THE WAY IT WAS: Akhri Angrez —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan
Husain handles his vowels as elegantly as his suave deportment. It is
terribly sad that it was for his English that he was relieved of his
responsibility as speaker of the Sindh Assembly circa 1985
I love Karachi but it is after 33 years that I am having an exhibition of paintings here. It is a mini retrospective at the Canvas gallery that includes a variety of works. To know more about the show the reader will have to access other writings on the subject. All I can say is that Sumeira, the proprietor of the gallery, seemed pleased to have mounted the exhibition. One of the most quaint evenings that I spent in Karachi was with Mr Hussain Haroon, a friend of my friend Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali. It was because of Sardar Assef, in fact, that I was invited to Haroon’s Seafield residence for dinner. Seafield, once hub of activities associated with the Pakistan Movement, is situated on Sir Abdullah Haroon Road. Hussain (I can perhaps now take the liberty of addressing him thus) lives in the lower portion of the ancestral mansion. The upper portion is occupied by Hameed Haroon.
Hussain’s bachelor residence is full of exotic curiosities, flamboyantly collected over several years. The walls are plastered with etchings, botanical drawings and water colours (including one of Lord Clive) and episodic paintings of Sindh. Most of the works are attired in elaborate gilded frames. I found the aquatints presenting various prospects of Balochistan delicately executed and extremely absorbing. There were many other intriguing objects — chairs, tables and brass and porcelain utensils, statues residing in various nooks of successive interlinked rooms. I also noticed a zebra skin and a most imposing head of a gigantic antelope that disdainfully surveyed the space around it.
We were seated in the enclosed veranda at the further end of the building. Sardar Assef believes that Hussain Haroon is the Englishman in Pakistan. Judging from his portrait that hangs next to the other presidents of the Sindh Club, none dare refute the claim. His pink complexion, the brushed back hair — each in place, his white jacket and a black bow tie set him closer to the Englishman up on the wall than the native Englishman. Setting the striking resemblance aside, I ventured to question Assef if Hussain was the last Englishman what would he call my friend Moeen Afzal? “He is the last English bureaucrat,” said Assef. The matter was left at that.
Hussain takes his pleasures rather seriously. As soon as we had been ushered in and seated, he asked us if we cared for cigars. Since I don’t smoke, I politely declined but Assef loves to smoke at all times and accepted the offer. Hussain Haroon, who has a collection of over 5,000 cigars of various brands (besides 100 premium brands of cheese) naturally asked which cigar would be his preference. When Assef settled for a Monte Cristo, Mr Haroon further asked whether Assef would like a big one or a small one. Assef pondered the question for a moment and then replied that a medium one would do. But Mr Haroon, the great connoisseur would not allow Assef to dismiss the matter so lightly. He once again enquired, “which of the medium ones: two, five or seven”? Assef, who fancies himself as seasoned cigar smoker, for once felt ruffled. He evasively responded by muttering “any number will do”. Mr Haroon was reminded of Ms Kristine Keeler but he soon grew weary of the subject and disappeared somewhere to return with a medium-sized cigar for Assef and a big one for himself.
Hussain, I had been informed by Assef, was a great gourmet cook. One of his greatest buddies, Kieth Floyd, regards Hussain as his guru. I have wondered why a chef of Floyd’s class is wasting his time peppering his fantasy about the Indian cuisine when he can cook more easily tastier morsels here in Pakistan.
In passing, let me also mention that Hussain is an honoured guest at Le Gavroche in London that is supposed to be one of the most expensive restaurants in the world. He is welcomed because he gives useful tips to the chef on how to improve their French cuisine.
We were quite suddenly. I should have been ready for it, as Assef had warned me, asked to finish our tumbler of Rooh Kuera because English food could not be kept waiting. Hussain had cooked all three courses himself. Ravoli for starters was delicious. I am not supposed to tell you this but Assef complained of a slight discomfiture the next morning. But please keep this matter between us. The veal that followed was also delicious. I can’t imagine how a people with such a thick skin, could have such tender veal that you can cut with an edge of the fork. We were all full but Hussain insisted that we try a small sized beef steak, with a bit of mustard — not a common variety — and homemade bread with basil that grows in great profusion in Hussain’s garden. It was divine. This was not the end of things either. The desserts were most interesting. Chunks of apple preserve and a bitter chocolate cake shaped liked an orifice with a choice of plain or clotted cream.
After exchanging a few more pleasantries, we retired back to our seats in the enclosed veranda. Who would not feel a bit drowsy with Hussain’s divine metropolitan cuisine seducing the rustic innards. Before I could venture a snore — I have a slight nasal deflection that unnecessarily exaggerates my breathing like the mosque loudspeaker — the polite and caring host demanded of Assef that since I was feeling sleepy he should transport me and put me to bed. What a considerate friend. I have wondered since whether I was sent to bed or thrown out. I can only hope that I am invited again to Seafield without prejudice to my nasal deflection.
Aseff insists that being from Oxford he speaks better English than Hussain who acquired it in the dusty environs of the Karachi Grammar School where he was a contemporary of Benazir Bhutto. Were I to be appointed the neutral empire I would have to give the verdict in his favour. Husain handles his vowels as elegantly as his suave deportment. It is terribly sad that it was for his English that he was relieved of his responsibility as speaker of the Sindh Assembly circa 1985. Ghaus Ali Shah, the chief minister refused to oblige when a delegation of senior politicians descended from Islamabad to persuade him to withdraw the vote of no confidence against him. “Saeen, he talks to the whole Assembly in English. We cannot understand what he is saying, but from the way he looks and talks to me I am certain that he is abusive. I cannot take it any more,” Ghaus Ali Shah had cried.
Prof Ijaz Ul Hassan is a painter, author and political activist