‘We could’ve saved him’

10 Feb 2016

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KARACHI: It was a moving experience for book lovers to hear the way writers Masood Ashar, Prof Shamim Hanafi, Asghar Nadim Syed, Anwer Sen Roy and Asif Farrukhi expressed their thoughts on eminent novelist, short story writer and columnist Intizar Husain’s life and work at a meeting organised to remember him at the Arts Council on Monday evening. Intizar sahib passed away on Feb 2 in Lahore.

The first sentence that Mr Ashar, who had a decades-long association with the late writer, uttered when he came to the podium was, “We could have saved him” and that he could’ve been more careful with his health. He said for the past many years he, Intizar sahib and a couple of other friends used to meet every Thursday and Sunday. He said on one such Sunday when the writer didn’t turn up, they phoned him. The person who used to take care of him at home picked up the phone and said he wasn’t well; so, he said, all of us went to his home. He said Intizar sahib’s wife had died a long time back and he lived alone. When they met him, he looked unwell, he said. His friends, he said, inquired after his health to which he replied he didn’t have fever but was feeling squeamish. Someone had advised him to take panadol. This made one of his friends, writer Ikramullah, worried and he urged Intizar sahib to go to hospital immediately. Intizar sahib didn’t pay heed to him, saying he would think about it the next day; and didn’t get another chance to think, he said.

Mr Ashar said in the following days Intizar sahib’s condition worsened, he became unconscious and was taken to the National Hospital, where he underwent treatment for 10 days, in vain. He said Intizar sahib’s nephew had told him (Ashar) that only once during his stay at hospital he opened his eyes for a moment and asked, “Masood chala gaya?” (has Masood gone?) Explaining this, he said, Intizar sahib wanted to come to Karachi to take part in the 7th Karachi Literature Festival and perhaps was asking whether he (Ashar) had already gone. After the KLF, he was supposed to attend the Rekhta Festival in India, he said. The late writer used to feel happy about taking part in such events and had tremendous energy for it, he said. Asif Farrukhi told him, he said, that Intizar sahib had pneumonia. He said last year he suffered from a kidney infection and was treated for it. Despite that he came to Karachi to be at the Urdu conference, he said.

Prof Shamim Hanafi, who spoke from Delhi via telephone, said Intizar sahib’s death had benumbed him. He said the week before his death he had a chat with him and he wanted him (Hanafi) to come to Karachi for the KLF after which they would together fly out to India. He said in the last 65 years whatever important milestones Urdu literature had achieved, Intizar sahib was part of it. He said he wasn’t just a fiction writer but was the literary history of 65 years. Lauding Intizar sahib’s column writing, he said his literary pursuits and journalism completed each other. He said he was the greatest literary personality of our time. He told the audience that in India too condolence meetings were being held to remember him.

Asif Farrukhi reminded the attendees of one of Intizar sahib’s stories, ‘Sogwaraan’, in which a young man dies and people gather to condole his death; but as time passes by everyone talks about their own lives and forgets the dead person. He said Intizar sahib had also written about his death, since death for him was not a terminal thing; it was a ‘mandagi ka waqfa’ (a brief pause to take rest).

Mr Farrukhi told a couple of interesting stories related to his travel abroad with the late writer. He said on one occasion in Canada he said to him that Canadian squirrels were ugly, whereas the ones that we had in our region were good looking because Sri Krishna had run his hand over them as a result of which they had stripes on them. He said Intizar sahib had not passed away, but had returned to his story.

Asghar Nadim Syed, speaking via telephone, said Intizar sahib felt happy whenever he came to Karachi. He said at the hotel where the KLF was held he would feed the birds that would gather on seashore. Today, he said, those birds were sad. He claimed that now his works would be analysed in totality and he would be declared the greatest short story writer.

Anwer Sen Roy said when he heard the news that Intizar sahib wasn’t keeping well, he felt afraid for his life. He said during the recently held KLF he missed him so much that he looked at the photographs that he had taken of the writer in the earlier editions of the event where he would be sitting with Masood Ashar, listening avidly to speakers.

Kiswhar Naheed, Ahmed Shah, Dr Huma Mir, Bakhtiar Ahmed, Shahida Hasan, Dr Fatema Hasan, Irfan Javed and Mubeen Mirza also spoke.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2016