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When life is so beautiful

Published Apr 21, 2012 01:03am


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—Photo courtesy: Khuda Bux Abro.

Minutes before hearing the news he was no more, I was reminiscing about a discussion with my former colleague and good friend, Murtaza Razvi.

We were meeting for the first time when I joined Dawn some six, seven years ago. Anyone who knew him would agree that it was very difficult not to like him instantly. We got talking, laughing. A bond was formed.

I shared an anecdote about my move back to Pakistan. An acquaintance was intrigued by my decision to leave a good, stable job in London to return to an uncertain state of affairs at home. He wasn’t happy with my honest answer: I had been offered the best journalism job in the world by my reckoning.

Although irritated, I didn’t wish to offend him so played along till he thought he got it: “Oh, so you have a 10-year-old daughter. Now I know why you wish to return. Why didn’t you say so?” the wise man commented, in a tone one had heard among some in the expat community before.

“Not quite actually,” I responded stopping him dead in his tracks. “I am going now but hope to be back by the time she is 14-15 because I want her to have the freedoms that our hypocrites deny more than a half of our population in one name or the other — tradition, values, religion.”

Murtaza’s expression changed. Where he was smiling, laughing, he was suddenly serious, very serious: “I have three daughters, Abbas. I have neither the option to go abroad nor do I seek it. I’ll stay and fight these bigots. I have the same dream for my daughters as you have for yours. All of us can’t leave.”

Somehow the exceedingly polite assistant editor, who was till then in agreement with most of what the new editor was saying, had seen red. Frankly, I have seldom been so embarrassed, actually ashamed, of myself. And I told him so. My respect for him grew and so did our friendship.

A TV show made me think of him. The discussion on the domestic violence bill was predictably heated among those calling for equality and protection to women on one side and those who believe male ascendancy somehow enjoys divine sanction on the other. Mufti Naeemi, a leading cleric belonging to an influential religious institution in the country, who was one of the panelists, accused the women participants of trying to roll out what he called the US agenda and came up with this gem.

“Your NGOs are always advocating the cause of the downtrodden women. I’d advise your husband to take a second wife from among one of those poor women, so you can show her how great a life she can have and lift her out of her misery.”

All the three men on the show started to laugh. The women appeared dumbfounded at the ‘joke’ but soon regained their composure to fight back. As I watched this spectacle, emptiness, despair started to fill me.

Kudos to the fighters who battle such biases, such attitudes, with so much verve in a land filled with so much intolerance. I thought of Murtaza and his resolute words from our first meeting so many years ago. And who wouldn’t smile when thinking of that lovely man.

My Blackberry pinged and brought me back to reality and a devastating reality it was. A Tweet was waiting for me. In just a few of the 140 characters, a friend, Amir Raz, was breaking the heart-breaking news that my colleague Murtaza was no more.

And what a colleague he was. Over the four and a half years we worked together, he never said no to work no matter how daunting the task. When as editor of magazines, he was asked to collapse several magazines into one, purely for reasons of viability, he was vocal in his opposition.

And though the eventual decision went against his view, he was a committed professional in implementing it, inspiring his team to give its best. Till the change bedded down, a lot of flak came his way and he took it on the chin rather philosophically. “Hard times mean tough decisions. We are all professionals and need to get on with it.” Never once did anyone hear him suggest it may not have been his own decision. This was again an example of why a polite, pleasant demeanour should never be mistaken for weakness.

Each of his readers would know of his single-minded pursuit of justice in our blighted land. He was tireless as he was fearless whether he was advocating women’s right to equality or lamenting how shabbily we treat our minorities or lambasting the evils of extremism or just simply listing the virtues of representative rule.

Yes, he was a gutsy journalist, a loved leader, a prolific author, a writer committed to peace, a keen editor, a wonderful human being, a generous friend, an accomplished chef, a really fun guy but most of all he was a passionate man. It was this passion that marked his life work.

Away from the public persona he was a deeply passionate family man too. He celebrated his writer-wife’s successes like few men would. It was impossible not to see they were equal partners in life who shared so much. When he talked of her, he talked as one would about one’s best friend.

If one merely heard him talk about his daughters, it wouldn’t be difficult to see the extraordinarily doting father he was. For one filled with so much love for the world, would it be surprising that he loved his wife and daughters almost insanely, that they were the centre of his universe?

We had the privilege of seeing Murtaza with his wife and their three daughters in their own home and of sharing laughter with them. He exchanged messages with my wife when she lost her father and Murtaza his father-in-law recently.

Sincere thanks for your sentiments. Yes, we’ve been there and seen it, you and I, almost together. But we live savouring the glory our children bring us by doing well (Alia does you proud with her achievements and so will Elena), as do us our Maya, Priya & Dina. Thank you.”

