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Too many good souls gone

December 22, 2012

One of the most painful consequences of living longer than one should is that one has to go on suffering the loss of many friends. The past few months have taken so heavy a toll that one’s survival sometimes causes embarrassment, particularly when a friend like Faizan Peerzada dies before giving the world all that he had within himself.

He was merely a child when that doyen of thespians, Rafi Peer, very kindly admitted me into the circle of his friends more than 40 years ago. Those were not the best days of the great artist’s life but they helped his children learn the art of struggling and succeeding against all odds. All of them, the sons in particular, have proved themselves to be people of talent and drive. They have functioned as a well-knit team and in that team Faizan was the dynamo.

An astonishingly quick artist he had mastered many skills – designing, puppet-making, stage production, music composition and, above all, organization of events that looked impossible when first broached.

Nimble-footed despite his bulk and always ready with his wit and laughter even when faced with grave hazards and the ill-wind of calumny, he gave Lahore, Pakistan and the world beyond many moments of unadulterated love and joy. The Rafi Peer Theatre created by him and his siblings is one of our civil society’s most radiant achievements, and this in a country where the state and society are competing with one another as to who between them can go downhill faster. A death that helps you realize how untimely it can be. Shortly before learning of Faizan’s death the newspaper brought news of M.A. Majid’s passing. The world did not do justice with M.A. Majid while he was alive and is unlikely to do so when he is no more. For long years he symbolized the spirit of continuity and resilience at Dawn, serving as the editorial lynchpin with a galaxy of genuine editors – from Altaf Husain to Ahmad Ali Khan and Tahir Mirza.

Almost every day, so long as he was in service, he was the last of the assistant editors to leave – after making sure that every leader page chore had been taken care of. He understood politics and had a healthy dislike for the opportunists, especially those who used apparently developed brains to cheat their fellow-beings. Never the one to jump the queue he had developed a way of looking at life from a stoic’s perch but he was a doer too and was one of those who strive for stability amidst chaos.

Faizan and M.A. Majid departed while the wound caused by the passing away of S.M. Masud was still fresh. A rare man among the dying breed of conscientious and honest politicians, he had matured into a sober intellect through the highs and lows of life.

Known in the closing months of the 1960s as one of the two (the other one, Abdus Sattar Najam) most prominent young devotees of Mr Bhutto in Lahore, he was driven more by reason than passion. Neither legal practice nor the demands of parliamentary and ministerial responsibilities could extinguish his thirst for knowledge, nor his ability to put across his point of view, not only orally but also in writing.

He remained faithful to the party but could take criticism of it with grace. Always ready to offer his shoulder for any good cause – human rights, peace, media freedom, the people’s right to justice – he had the guts to uphold human rights and fair play even at the cost of filial considerations.

And before that Shafqat Tanvir Mirza lost the battle with the angel of death that he had valiantly fought for quite some time. A purist in his convictions to a fault he single-mindedly fought for his language and for the people’s right to their languages, besides distinguishing himself in journalism and literature. Persons cast in the mould nature had chosen for him are bound to raise controversies and STM was no exception. But he allowed the others as much freedom to disagree with him as he exercised while disagreeing with them. He learnt to speak more and more softly as he grew old and weak but his word continued to command increasing respect. He faced adversity with pride, kept his eyes and ears open and never missed the call of duty – to the last. He communicated to his friends the meaning of commitment.

Before STM went Asrar Ahmad, one of the highest names in the history of journalism in the country. A perceptive and indefatigable reporter he was not only one of the founders of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists but also led it through one of the most critical periods in its life. Under him the trade union learnt to defy the Ayub dictatorship and also to look after itself. Immensely courteous to acquaintances and strangers alike his soft manners concealed a will of steel. A thoroughly political person he kept his report free of personal opinion but was never shy of telling the high and mighty what they really were. His book of memoirs is a must read for journalists and politicians both.

With so many good friends gone the world has certainly become poorer not only for those who had possibilities of knowing the dear departed but also for all the other survivors. What makes the loss unbearable is the fact that the likes of them are not coming any more. Their going away seems like fulfillment of a curse on our country that its good children will be quick in returning to dust while the wretched ones will survive and the wicked will continue to gloat over the doings of butchers who cannot stand the sight of an anti-polio vaccinator. -- I.A. Rehman