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Murtaza Razvi, my friend

April 18, 2013

Murtaza Razvi – Photo by Khuda Bux Abro

Tomorrow is April 19. The morning of April 19 last year brought a thick layer of darkness in its wake, the same darkness that has overshadowed Pakistan for decades now. But on the said morning, a twinkling ray of light was silenced forever. Just because this nation brought up under the dark and shadowy skies had a petty grievance. This twinkling ray of light was none other than my friend Murtaza Razvi, one of those highly educated sons of this country who – despite having degrees from foreign universities and fluency in several languages – favoured returning to his country and working here instead of staying abroad and living a comfortable life with a high-paying job.

Murtaza’s departure was an irreplaceable loss for his family and friends, but it was a far greater loss for those who love this nation. In a country ruled by darkness, writers such as Murtaza are like a lit lamp that shines through the obscurity. Storms cannot extinguish them; their source of light may be initiated in solitude but it is contagious and spreads to their surroundings. His unexpected departure left his family and friends in utter stillness. The very people, who thought it important to hold a minute of silence for the unknown deceased at various events, have been quiet for a whole year. No one attempted to write about him later, nor was any condolence meeting held for him. No one tried to review the extent of Murtaza’s work that extended to journalism, literature and art.

This is a country where the thieves, plunderers, the leeches sucking the blood of the poor, those who debase humanity, the liars and double-dealers are all mourned. Strikes are held in their honour; death anniversaries are observed; special numbers and obituaries are published for them in the newspapers. But what had Murtaza done wrong that his goodness, philanthropy, charity and entire life’s work were all dominated by his demise and his friends continue to avoid each other’s eyes. He wasn’t someone who could be forgotten so easily and silently. He was, in fact, a lively, friendly person who loved literature and the arts and always promoted them; a person who used to spread love and compassion in a place rife with hatred and fundamentalism.

When our friend and a Sindhi poet, Hassan Dars passed away in an accident, I remember how we stood in the corridor at Dawn, looking at each other in the eye and condoling our friend’s demise as words are usually insufficient on such occasions. He got all our friends who knew Dars to write about the latter. In the same week, a number was published for Dars in Dawn’s Books & Authors, telling the world about the treasure it had lost. Murtaza wasn’t only a big name in journalism. His services to literature and the arts during his time as an editor are unforgettable to many.

Journalism is beginning to lose its educated members, who remained connected to their land while maintaining their relationship with books. Now the journalists too swim in pools of gold and their feet hover above the ground. But this man always remained grounded, meeting everyone with compassion in his eyes and a smile on his face, regardless of whether they loved or hated him. Not only did he help those around him but through his writing he helped those people for whom he really cared about, quietly helping them financially. Once a mutual friend met him outside Saylani’s and a smiling Murtaza told him to consider that the latter had gone there to have a meal.

His sense of humour was dominated by a Lahori flavour. Despite having been born in Lahore, he would always insist on being considered a Karachiite. After the demise of his mother, he began writing poetry and used to recite it at every mehfil, which was something he enjoyed a lot. So the poets and the enthusiasts surrounded him as he became an indispensable part of their poetry gatherings.

You will find many men in this society that claim to support gender equality, another issue that has become a lucrative industry now. But when you actually search for such men, you would find only a handful that genuinely believe in gender equality and practice it too. I always found him to be the most prominent out of them all. Not only was he extremely proud of his wife and daughters but also encouraged and helped other women that he interacted with everyday. He used highlight their issues in his writings, not just because it was fashionable to do so, but because he was a true feminist. It was endearing to see his excited manner when he would tell his friends about the slightest achievements of his growing daughters. If there were more fathers like him in this society, then half of the problems faced by women could be resolved.

He was more a friend than a boss. He would let his team members decide how to do their work. If he ever had to make a decision, he would first ask every team member’s opinion. He kept his team together even if two people didn’t wish to see each other’s faces by making everyone sit down and talk things out, sometimes even treated them to lunch. His colleagues often ordered food from fancy restaurants or went out for lunch. But I always saw Murtaza eating food from the office canteen or eating alongside the labourers at the eateries near Jang Press and enjoying himself immensely.

He was just as competent at cooking. I can never forget the aroma of his cooking. He learnt how to cook from his mother. I learnt how to cook rice from him one day when all other dishes were prepared but there was nothing to eat them with. That day, Murtaza cooked the rice and taught me the recipe.

He knew so many languages that even I was astonished. Punjabi was his mother tongue but he was also fluent in English, Urdu, Persian, Hindi, French, German and some other languages.

There were countless memories of Murtaza that should be shared. But I appeal to his friends and admirers that for God’s sake, please break your fast of silence because people like him are not commonly found. So let us come together in his remembrance and cherish his memories. I merely wished to initiate this, which I have done.

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The author has dabbled in every form of the visual arts. An activist to the core, Abro’s work deals with social themes and issues ranging from human rights to dictatorial regimes. He is currently working for DAWN as an illustrator.