Dr. Asif Farrukhi: Man of Letters

Dr. Asif Farrukhi was a widely acclaimed author, critic and translator who  wrote both in English and Urdu. He got his education from Dow Medical College, Karachi and Harvard University. Besides dedicating himself to the writing and advocating to the service of literature he was also a public health physician. He translated several Urdu works into English. Farrukhi worked for the development and promoting the diversity of regional languages and was Director of the Arzu Centre for Regional Languages and Humanities.  It is said beauty is in the eyes of the beholder but Dr. Farrukhi had wisdom dripping from his eyes adding  to his charm and grace that he infused in his surroundings. He was a voracious reader and his writing had the trails of ‘ activism and immediacy’ which he stood for his life, contributing in the re-orientation and reconstruction of  public interpretation of literature and its revivalist/radical positioning  vis-à-vis ideals of  justice and freedom.

The passion for writing and literature started in his  associations with Intizar Hussain, Quratul-Ain-Haider, Ismat Chugtai. He was the great grandson of Deputy Nazir Ahmad, considered by many  as the first  Urdu novelist wrote the exquisite and erudite  introduction on his masterpiece ‘Taubatun Nasooh’ (The Penitence of Nasooh). He had the institutional and organizational charm having  the flair flashing form his  encyclopaedic  knowledge to his credit. He started the new wave of ‘reading culture’ in Pakistan bringing the taste of literature  into ‘public sphere’ and in ‘public spaces’ too. He was the co-founder of Karachi Literary Festival in 2010 and had started 3 day Adab Festival this year. The columns that he wrote for The Dawn serve the fact of how his literary mettle transcended beyond the fixating genres of typologies written on thinkers from Virgilio Pinera-Cuban writer to Mir Tariq Mir. His last column published two days before his death was on Afzal Ahmad Syed’s book   “Baada-i-Dosheena: Intikhaab-i-Ghazaliyat” [Wine from Last Night: A Selection of Ghazals].

He re-invigorated Urdu literaryscape by putting into limelight the works and figures that were either little understood or were not yet in the mainstream literary culture. He wrote the critical essays on Saddat Hasan Manto in the form of collected essays and Look at the City from Here — an anthology of writings about Karachi. He compiled ‘Intikhab-e-Kalam: Zehra Nigah’ – poetic thoughts  of Zehra Nigah dealing with serious themes like terrorism, capitalism, feminism etc., Intikhab-e-Kalam of Fahmida Riaz-progressive writer and human rights activist, Intikhab-e-Kalam of Kishwar Naheed – feminist Urdu poet and a writer, published by Oxford University Press Pakistan. Asif Farrukhi wrote a definitive account of Intizar Hussain in his Charagh-e-Shab-e-Afsana — Intizar Husain Ka Jahan-e-Fun  as he had religiously followed all his writings and had been the great admirer of Intizar Hussain and considered him as his ‘literary hero’ in one of his interviews

Another facet of his personality was the ‘art of interviewing’. If interviewing was the genre of literature he surely would have been at the top of it. Interviewing the best of literary figures from Amrita Pritam to Intizar Hussain, his style and interviewing took one to the time travels of Jorge Luis Borges  narrating his stories with his unique tone and measured words. Some of the earliest interviews were drafted in the form of collections of his interviews from Ghulam  Abbas to Amrita Pritam  in a book ‘Harf-e-Mano Tu’  published in 1989. Taking his endeavours further he launched a book series  titled ‘Dunyazad’, in 2000, which became a literary  journal afterwards compiling and edited more than dozen of volumes of it . He also ran a publishing house ‘Sheherzade’ devoted to the discovery of emerging and new literary works. Besides writing some of the best short stories in Urdu, such as ‘Shehr-e-Maajra’ (1995), ‘Mein Shaakh se Kiyun Tuta’ (1997), and ‘Mere Din Guzar Rahe Hain’ (2009)

He was in the ranks of triumvirate of Zia Mohuidin, Anwar Maqsood and Mushtaq Yousufi who brought a new lease of life to the culture of ‘reading’ and emancipative character of literature in the changing political climates vanguarding the spirit of freedom of expression and also exhorting for the peace and harmony given their exchange with the Indian writers and audience. Farrukhi had been part of Rekhta – India’s growing body of Urdu literature where he interviewed and gave speeches on the relevance and importance of Urdu in the socio-cultural and political configurations of both Pakistan and India. From 1985 to 1993, Asif had the opportunity to work under the supervision of public health pioneer Professor John H Bryant in the Faculty of the Aga Khan University and from 1994 to 2014 he was associated with UNICEF, Karachi, as the Health & Nutrition programme officer.  In 1995, Farrukhi received the Prime Minister’s award for literature and in 2005 the prestigious Tamgha-i-Imtiaz (Medal of Excellence) from the President of Pakistan.

Tailpiece

The year 2020 has been heart-breaking so far. Many people were shocked and deeply saddened on hearing the news of Dr Asif Farrukhi being no more. Having read almost anything he wrote and listening to his every word adored with wisdom, I believe we surely lost a man who was committed  to ‘literature ’ and died with it too. Even during the pandemic times, he had started his “Tala Bandhi ka roznamcha” (Lockdown Diaries) on his YouTube channel with last episode upload entitled  “hospital sai adalat tak”  on 21st May, a week before he bid adieu to this world. He would always be remembered as brilliant raconteur of Urdu and comparative literature both in print and through his regaling voice. While giving tribute to Intizar Hussain, Farrukhi had titled it as a ‘celebration and not an obituary’, rendering the same in here, I too would consider it as the moment of celebration of his legacy. He will always be here in what Elizabethans would call ‘celestial harmony’ as long as planets continue to orbit through his efforts as public intellectual and literary activist. Rest in peace Dr. Asif Farrukhi

Author is a Researcher University of Kashmir.