Shahrezad and the girls will have to dig deep, so deep.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn |


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Comments (28) Closed

Arshad Khan Apr 23, 2012 10:51am
What an inspirational masterpiece! And this already makes me sad that one day, we will have lost you forever. We so badly need people like you amongst us...May you live long
Amin Apr 22, 2012 10:42pm
Never been so depressed at the state of affairs in this country. Murtaza Rizvi, I loved your columns and what you stood for. RIP! I
Khurram Ali Shafique Apr 22, 2012 10:40pm
I cannot forget him. May his soul rest in peace.
Khurram Ali Shafique Apr 22, 2012 10:38pm
Lee, please talk sense. I am also grieving the death of my dear friend Murtaza and therefore I am shocked at your implication that only in Pakistan people are killed by their fellow citizens - as if homicide does not happen in other countries. What a hypocrite you are for trying to insult the grieving party under the pretext of offering condolence (and the grieving party in this case is the whole of Pakistan, since Murtaza's murder is a loss for the whole nation). I am not sure if you would be able to understand the subtlety of what I am going to say next, but you could grow wiser if you try: yes, it is true what you say "no one is spared in Pakistan" but it is not true that only "civilized and decent" people die here. US drones are killing the uncivilized and indecent ones every day in bulk, including the uncivilized and indecent infants sleeping in their mothers' arms. Next time, before you open your mouth for offering condolence to someone, please try to swallow your ulterior motives - if you can.
Kaleem Razvi Apr 22, 2012 11:38pm
Killing someone is useless thing to do unless it is politically motivated. The victim is actually blessed to leave this wrongful world, but the killer's wrath is only to spread terror among the survivors. Killing someone is not a revenge. It is actually helping the victim tear asunder the veil of illusion and discover the hidden truth (After Death). Martyrs like Murtaza Razvi are certainly enjoying a better life than the killers. Killers will go to hell and shall face wrath of Allah forever, whether the killers believe it or not.
Zeb Apr 22, 2012 11:57pm
We have many fine people in Pakistan, however few speak and stand for truth. Although, I am good reader of Dawn but never got the opportunity to read Murtaza, what a fine writer he was. His writings are just fabulous. He represented true feelings of ordinary Pakistani and died for a cause. I admire him. He is true hero of our society. I believe his work needs to be translated in Urdu and published, which is language of ordinary person in Pakistan. Murtaza is a great loss to his family, friends, colleagues, his readers and to this poor nation, which already starved balanced people. God may bless strength and courage to his family and friends to bear this loss. God may rest you in peace. (Ameen)
sri1ram Apr 23, 2012 01:25am
Difficult not to shed tears for a principled, passionate man cut off at the behest of the unmentionables. I am surprised that I had not read any of his articles before his demise, now I have read most of them and know why he was snuffed out. Completing the conversion of his thoughts to Urdu should be undertaken for sure to honor this gem of a personality. Wishing his wife and daughters the utmost strength in moving on. Sriram
Rashid Zafar Apr 22, 2012 04:53pm
'Murtaza' means 'chosen one'... He stood for his name. Yes, he did.
Indocapri Apr 23, 2012 06:45am
As an Indian I great admired the writings of this fearless man. But am intrigued as ro why he gave his daughters such Hindu names? Again, proof of his broadmindedness?
Indocapri Apr 23, 2012 06:43am
Great man, and as an Indian admired his fearless writings. but am intrigued as to why he gave his daughters Hindu names?
Arup K. Saha Apr 21, 2012 10:00am
He did his best for his country and religion. RIP
Akbar Apr 21, 2012 10:10am
the city and the country is so deeply entrenched in this un-HOLY war of words and hands that it has forgotten sanity, Islam and also the virtues of living a simple life as a human being.....
Amima Apr 21, 2012 11:18am
moving! though i didnt know the man, i know Shahrezad..and yes, she will have to dig deep, so deep.
gul hassan shaikh Apr 21, 2012 12:07pm
wow this artical has c me the way of life, great thoughts are hidden in this artical and such a fabulace statments were seen in it.
SK Apr 21, 2012 01:17pm
RIP. My heart goes out to you and your family. May Allah watch over them and the perpetrators are brought to face justice for this heinous crime. When will this madness stop? Why is that while all the countries are progressing this "pure nation" of ours is going back to the stone ages? Will there even be an end to this?
shagufta naaz Apr 21, 2012 01:35pm
Thank you Abbas for bringing Murtaza so vividly to life. Messages from you and his umpteen friends and admirers will be a source of soalce for Sherry and the girls - this is how Maya Priya and Dina will know what an extraordinary man their father was
Abu Aayan Apr 21, 2012 03:19pm
Great Words for a Great man ... Murtaza RIP.. We all miss you and pray for your family. May the cause you stood for and the place where you wanted to the society at, is someday achieved. For sure you will feel lot comfortable up there if it really happens. We will try ...
