Irfan Husain gets high five from friends on a life well lived

Published April 16, 2024
Javed Jabbar speaks at the event. Also present on stage are (from left) Javid Ali Khan, Dr Masuma Hasan, Anwar Maqsood and Dr Ishrat Husain.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Javed Jabbar speaks at the event. Also present on stage are (from left) Javid Ali Khan, Dr Masuma Hasan, Anwar Maqsood and Dr Ishrat Husain.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: The book launching ceremony of late Irfan Husain’s collection of selected columns A Life Lived with Passion on Monday was quality time spent in the company of his five friends who shared glimpses of his life to help those who didn’t know him personally know him better through their eyes.

The event was organised by the Library and Literary Sub-committee of the Karachi Gymkhana in the club’s Sapphire Hall.

Not at all a sad occasion, it was a celebration of a life with many positive dimensions, of someone who had scaled the heights of integrity and was passionate about several things which he wrote about. In fact, he wrote more than 3,000 columns and articles of which the best 140 pieces covering a diverse array of subjects were selected for the book.

Javid Ali Khan, Irfan Husain’s close friend, who also published the book, after his passing, also praised the editors of the book — journalist Carmen Gonzalez and her husband, former Dawn editor Abbas Nasir — who meticulously selected the pieces and arranged them in chronological order. The selection helps readers witness the evolution of the author’s mind, knowledge and intellect over the span of five decades.

Late columnist remembered at launch of his book A Life Lived with Passion

Speaking on the occasion, Javid Ali Khan said that the book is a “labour of love, a combined effort of Irfan’s wife and the editors”.

He said that he first met Irfan in a classroom where “he was the student, and I was the teacher. But later, in life he became my teacher”.

“He passed the civil service exam and was posted in Lahore first. I encouraged him to write columns. He wrote honestly and bravely,” he said, adding that he was also instrumental in introducing him to his first wife and was also best man at his second wedding to Charlotte.

Economist and writer Dr Ishrat Husain said that he followed Irfan Husain’s columns in Dawn. “He was a truly global citizen. His columns showed his grasp over politics, history, human rights, science technology, poetry, food, and so many other things,” he said.

“He was a conscious and sharp person, who could fit his entire message in a concise column. He had conviction. His advocacy for human rights, minorities’ rights and women’s rights showed his conviction. He wanted the government to invest in social infrastructure, education and empowerment of girls. He was critical of those who used contacts to get anywhere. He wrote about the corrupt system where relatives just got to reach important positions. He was also a firm believer in democracy. Even his earliest writings, which are some 49 to 50 years old, still have relevance,” he said.

Former ambassador Dr Masuma Hasan, who knew Irfan Husain from their student days, said that in order to understand his journey it is necessary to look at the vibrant environment in which he was placed. “His father was a short story writer, who spoke numerous languages. His mother wrote, too. He was raised in a vibrant environment which gave him a world view,” she said.

Eminent writer Anwar Maqsood, who was also an old friend of Irfan Husain from their Karachi University (KU) days, recalled how his friend used to get him into trouble. “I was mistaken as a thief when I was seen taking his father’s expensive ties from his closet. But it was Irfan who was selling them to me for Rs15 each,” he said, making everyone laugh.

Though Anwar Maqsood is known as a famous humorist, it was former Senator Javed Jabbar, also Irfan Husain’s close friends from their KU days, who had the audience falling out of their chairs with laughter while sharing an old memory of them performing in a play.

The play, Julius Caesar, was not allowed to be staged at the KU so the boys, including its production designer Anwar Maqsood, took it to the Karachi Grammar School stage.

“The characters in the play were wearing togas. Irfan was not wearing anything underneath his toga. We were directed not to fall with our feet pointing towards the audience. But Anwar Maqsood had put safety pins in all the wrong places in Irfan Husain’s costume. He was not meant to fall but he did and what was worse was that when he did his legs were pointed in the direction of the audience,” Javed Jabbar remembered.

“When the founding father of PTV, Aslam Azhar’s wife Nasreen Azhar, who was reporting on the event, gave us a review in the paper she called it ‘The Murder of Julius Caesar’. She was being kind. It was in fact the massacre of Julius Caesar,” he finished his tale with a shudder.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2024

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