Crying in the Dark
By Dr Shershah Syed
IT’S usual for me to cry: Cry in public, in front of junior doctors with the father and mother of young girls who have died in pregnancy during childbirth. Usually it’s impossible to hold my tears when I see a teenage patient with genital tract fistula passing urine all the time. Her mother or sister narrates horrible stories of the Dai who mishandled the patient to produce this terrible result. Usually I recover my composure soon and start functioning normally.
It is different this time. Off and on Asif Aslam’s kind intelligent face with his bright eyes comes in my mind when I am reminded of a past incident and my tears begin to flow. I cannot hold them back.
In the early nineties we went to Tharparkar together. He stopped at Chachro and showed me a stone where a husband left his wife to arrange for a transport to take her to a hospital. She was bleeding at thirty-six weeks of pregnancy. When he returned with a taxi, the mother was dead. There she lay in a pool of her own blood.
I never forgot the look of pain on Asif’s face when he told me this story. He worked very hard with Rana Syed, Zeba Bukhari and Sareer Ara in UNICEF to save mothers in Pakistan, to prevent fistula formation, to protect thousands of newborn dying because of malnutrition. A worker always ready to help the underprivileged who need support.
He wanted every girl to go to school, become independent and empowered. Thus she would take decisions about her life and educate all her siblings.
I remember the occasion when I told him that on my request Salami Saheb with his team had translated into Urdu two important textbooks on midwifery. But we had no resources to print them and I was trying unsuccessfully to organise some funds. He didn’t say a word but after ten days he informed me that funds were available to print the 560-page textbook of midwifery in Urdu. About the same time The Hesperian Society agreed to support the printing of the second book in Urdu and Sindhi.
I informed Asif and invited him for lunch at Yuan Tung Chinese Restaurant near his office where we used to meet regularly. It was always a pleasure to sit with him and friends like Irfan Khan, Shoaib Sobani, Tariq Fazli, Amar Tipu , Hamid Manzoor and talk about nothing but everything.
One day I asked Asif Farrukhi to help Pakistan Medical Association Karachi organise a workshop for all ambulance drivers of Edhi Foundation and the members of traffic police and train them how to manage pregnant women with massive bleeding, convulsions and in labour. He not only helped us in developing the training manual he came to teach them on a regular basis at PMA House Karachi.
He helped me and Dr Jan Badar to open schools of midwifery all over Sindh and worked very hard for their recognition and continuous nonstop funding. When PMA translated and developed two leaflets about child sexual abuse and violence against women, he and Sareer made sure that we should be able to do workshops in every district of Sindh.
He was not a person who would only dream, he strived to make all his dreams come true. He used to work very hard day and night at all odd hours because he knew that his dreams are not merely dreams.
One night at 12:30 he called me that he is bringing UNICEF’s Country Chief, an American lady, to Qatar Hospital, Orangi Town against security advice in a non UN car to show how obstetrical emergencies are dealt with in that Hospital in the biggest slum of Asia. They came and saw for themselves what an investment in midwifery schools and for midwives was worth. The UNICEF chief quoted that incident in many meetings.
I am just thinking about so many of those incidents of how innovative he was, a great public health person, a prominent writer and a super teacher with a big heart with thousands of dreams and he has vanished. It’s not fair, it’s dark, very dark and I cannot hold my tears.
This morning our teacher, our mentor, our leader, Professor Sadiqa Jafarey called me for the fifth time in four days talking about Asif. Again she said she is very upset, very sad and remembers him and his efforts to save mothers. “Why should a person like Asif die at this young age. It’s not fair,” she questioned again.
I have no answer. I started crying again in the dark.
What hurts is that I will never be able to say “Good bye” to him.
Partners in Crime
By Ameena Saiyid
ASIF Farrukhi and I were ‘partners in crime’ as Asif so often liked to joke. Our fruitful and meaningful literary partnership began over a quarter of a century ago when we worked to publish books that he advised and encouraged me to publish and also those that he wrote, edited, compiled, or translated. I had known him for so long that I can’t really remember how we first met: perhaps we were introduced by Zaheer Kidvai. I must ask Zaheer. I always took Asif’s recommendations very seriously as they were based on his vast knowledge of and passion for literature and books. Asif’s first book of short stories was published in 1982 with many following. He translated from English to Urdu and the other way round. He edited Fires in an Autumn Garden consisting of stories from Urdu and other languages of Pakistan translated into English. He translated Shaikh Ayaz and Attiya Dawood. He was one of the most widely-read persons I have known and his interest in reading was vast and included not only Urdu and English literature but Pakistani, Indian, Spanish, Palestinian, British, and American works.
