have said, 1947). He wanted to be a cricketer, but his father wanted him to be a doctor. So he played cricket on sheets of paper. He would make two teams, make them play and then record the entire innings with detailed analyses and hand-drawn photos of the action. He would write so artfully that it would look as it were typed.
“He couldn’t become a doctor, so our mother wanted him to be a pilot. He reluctantly obeyed her and flew for 45 hours but before his solo, he got out and finally got admission in the journalism department at Punjab University.
“He was a good human, a loving brother, a fatherly father and a friend of the friends. A jolly good man who was the centre of attraction wherever he was.”
Younger brother Kamal, who came down from Lahore for the memorial at T2F, evoked much mirth with his accounts of their childhood and young Gul’s love for the chickens assorted creatures in their Sargodha home. He would pick up a cricket bat to strike any predatory kite that might swoop down on his beloved chicks and give his own share of milk to the pet goat. “GHB was my buddy. He could detect what I was thinking without even asking me anything. It was his colourful personality that made everyone his friend, even those who he met just once.”
I counted Gul as my boss, colleague, mentor and friend, and shared some very personal recollections of him:
A workaholic whose only other passion besides cricket was his family, he would consider time with his children as his true downtime. As I write these words, images of little Sara with her arms wrapped around him, of him sneakily completing Kamil’s art homework and feigning remorse when confronted by Razia, of supervising a car full of frisky children at the drive-in cinema during a screening of Jurassic Park sponsored by their school, or of him volunteering Kamil to act as the magician’s ‘bacha jamhoora’ at my daughter’s first birthday just flit through my minds eye.
He had the wonderful quality of being able to transcend all age groups … he was equally comfortable with elders, peers, juniors and children. My father and kid brother both struck up a friendship with him and equally enjoyed his company when he would ‘allow’ us to drop him home from office on some days.
When we were working together as editors of The Cricketer magazine, which was hard work in the pre-computer/UPS/generator days, he made the work enjoyable not just because of his love for the game, but because of his easygoing demeanour. The only time he would issue a stern warning was when he had swiped off a plate full of greasy samosas and would warn us not mention this indiscretion to Razia or else.
Umber Khairi, one of Newsline’s original team members, reminisces about him in these words, so poignantly written in The News:
“I knew his name long before I met him. I knew him as the editor of The Cricketer which I started reading in 1977, after developing an ‘aesthetic interest’ in the game after seeing on television images of a youthful Imran Khan bowling in the Sydney Test. I admired the publication and its strong statistical base and was aware of the editor’s name and his passion for the game. But I only met him about a decade later when I was recruited by his wife Razia Bhatti (perhaps Pakistan’s most outstanding editor) to work at Herald.
“Two celebrity journalists, they were a remarkably down-to-earth and sane couple. And two of the kindest, most decent and most hardworking people I have ever met. At their home one always felt a great sense of calm and order, despite all the professional and personal pressures of working in such a stressful field. Gul always tolerated the Herald/Newsline team’s tendency to slip into ‘shop talk’ even at social gatherings, and even though he sometimes got fed up of being kept waiting at the office, and of the late hours we worked, he was always there for Razia, a pillar of strength.”
Writing in The News, Beena Sarwar recounted the tributes paid by friends and family at the informal memorial meeting held at T2F:
“There was laughter and some tears as friends, relatives and admirers gathered at an informal reference for the late veteran sports journalist and former sports editor The News, and former editor.
“Former Newsline reporter Mohammad Hanif, now a well known fiction writer, recalled Bhatti’s pride in Razia and his touching confidence that having met her and begun working with her, Hanif’s career would take off – which of course it did. Hanif also recalled with gratitude Bhatti’s sheer humanity in taking notice of and caring for youngsters like himself who were outsiders in Karachi and hardly knew anyone in the metropolis.
“Arsalan, cricket statistician and Gul’s ‘eating partner’ recounted picking up the phone to call Bhatti, whom he didn’t know, for information he needed about cricket. He was late getting to Spencer Building and everyone had left. The editor, Bhatti, waited for a man he didn’t know with a photocopy of the information he needed. ‘That was Bhatti Sahib – totally selfless.
“Writer and fellow statistician, Abid Ali Kazi spoke of the formation of the Pakistan Association of Cricket Statisticians, of which Bhatti was president. In fact, he was more than a sports journalist – he was a ‘historian’ who ‘single-handedly collected data,’ as Kazi put it, dedicatedly compiling and publishing it in The Cricketer. Statistics about Pakistan’s first class cricket exist because of him.
“One of Bhatti’s oldest friends, Zainab Ansari, recalled a hilarious incident: annoyed at his boss Riaz Mansuri of The Cricketer, Bhatti paid for a matrimonial newspaper ad describing Mansuri, but without naming him, complete with phone number. ‘Of course Mansuri sahab found out it was Gul, and was furious, but Gul laughed and said he should be grateful for the favour.’ ”
Another young journalist Omair Alavi, who worked closely with him at The Cricketer, mentions many shared interests, aside from cricket, and eating of course, which was a huge part of who GHB was. Their shared interest was the silver screen, and this is a side Alavi was more familiar with than many other colleagues.
“Aray is ko kia pata, yeh to bacha hai …” I still remember his words when he used to tell Mansoor Ali Baig of The Cricketer Urdu after the two had asked me some really stupid question about some old Pakistani film. Most of the time I had the answer, sometimes I didn’t. But being there with Gul Hameed Bhatti was a prize in itself. He was a friend who stood by you, a father figure who loved you more than anyone, an editor who always had an answer to the stupid queries I had in the early days of my career, a mentor who gave you advice and laughed afterwards, and a role model who had more followers than any other person.
“We all remember him for portraying Mateen sahab in Nadaan Nadia, and whenever I asked him about it, he said that he was a seasoned campaigner. Not many knew that he made his film debut in 1949, when he was six months old. His father was in the police and that’s why he was well connected in the newly created Pakistan. He went on to work in a handful of films till he realised what he was doing (those were his words!) and left the field altogether before he turned 10. He did act in theatre in the ’90s but said that the last thing he wanted to be known for was his acting.
“‘Zyada se zyada kia hoga … mar jaoonga’ is what he used to say after giving money to the peons for samosas. When reminded that it was not good for his health, he used to say that he had only been ill because of what he hadn’t done. He had cancer, though he never smoked. He had high blood pressure though he never inflicted that on himself. And now that he is no more, my belief that those who are good, go first has become firm.”
Many more have written about Gul, many have voiced their grief on the Facebook page his children had made, some who never really knew him personally, and only through his writings have blogged about him … all unanimous in their opinion that this his death is a huge loss, not just for his family and journalism, but also for his legion of admirers and well-wishers. May he rest in peace.