Asif Farrukhi and the state

Updated 04 Jun 2020

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THE late Asif Farrukhi pictured at a book launch in this file photo.—White Star
THE late Asif Farrukhi pictured at a book launch in this file photo.—White Star

KARACHI: On June 1, admirers and followers of Urdu literature received a shock recovering from which might take them a long time. Asif Farrukhi’s death of a heart attack at the age of 60 had, at least for a day in Pakistan, eclipsed every other news item — the coronavirus pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the mindless tit-for-tat battle between some of the federal and provincial ministers.

Social media was, and still is, chock-a-block with posts, images, videos and messages mourning his death and recalling the feats that he had achieved in pursuing his dreams — dreams which were crammed with books and nothing but books.

There was a reason for it: Farrukhi was a literary colossus. And there’s ample evidence to suggest that. His six collections of short stories, his critical analyses of many a great work and writer, and his contribution to Pakistani society in elevating its culture to a level where it received praise from across the world are no hidden secrets. To boot, in the last few years he had developed this beautiful habit of encouraging the new breed of writers, egging them on to write more. His association with the students of the university that he had been teaching for the past six years had given away his love for imparting knowledge and wisdom to the younger lot.

His dreams were crammed with books and nothing but books

You ask any poet or writer in Pakistan about how costly Farrukhi’s demise is for literature and society, and you are more than likely to get the response that it’s the costliest loss in recent times. This writer knows some poets and fiction writers who couldn’t stop tears trickling down their cheeks when they got to know about his death. For a good deal of time they thought it was a rumour, because he was 60, an age that thinkers and writers tend to blossom like never before. After all, they, it is generally believed, can keep a finger on the pulse of society. They know what ails it and what can bring it back to its feet, hale and hearty.

But what saddens one to see is the state’s response to Farrukhi’s passing. Come to think of it, previous federal and provincial governments within their ranks had individuals who would tell the men in power about who were the people that our cultural growth was benefitting from. We have had prime ministers and other men/women in decision-making positions that paid visits to poets’ homes to let them know that society acknowledged their worth. It seems that these days, art and culture are at the lowest rung of priority for the powers that be.

One didn’t hear or read condolence messages for Farrukhi coming out of the offices that apparently are responsible to run this country. If there were any, they surely weren’t enough. Be it Islamabad or Sindh (the latter was where he was born and spent his whole life in) ministers were busy defending their other good deeds. It’s clear where their priorities are. Gone are the days when mothers named their sons after poets.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2020