A tribute to Musadiq Sanwal: The man who smiled through it all

Published January 17, 2014
Musadiq Sanwal lived like a lover. —Photo by Hussain Afzal
Musadiq Sanwal lived like a lover. —Photo by Hussain Afzal

He promised he would be back at work in a few weeks. He never could.

Musadiq Sanwal lived like a lover — making the most of every moment of his tragically short life; and he died fighting courageously with his illness like a philosopher — stoic and starkly aware where he was headed. “I am living on bonus; I have come back from the dead,” he would muse about his life after getting treatment for cancer last year.

How terribly small the bonus turned out to be. “It is my second birth,” he would add. How dreadfully short his second stint came to be. “Look at my hair; they have the soft, pristine feel of a newborn’s hair,” he would mutter as he moved his hand through his closely cropped grey hair. What unfortunate way for a grey-haired newborn to leave the world so quickly.

With a shiny smile on his lips and a naughty twinkle in his eyes, Sanwal talked about his illness like he was talking about someone else’s problems: mincing no words, creating no fuss, showing no emotions. He never groaned even when he was in excruciating pain; he never limped even when lumps and tumours were pulling and pushing all the sinews in his body in impossible directions. He smiled through it all.

He made his illness another source of self-awareness and self-realisation — he started writing poetry. An artist by education, a musician by training, a dramatist by choice, Sanwal was now also a poet. His poems are indeed the true reflection of the man he has been and the times he has been through — more so as a passionately thinking, intelligently grieving member of a society falling apart than as an individual going through medical troubles of his own.

His duel with his disease also became a reason for laughter rather than self-pity and sentimentalism. How the doctors had found out that his spreading cancer had nothing to do with his inability to quit smoking; how he could “manipulate” his own statements about his physical condition trying to win some unusual concessions from his doctors about his intakes; how unrelenting pain was a matter of external environment in the office rather than an effect of some internal trouble. Just by changing the setting and furniture in his office, bringing in a lot of plants, giving the place the feel of a study rather than a workplace, he would try to convince that these small changes were the only thing he needed to feel better.

It was not. And he knew it; he just did not want anyone to know what he already knew. Everything that he said and did in the last few months of his life was like leaving a lasting professional, intellectual and emotional footprint. He knew he was never to come back but he just did not want to give that knowledge away. It was either so very preciously personal to him that he did not want anyone to share it with or it was so ridiculously insignificant that it did not matter at all.

The promise he made mattered though, even at the very end. He wanted to come back to work — even as dead.

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