Restless soul at rest

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE headline above is not mine. It is Murtaza Razvi’s, a colleague and friend from Dawn. I have borrowed it from the obituary he wrote of his mother, a writer, for Dawn’s Books & Authors when I was editing it.

Now, a decade later, it gives me a sense of sadness to use the same words for Murtaza whose life was cut short so brutally a week ago. It was January 2002. Murtaza’s mother Zaheena Tahir had passed away in Lahore. On his return after her funeral, he had resumed work. As I condoled with him, we talked about what mothers meant to their children even after they were no longer children. He told me about Zaheena Tahir and her writings. I was fascinated and asked him if he would like to write a piece on her literary work for me. He agreed.

Murtaza Razvi (Courtesy: Dawn)
That piece of writing gave me an instant insight into this young man who was mature beyond his years. I have always believed that a man carries the reflection of his mother. Zaheena’s prose and poetry, according to Habib Jalib writing in the preface to her book, were directed “at inequality and injustices that we see around us” and some of her poems expressed “deep-felt pain”, which inspired “resistance against the age-old order”.

Murtaza inherited this sensitivity. His life and interests were rich and versatile and as a result his personality had multiple dimensions. As the tributes poured in, one realised how well-liked Murtaza Razvi was and for such diverse reasons. Political, social and cultural analyst, literary critic and translator. Above all, he was a good human being and ever ready to help.

His academic background — a Masters in Indian History from Government College Lahore and another Masters in Political Science from Villanova University (US) — combined with his sensitivity and perception produced a fine intellect. That was his biggest asset.

Add to this his command over various languages (eastern and western) and you had a writer who could succinctly express ideas freely but intelligently. His ability to combine the qualities of head and heart gave much strength to his writing and he rooted his idioms deeply in local culture and traditions.

His concern for his fellow-beings and the remarkable breadth and depth of his knowledge and reading gave him the ability to transform the most mundane issue into something exalted. This is there in his book Ordinary People, which is a collection of 15 interviews he conducted with people each of whom may be described as the ‘man in the street’.

They included people like a barber, a shoemaker, a hawker and so on. The idea was to show how these men and women with no extraordinary claim to fame — some actually marginalised — had made contributions to society and the economy in their own humble way to keep the wheels of national life turning.

Dr Mubarak Ali, the eminent historian who remembers Murtaza fondly and is full of praise for his work, describes this book as “history from below”. That was Murtaza, so fair in his assessment and always willing to champion the cause of the oppressed.

We often spoke about the status of women in Pakistan and what direction the struggle should take. We were in agreement on the line writers should take. For us the age that was “a veritable whine-fest of moaning, groaning and self-pity” on the oppression of women needed to end. We needed a period of struggle and self-construction with women working for self-improvement, as many are doing.

His last book Musharraf: The Years in Power was an example of what publishers call quickie books that are written at short notice to coincide with a major unexpected event and thus catch the popular imagination.

The event was Gen Musharraf’s ouster from power. Murtaza wrote the book in three months and should be given credit for his creativity and innovation. After capturing a snapshot of the events in the Musharraf decade — mainly for the benefit of foreign readers — he did something ingenious to give the book a new appeal. He interviewed eight different people of all shades of opinion — there would have been nine had Musharraf agreed to meet him — and produced a neat package of diverse and interesting views including those of Lt Gen (retd) Moinuddin Haider, Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, Javed Jabbar, Khalid Ahmed, two of Musharraf’s batch mates, lawyer Abid Hasan Minto and cricketer Aftab Gul.In his blogs, Murtaza used his knowledge of literature and culture to write biting humorous pieces that conveyed a profound message. Whether it was by quoting Ghalib’s poetry — ‘hum ko faryad karni aati hai’ — or delving into language usage to bring up gems — ‘Allah hafiz’ and not ‘Khuda hafiz’ — he sharply demonstrated the Saudisation of Pakistani culture and politics.

