There is a palpable sense of sombreness as one sets down to pay tribute to an iconic ambassador of peace. One feels it is difficult to do adequate justice to a recollection of his class and contributions by employing an array of clichéd superlatives or a ceremonial stock of words. I.A. Rehman was much more than that… the champion of many a humanitarian cause, the voice of the voiceless and the chronicler of injustices in society.
As a writer the range of issues he covered, his command over the English language and composure set him apart from many luminaries of his day and age. The recurrent themes and subjects he wrote about included the rights of minorities and the downtrodden, dignity of labour, misdemeanors of the powers that be and a host of social ills. He advocated respect for institutions, supremacy of rule of law and democratic ideals while writing incessantly for more than six decades on a multitude of themes – all along showing commitment and consistency like an accomplished batsman who plays a memorable innings. Rehman Sahib’s innings had its ups and downs in the form of incarcerations and personal tragedies but he did not waver, or lose his concentration (to be more precise), till last.
The fact that he rarely used the first person singular in his writings goes to show his regard for journalistic principles. In a similar fashion he adhered to other professional canons such as objectivity and a sense of proportion and called the high and mighty, politicians of all hue and self-seeking adventurers out without naming or scoffing at anyone. He was always concerned about issues rather than personalities and did not shy from pointing out the wrongs of even the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his party despite being its ‘supporter’ for many years.
A well-written obituary is the true measure of a writer’s calibre and an art of which Rehman Sahib was an exponent. The fond memories of colleagues, comrades, men of letters and the promoters of noble causes he recorded in his columns are works of high literary merit and these, along with other writings, are worthy of being preserved for researchers, students and all those who put a premium on the values he stood for.
One remembers the occasion when Rehman Sahib was awarded the lifetime achievement award at a Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) session at Alhamra a few years ago. The standing ovation and applause he received from the audience must be one of the most cherished memories of his life.
His passing has left a void which is hard to fill. The outpourings of grief from many parts of the world testify to the amount of respect he enjoyed for bringing light to countless lives. The light may have gone out but its radiance will continue to inspire a legion of his admirers.
The writer is a journalist based in Lahore.