Dr. Sohail Ansari
‘Itna sannata kyu hai bhai?’
Avtar Kishan Hangal
On arrival to Karachi in 1939, twenty five year old A K Hangal was received by Brij, his brother in law who lived with his Muslim wife and family in a spacious apartment located in the then fashionable Preedy Street. Hangal rented a shop on Elphinstone Street to commence tailoring. However, the business did not work well and he had to shut it down. Soon, he found a position of cutter in a well known cloth and tailoring store, ‘Essardass and Sons’. I recently shared a photograph of Elphinstone Street in which this store can be seen on the left side, third door with a large sign board. He became friends with its owner.
Once settled, Hangal founded ‘The Harmonica Club’ to whet his appetite for music and drama and it became very famous.
He initially was a Congress worker, but by 1941 changed to join the Communist Party of India and worked for All India Trade Union Congress. The workers in tailoring shops were exploited and despite the Shops and Establishment Act denied due rights. Karachi Tailoring Workers’ Union was established of which he was elected the first President. Consequently, in view of those trade union activities creating conflict with the employer, he was dismissed from the job and no other tailoring business was ready to hire him.
He led a general strike in support of the Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946 and narrowly escaped the firing. He became the Secretary of Karachi Communist Party in 1946.
On 12th August 1947, he was approached to record and broadcast a play within 48 hours for radio station in Karachi in a make shift tent on the occasion of Independence on 14th August.
Following creation of Pakistan, the government came hard on the communists and A K Hangal was among those arrested. He was sent to the Central Jail.
One day the Superintendent of the Karachi Jail told him that he will be transferred to India being a non Muslim detainee. He put a petition against the transfer to India which was accepted but the prison sentence was increased.
His case was contested in the Sindh High Court with the help of Comrade Sobho Gianchandani and a four-lawyer team including Sheikh Ayaz.
While serving time in Karachi he was transferred to the Hyderabad Central Jail. In the end, very soon thereafter, he was forced to leave Pakistan and went to India in 1949. Hangal could have stayed in Karachi if his wishes were respected.
In India, he acted in around 225 films and I recall him well from his role of Rahim Chacha in Sholay. He had financial difficulties and health problems and could not afford the treatment. As well, he withstood the Shiv Sena onslaught for his political and socialist activism.
He died seven years ago in a hospital in Bombay, aged 98, on 26th August 2012.
(In this photograph of Elphinstone Street is seen this store on the left side, third door with a large sign board. In the inlet he is seen in the store with co-workers).