Asif was wonderful to know and work with. He was relatively young but his manners were of an old world gentleman. Being the son of another literary giant and scholar, Dr Aslam Farrukhi, and the great grandson of Dipty Nazir Ahmed, it was in his genes. He kept a low profile and was quiet and self-effacing but his personality was towering and he left a lasting impression on anyone he met. I think the reason we were able to fulfil our plans and dreams to a large extent was the meeting of minds which sustained our long-standing partnership.
Asif and I would spend hours planning the sessions for our literature festivals, first the Karachi and Islamabad Literature Festivals and then the Adab Festival which we co-founded and organised. He chose the name Adab for our festival although the original name we had decided on was Pakistan Literature Festival but had to drop it due to litigation brought against us by the OUP. We had started this event as a model to be taken to scale and become a movement.
It used to be so stimulating for me whenever we planned our sessions as his ideas were limitless as was his knowledge of writers and books. His list of participants and books to release was unending. While it was scintillating to be in his company and get exposed to the latest in literature and publishing, I used to struggle along with him to somehow squeeze his ideas which would snowball as we continued our discussion into a structured plan.
Asif was brilliant at creating titles for books such as An Evening of Caged Beasts which he translated and introduced with Frances Pritchett. Asif, I am bereft by your sudden departure. We had a dream about books, authors, and the world of literature and I’m not sure how to take it forward now.
Dear Asif Saheb
By Shama Askari
ASIF Saheb it seems that you have gone to the grandest of them all! I remember meeting you on M.H. Askari’s funeral (there were friends and colleagues assembled) and you had gently asked me if I were aware that he (M.H.) had been a short story writer and wrote under the alias of ibn-e-Said. I recall telling you that he had casually mentioned to me a couple of months before his passing that he had once been a short story writer. Living in the same home I became the guardian of M.H. Askari’s library and numerous trunks and cartons full of papers and manuscripts. So started our journey; you were my mentor, my trusted advisor and dictionary all rolled into one. After our initial discussion; ten years lapsed as I couldn’t find a soul who could decipher his writings in Urdu and I had given up. I remember distinctly your complete displeasure at my procrastination, and you said,”Agar aap ko kuch ho giya, to yay kaam hamesha kay liyay khatam ho jayga.” (If something happens to you then this work will be lost forever). And an important piece of Urdu Literature which is our heritage would be gone. Those words fueled me with a renewed vigour and so started our project of recovery and compilation. I remember your barely contained excitement,”Kuch mila?” (have you found anything?) and if there was an affirmation your prompt,”Photocopy foran Bhijwayay” (immediately send me a photocopy). You helped me and encouraged me; not only that you ensured that three books were published and you saved a writer from oblivion. You wrote the most informed and articulate foreword for those books. I remember waiting for you with a sinking heart with piles of papers and dusty paper files, not being able to make head or tail of this chaotic mess. You would arrive with your usual aplomb and with great speed and confidence make sense of all that was awry. Your certainty and clear headedness was enviable. But you would be generous enough to infuse me with hope and leave.
Bedil Library was our haunt for old shumaras and Zubair Saheb who runs this library told me one day that you had gifted your father’s collection of books to them. You had given a huge collection of children’s books to another library.
I remember you obsessing over the fact as to why a fiction writer stopped writing; you firmly believed the clues were in an essay called ‘Mera humsafar Sindbad tha’ That is when I got to know you better, you allowed your mask to slip and I saw the mischievous glint in your eyes and your complete irreverence for certain authors which matched those of your deceased friend. You kept going over Quratulain Hyder’s pictures with M.H. and told me about your compilation, “Dastaan Taraaz,” in which you had included Ibn-e-Said’s essay on Annie as you affectionately called her and her writing on her friend Ibn-e-Said in an essay called,’Footnote.’
I remember our endless discussions on existentialism and comparing Ismat Chughtai’s play,”Dozakh”, with Samuel Becket’s, “Waiting for Godot,” I remember you telling me that Ismat’s ‘Teri Lakeer’ was as important as Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” and I humbly agreed and you held forth on how colonialism had put writings in Urdu at a disadvantage since most people only read in English. What I respected most about you was the fact that you were a scholar, to put it mildly, yet you never made me feel self-conscious in expressing my views you treated me as an equal.
This letter is getting out of hand, so to say, and I can imagine you getting ready to make it more concise and telling me that this is becoming much too verbose; I quickly want to remind you of your fondness for sandwiches and your obsession with seafood. I remember our trip to Gwadar for the Gawadar Book Festival in 2018. Zambeel dramatic readings presented your story,”Samandar Ki Chori”, which was all the more poignant because of CPEC and what good it had done for the local people. You were their hero; and the wonderful proprietor of the hotel you were staying at knowing your fondness for fish served a feast fit for a king. The piece de resistance was the “Machli Ki Kheer” made in your honour.