Hamid Apr 21, 2012 03:56pm
He was one of the journalists in this land of "fanatics, fundamentalists and bigots" who had the courage to speak for very venerable sections of this society. I being an Ahmadie will remember him as brave man who had the courage to highlight our plight as well. Which I can tell you is not the easiest thing to be done in the above mentioned land. Ina Lilahae wa Ina Ilahe Rajaon. May Allah always keep his family protected and shower countless blessings on them. Aamean!
Arun Bhatnagar Apr 21, 2012 05:34pm
He comes across (in a most untimely death) as a truly remarkable person and brilliant writer. He seemed to approve of my contributions to Dawn from across the border and will remain for me a very warm memory, a friend I did not have the privilege and pleasure to meet but whom my wife and I will long admire. May the best divine blessings be his and may the Almighty always sustain his brave and wonderful family. When I submit my next article on Pakistan–India, it would be in his honour. Arun Bhatnagar New Delhi
Aziz Bilal Apr 21, 2012 05:45pm
Very well written. Murtaza Razvi. I as a newbie to commenting on national affairs and reading different articles of national interest was unaware of this great person (except Kulawari di) till he died. It was later when I realised his person after going through 'his legacy' published by dawn. What a man was he. Abbas sahib truly said, "Kudos to the fighters who battle such biases, such attitudes, with so much verve in a land filled with so much intolerance. I thought of Murtaza and his resolute words from our first meeting so many years ago. " Truly patriotic, when, knowing all the threats to himself, he uttered such resolute “I have three daughters, Abbas. I have neither the option to go abroad nor do I seek it. I’ll stay and fight these bigots. I have the same dream for my daughters as you have for yours. All of us can’t leave.” All of us can't leave. A brave man, such patience in obedience and commitment to his work is scarce: “Hard times mean tough decisions. We are all professionals and need to get on with it.” And finally, I have seen many who are famous world over, but are discourteous to immediate family members, resultantly they earn world's honour but are disrespected at home, he had a true image of being a Muslim. "Away from the public persona he was a deeply passionate family man too. He celebrated his writer-wife’s successes like few men would. It was impossible not to see they were equal partners in life who shared so much. When he talked of her, he talked as one would about one’s best friend." So nice, and so pure. May Allah bless him. May Murtaza Razvi rest in in peace. May we all journalists follow the good steps of Murtaza. Murtaza, I knew you not in your life, but the respect that you earned, the words that you have spoken, the commitment that you had, made me loving you. Allah bless you and bless your family.
Niaz Betab Apr 21, 2012 11:25pm
Moving. Tear jerking. He was a man. A brilliant piece.
Kaleem Razvi Apr 22, 2012 12:31am
ILWIAR. From Allah we come and to Him shall return. He was one of my best cousins. Allah may bless him Jannat Al-Firdaus and give peace to the late's family. It hurts me within when I see Most Of Pakistan turning Napakistan under foreign influence. Allah's wrath is not too far. Just wait.
Ahmed Apr 22, 2012 12:40am
The only way Murtaza would want us to remember him is to see his mission through. His crusade against intolerance, discrimination and injustice must be carried on by each and every one of us who calls this piece of land his or her home.
Shahzad Akhund Apr 22, 2012 05:07am
ILWIAR. I am sorry about the sad demise of your cousin. Please accept my heartfelt condolence. May Allh bless the departed soul with eternal peace and give you all the strength to sustain the loss.
Saf Apr 22, 2012 09:23am
So sorry for your, and our loss. RIP.
Ahmed Jafri Apr 22, 2012 10:59am
Fully cogent of adversities, this imperial human being championed the causes of the downtrodden, the beleaguered, and the less fortunate. He lived by his principles and died for them in the tradition set for all by his ancestors. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. Speaking the truth and standing up for what is right in the face of tyranny in any garb is true Jihad!
Lee Apr 22, 2012 11:37am
what was his fault to be killed like this ? wasn't he muslim ? wasn't he pakisthani ? wasn't he a brlliant man ? why do pakisthani's do this to their own people and to each other ? are they so colored in judgement that they can't see right from wrong ? will the country's govt ever go find those behind such brutality ? one journalist after another gets killed and no sign of putting the killers behind bars. no one is spared in pakisthan. no one civilized and decent. this is what the rest of the world makes of this country. the few pieces i read of pakistani news - are from dawn and his writings were brilliant. peace be with his family. courage and strength to them. wonder what the killers achieved other than hiding their own insecurities.. Lee from the US
babu Apr 22, 2012 02:29pm
death is inevitable, but why did they torture him ,tie up his hands,as he lay helpless ,what did they want him to repent?