What has gone from our midst is the synthesis of East and West that Murtaza symbolised and which gave beauty to his writings.

For this he drew deep from the fountains of our cultures and languages and that was the prism through which he looked at politics. Small wonder he never wanted to leave this country even when violence began tearing it to shreds. There were moments of wavering as when he had to fetch his girls suddenly from school because of a bomb scare and Priya clung to him and cried, “I don’t want to die.” But the moment passed and he held firm. My heart goes out to Sheri and the girls in this hour of grief. We will be there for you.

Source: Dawn

12 thoughts on “Restless soul at rest

  1. This is possibly the best tribute I have read thus far for the master craftsman of words, Mr. Murtaza Razvi. You have incisively captured his persona and provided quite a few details of the hidden traits he possessed but never trumpeted.

    Being an ardent reader of Dawn for decades now, I always enjoyed his contributions/articles on such a long list of varied subjects. I came across him when he would edit and publish my contributions for the “Friday Feature”. What a noble soul he was.

    Mother Nature, for some good reason, in its infinite wisdom takes back to itself, some beauteous and pristine souls in their full bloom of youthfulness. May Allah SWT bless Mr. Razvi’s soul and grant him a station closer to Himself. (Ameen)

    With best wishes,

    Yours sincerely,

    Sirajuddin Aziz

  2. It was indeed one of the best tribute to a highly talented journalist,. He certainly does not deserved this kind of death. The circumstances in which he was killed was quite shocking, strangluation, hands tied, torture marks. Its difficult to even imagine his condition at the time of his death. It must be quite painful not only for his family but also for friends. Investigation into the case was even more confusing and depressing. Its better if we avoid reporting trial of the suspect, if the facts are the same as been reported and disclosed by the police.
    The mother part was very interesting and it often happened that we could not even mentioned the talent of our fathers and mothers, irrespective of the fact that they were highly talented. At times i wanted to write about my father, his contribution in the field of education and promoting litrature. I wish some day people like Dr Mubarrak Ali, Dr Ishrat Hussain, Roshan Zameer, Rubina and Mustafa Qureshi, Shafiq Paracha and thousands of his students and colleagues will write.
    Excellent Zubeida. You are doing a great job. Mazhar Abbas

  3. I have neither knowledge about Mr Murtaza nor have any chance to read his views. My deep sympathies.

    But the universal fact "what mothers meant to their children even after they were no longer children." attracted me to POST comment. When my grandmother died I (was child) saw my father and uncles weeping loudly. It is a mere coincidence that today we (myself and my wife) visited two well known and close families on a social visit. But both (who lost their mothers recently) wept out of and remarked MOTHER IS A GREAT and nothing like MOTHER exists. Tears rolled down. At present I am senior citizen and would become HORRIBLE at the idea of death (though death is certain) of my +80 years old mother.

    We must SALUTE our MOTHER….

  4. Very well written. It is a sad loss for everyone by Murtaza’s death and this loss will be mourned for a long time.

  5. SO AGONISING THAT such a compassionate person was killed with such brutality.
    husain naqi

  6. Razvi's family cautioned the media against speculation that he had been murdered in reprisal for his work and told local journalists that he had no personal enemies, news reports said.
    It is 6 days. Where are the killers? Is this killing another symptom of saudisation of Pakistan with the import of ideas and money received from the the middle east?

  7. We can shed tears and pray for our Murtaza's soul to be at rest after reading your article, nothing else.

  8. restless soul at rest
    The write up inspired me a lot.There is no dearth of talent in our country but sometimes one can not utilize the genius due to some concealed reasons. The need of the hour is to make arrangement for harvesting such type of assets, they have a gigantic role to play for the good of the society.

  9. Dear Zubeida,

    It was so painful to read your article about Murtaza Razvi. Thank you for writing it. My heart grieves, and I pray for Pakistan. It makes me determined to work harder at challenging the wrong-headed Western policies, such as the drones.

    With gratitude,

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