Man of books bids goodbye with one on his bedside

Greater Kashmir

Known for being a connoisseur of books, academician and literary personality Agha Ashraf Ali, who passed away on Friday night, spent even the last moments of his life with a book on his bedside. Friends and well wishers who described him as an ardent reader, said the “poignant passion and robust energy” which Agha Ashraf possessed for books was unique.

On Saturday, at the residence of late Agha Ashraf, it was an austere and limited gathering due to the ongoing pandemic.

Attending to his close friends and followers, Agha Ashraf’s caretaker for the last 12 years, Showkat-ul-Islam, had many anecdotes to share. Showkat who accompanied by his wife were alongside Agha Ashraf till his last days told the Greater Kashmir that books gave him company till the last moment.

Pointing to a photograph of the book “Religion vs Religion” by author Dr Ali Shariati, captured in Showkat’s cellphone, the caretaker breaks down and says: “For Agha Ashraf Ali books was life and life was books.”

“He was everything for me and I cannot forget the time I spent with him since 2008. This book (pointing at the photograph) he was reading till his last day and it was even on his bedside during his last moments,” said Showkat. However, Showkat regrets that a book authored by late Agha Ashraf’s daughter Sameetha Agha has remained in transit from the US and “sadly couldn’t reach him in time”. “The book on which his daughter wanted him to write a review was in transit. It would have taken just three days for the book to reach here but sadly he was not destined to read and review it,” said Showkat.

Prominent author Prof Syed Habibullah, who has penned down two books – “Rehnuma” and Agha Ashraf’s biography “Kuch to Likheye ki log Kehte Hain”, says the two literature lovers knew each other for the last 54 years.

Prof Habibullah recalls that in the book Rehnuma, he has written a paragraph which “personifies Agha Ashraf’s love for books”. “I had written that if I was asked what should be engraved on Agha Ashraf’s grave, my answer would be that the ardent lover of books continues reading even in his grave….”, said Prof Habibullah. He describes Agha Ashraf Ali as “someone who cared for his students and extended great help for the downtrodden.” “His care for the students was exemplary. Aga saheb always wanted them to do their bit for the society,” said Prof Habibullah.

Noted educationist Prof Abdul Hai described Agha Ashraf’s love for books as “extraordinary”. “Whenever I visited him, I noticed new books which he would have purchased. The degree of love Aga Ashraf had for books was immense.”

Dr Syed Safdar, a prominent physician, said Aga Ashraf with help of his reading habits had developed a “broad perspective regarding religion, sociology and several other subjects.” “He was very possessive about his books and his library which unfortunately was damaged during 2014 floods. He would do reading for at least 8 hours a day at various intervals,” Dr Safdar said.

Syed Fida Hussain Rizvi who described himself as a “keen follower” of Agha Ashraf, said he was a voracious reader. “Of late he had suffered from a certain degree of memory loss due to old age but had surprisingly not forgotten about the books which he had read. He was also quite philanthropic in nature and would help the needy and the poor,” Rizvi said.