To our last conversation via telephone recently — I have had many with you in my head — without preamble, you asked me, ”Aap ko maloom hai Langra Bukhar kia hota hai?” (Do you know what is the lame fever?) Knowing fully well that I didn’t, I nevertheless ventured, “Polio?” “Polio is not a waba!” You answered with extreme irritation. “Because of the lockdown I am going to start recording sessions on the waba, have you read Hasan Manzar’s Waba? Any way I have found the most incredible Urdu translation of Twilight in Delhi written in the English language by Professor Ahmed Ali and translated by his wife Bilquecce; anyway the English version uses the word epidemic and the Urdu translation says,”Langra Bukhar.” The translation reads like a brilliant new book, by the way I found a copy years ago at a raddi wala, it is no longer in print. I will show it to you. Can you imagine the richness of expression and idiom in Urdu! Tell me which is the more expressive language? Of course I said, Urdu.
Since you have taken your final bow, I am struggling to get out of my seat and get my breath back. I have witnessed a play called,”A life.”
Communicator Par Excellence
By Zubeida Mustafa
THE outpouring of emotions on Facebook for Asif Farrukhi, who passed away on 1 June 2020, seems to be an unending flood. It seems as though it will never be stemmed. Writer, critic, editor, translator and a man of letters. The descriptions go on for he was a man who wore many hats and had diverse dimensions to his admirable personality. Each one had something new to say.
But what I found most striking about him was his immaculate role as an advocate for education. That is why he never turned down a request from me to write an article, review a book or interview a writer for Dawn when I was working for the newspaper . He took it as an assignment that had to be done and it was always done. And in time to meet the deadline.
The audience he invariably had in mind were young readers eager to learn though people of every age read him with tremendous interest. He had a style of his own – persuasive and friendly and always encouraging. Small wonder his students are overwhelmed as their comments on “Remembering Dr Asif Aslam Farrukhi” page set up by the Habib University on FB shows.
In fact, the last time I spoke to him, a fortnight before the lockdown, he gave me very sensible advice. I had been invited by the Sindh University to speak to the students on the Mother Language Day – a cause I have vehemently and passionately espoused for several decades. There was a lot of in-fighting among the staff and the Admin of the university and my friends in Karachi were discouraging me from going as they felt that the anti-progressive forces would use my visit to project their own position. Asif had visited Hyderabad a week or so before and the FB was plastered with his pictures with the VC.
When I called him he was as pleasant and respectful as he had always been since we first met and I invited him to write for me in the nineties.
After I had explained my dilemma to him, he promptly replied, “I strongly advise you to go. I know there is infighting and you do not want to be sucked into it. But when you go to universities to speak you do so to meet the students and convey a message to them. The students should be your concern. They need you. If you don’t go you will deprive them of this valuable knowledge and exposure that is important for them. I urge you to go.”
So I went to Hyderabad that day and the welcome I received was so heartwarming that I knew that Asif was right – absolutely right. Thank you Asif for that piece of advice: As the intelligentsia it is our duty to remain above petty politics.
Twice he invited me to the Habib University and everytime I found my visit so satisfying. Once it was to participate in a seminar on Partition 1947 and the second time was when my memoir was introduced to the students. Asif was the moderator on both occasions. What I liked about his style was that he was intellectually so stimulating – in the questions he asked and his interpretation of what was under discussion. I can imagine how he must have kept his students mentally on their toes in his class.
This was most evident in the days when television was not so bereft of bibliographical contents. TV channels devoted weekly programmes to books. When my book The Tyranny of Language in Education was published I was invited by one TV channel and Asif Farrukhi was the moderator. He shocked me out of my wits when tongue in cheek he asked me, “Aap hi hitaab ka title kuch zuroorat se ziyada sakht naheen hai?” I had not heard much about his views on language then – in his earlier professional life my discourse with him focused more on medical and children’s issues — I felt dismayed. Then I realised he was trying to provoke me to start a debate. I responded and he managed to infuse a lot of interest in the programme.
He had a subtle sense of humour as when he said in another programme on language that English was the only provincial language of Pakistan as it was confined to one small area in Pakistan, namely, Clifton, Karachi.
And what about this parody based on Mir Anis in support of women on the eve of International Women’s Day 2020, Kis march ki aamad hai ke nar kanp raha hai”.
What a beautiful mind! Rest in peace.