Asif Farrukhi and I were ‘partners in crime’ as he so often liked to joke. I had known Asif for so long that I really can’t remember how we first met; perhaps we were introduced by Zaheer Kidvai. I must ask Zaheer.
Our fruitful and meaningful friendship and literary partnership began over a quarter of a century ago when we began working together to publish books that he advised and encouraged me to get published, and those that he wrote, edited, compiled, introduced or translated. I always took Asif’s recommendations seriously as they were based on his vast knowledge of, and passion for, literature and books.
Asif’s first book of short stories was published in 1982 with many following. He translated from English to Urdu and the other way round. He edited Fires in an Autumn Garden. Asif was brilliant at creating titles for books such as An Evening of Caged Beasts, which he translated and introduced with Frances Pritchett.
He wasn’t just an authority on Urdu literature. He was widely read in Spanish literature, Sindhi literature (he translated Attiya Dawood’s book of poems, Raging to be Free, from Sindhi to English), Arab and Palestinian literature, English Literature, Russian literature, etc. I was also connected with him because he, too, was a publisher of the prestigious imprint, Scheherazade, as well as a literary critic.
Asif was wonderful to know and work with. He was relatively young but his manners were that of an old-world gentleman. Being the son of another literary giant and scholar, Dr Aslam Farrukhi, and the great grandson of Dipty [sic.] Nazir Ahmed, it was in his genes. He kept a low profile, and was quiet and self-effacing, but his personality was towering and he left a lasting impression on anyone he met. I think the reason we were able to fulfil our plans and dreams to a large extent was the meeting of minds which sustained our long-standing friendship and partnership.
Although he had numerous prestigious jobs and degrees in medicine and public health, his life-long passion was literature. He was a great collector of books and took pride in his personal library.
In 2009 we began talking of, and planning, the annual Karachi Literature Festival which we launched in 2010 with great support from the British Council. We then went on to found and organize the annual Islamabad Literature Festival in 2013, the Karachi Literature Festival, London, in 2017 and the Adab Festival in 2019. Our aim was to create a model for literature festivals which others could replicate and take to scale. We dreamed of launching a movement of litfests in Pakistan and I am so glad Asif was able to see his dream taking shape across Pakistan with litfests being held in Hyderabad, Gwadar, Lahore, Faisalabad, Quetta and more; and then of course the launching of the Children’s Literature Festival.
Asif and I would spend hours planning the sessions for our literature festivals, first the Karachi and Islamabad Literature Festivals and then the Adab Festival. He chose the name Adab for our festival.
I used to find it so stimulating whenever we planned the sessions for our various festivals as his ideas were limitless. I found in the countless long hours that we spent designing sessions that he wanted to give everyone a chance to participate. His list of writers and books to release was unending. While it was scintillating being in his company and getting exposed to the latest in literature both of us used to struggle to somehow squeeze his sea of ideas. Ideas which would snowball, as we continued our discussion, into a structured three-day programme. He would go on adding sessions because of his spirit of inclusiveness.
Asif thrived on, and believed in, building a community of readers, writers and artists and loved being in their midst. Despite being a literary giant and an intellectual he was full of fun, laughter, jokes, and funny anecdotes which flowed out of him. His jokes would send me into fits of laughter. He made friends with people of all ages- those much younger and older than him.
He loved his job at Habib University where he was immersed in developing young writers and scholars of literature. His students were volunteers at our festivals every year. He regularly invited literary giants to address and interact with his students at Habib. He took them to literary events and meetings with authors and, through such immersive educational experiences, he enabled and empowered them to organize their own literary events including a successful literary festival at Habib University and a literary event at T2F. I would often tell him how lucky his students were.
At the time of his passing, he was translating Sudeep Sen’s poetry from English to Urdu and was working on collecting and publishing the unpublished works of his dear friend, Fahmida Riaz. We had already made a draft of a programme for our third Adab Festival.
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments but what is woven into the lives of others.”