Remembering Riaz Sahib
By Akhtar Mahmud Faruqui
Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going. - Tennessee Williams
Yet, not all that transpires in ones life is remembered. Only incidents of singular importance and individuals who light up the dreariness of work-a-day life. The late Mr Riaz Ansari was one such plucky individual.
He died in 2003. How fleetingly does time pass!
Or, is there greater truth in Austin Dobson’s claim:
Time goes, you say? Ah, no!
Alas, Time stays, we go.
Each one of us is destined to depart from this terrestrial world after a brief stay. But the death of those who make their mark is always mourned:
Sab kahan kuch lalao gul maen numaen hogain
Khak maen kiya soorataen hongi jo pinha hogaeen.
Time to pay a tribute to Riaz Sahib again.
A grateful son, a loving husband, a caring father. A mentor, a guide, an inspirational group leader. A blend of best of both the worlds, personifying the quintessential values of the East and the West. A man demonstrably full of verve even though his infirm mortal frame furnished proof of a losing battle every passing day. A fighter to the last showing no letup in the urge to live.
Mr. Riaz Ansari - son of Mr. and Mrs. Jamil Ansari, husband of Pashi, father of Yasser and Celina, Executive Vice-President of Pakistan Link, and a friend of many in the community - passed away on Wednesday, June 25, 2003, after a protracted bout with leukemia. The family’s loss was immeasurable. His friends grieve his passing away. Pakistan Link lost its patron saint in 2003. We feel the loss to this day.
Riaz Sahib was a man of sterling qualities. I came to know him by and by as we reminisced over the past after the regular working hours. He would endlessly talk of his father - the late Mr. Jamil Ansari who belonged to a distinguished family of Bhopal and made his mark in Pakistan as Editor Dawn - and of his mother who belonged to the landed aristocracy of Aligarh.
He would fondly recall his marriage to Pashi and the early years of their marriage in the US. He simply adored her. “The moment I saw her, I knew she was the girl I should marry.” So saying, he would delineate the train of events that led to the marriage. “Hamarae abba nae Muslihuddin uncle sae baat ki aur phir…Pashi ki walda ki taraf sae haan honae par shadi ki tayarrian shura hoeen. Aap Muslihuddin Sahib sae to waqif hongae, Faruqui Sahib?” he would ask. They made a fine couple. A perfect match.
His love for their two children - Yasser and Celina - was profound and, I dare say, infectious. Yasser graduated on June 14, 2003. Two days before the landmark, Riaz Sahib happened to talk to me. He had grown weak and seemed to gasp for words as he spoke: “I had looked forward to this happy day but I don’t like to attend the ceremony in a wheelchair.” A brave man, he didn’t like the idea of being an object of commiseration at the graduation ceremony.
He often read Celina’s emails sent from Islamabad where she had proceeded to study medicine after her high school in LA. He would draft a reply and sometime read it aloud to me before dispatching it. “She has been separated from us for the first time, my dear child. I must encourage her. She needs to be regularly encouraged,” he would say as his fingers moved briskly at the keyboard. The family was a closely-knit unit. Each member was a precious part.
The email messages seemed to work. At the soyem at ISOC on June 29, Celina furnished a vivid proof: “We all have our tests in life given to us by Allah, and I pray for everyone to go through them with such dignity and grace as my father did. I will live with the memories he left me….”
Riaz Sahib enjoyed unbounded popularity in the community. He was warmly received - in all circles, social strata, and age groups. The young and the old, the rich, the nouveau riche, and the not-too-rich accosted him with affection. He seemed to cast an entrancing spell on all.
How could one explain such popularity? Good nature? A fine sense of humor? Personal charm and charisma? Looks? Poise? Or his singularly humane and helpful disposition? Perhaps, the latter. He extended a helping hand to everyone.
Yasser, his son, seemed to make the incisive point: “He received so much joy by making people laugh by telling funny jokes, leaving hilarious messages or just smiling. His motives were so unselfish. The more he gave to others the more he felt alive. This trait was well established even before he was even diagnosed with cancer. When he first settled in this country, he would always be willing to help out others in the same position. He knew the transition from Pakistan to the US was indeed difficult, but with a little love, laughter, and hospitality even leaving home to live in a foreign country on the other side of the world with a completely difficult culture was not only possible, but enjoyable. He could lift spirits with a simple smile and his presence would fill an entire room with electricity. When Mianji (Riaz Sahib as he was fondly called by his friends) was around you definitely knew it.”
Despite his charm, dash and multifarious acquisitions, he was neither conceited nor snooty. Displayed no affectations. Was generous and spontaneous in his praise to encourage others. And had the strength of character to call a spade a spade. If I needed a second opinion on an article I unhesitatingly referred it to him. His comments were insightful, testifying to his sound educational background. He had obtained a Master’s degree while studying in San Francisco.
He was a connoisseur of good food - from rabri to nahari - and he knew the places where it could be found. Dining out with him was a privilege. His company had an enlivening influence and had its own peculiar flavor. I was lucky to know him for three years. Those who had known him for a longer period were luckier.
What was Riaz Sahib’s role in Pakistan Link? True, he was the son of Dawn’s former editor but at the Link his role was more pronounced in the operational management of all functions. As Editor Link, I was deeply conscious of his contribution. Qualitatively and quantitatively, it was immense and wholesome. He could easily discern between a good and a bad newspaper, a publication with original writings and input of intellect and a slapdash cut-and-paste tear-sheet rag that could be produced not just once a week, but once every day. He reached out to prospective writers, chalked out proposals to bring about a qualitative content-improvement, and came up with well-meaning suggestions.
He was generous in his words of appreciation for well-written pieces and unsparing in his criticism of pedestrian, sloppy specimens of writing. Seasoned ‘editors’ and experienced ‘reporters’ did not have the perspicacity that he had. He was indisputably head and shoulders above them. On the PR front, he was truly an asset. We do miss him in Pakistan Link - the more as time passes and it becomes difficult, nay impossible, to fill the void created by his death. According to Siraj Qadri there was no one quite like him.
Riaz Sahib has passed away but it is difficult to accept the tragic reality. The thought that he is no more hurts. He continues to live in our hearts. On the tortuous, winding freeway as the mind appears disposed to reflect Riaz Sahib’s face pops up again and again.
‘He is the one who is always there for us
No matter what, no matter where’
We miss him.
A few months before his death, Riaz Sahib presented me a CD of select, old songs. I instantly took a liking for one of the ghazals. A shaer has come to acquire special meaning today:
Tabeeat aur ghabrati hae jab behlaee jaati hae
Mohabbat maen kabhi aesi bhi halat paee jati hae
Riaz Sahib had also presented a copy of the CD to Wasi Sahib. He was deeply attached to Safi and Wasi Sahibs and both the brothers returned his affection warmly. Wasi Sahib was among those who lowered his mortal remains in the grave and laid him to rest. May his soul rest in peace. (Ameen) -firstname.lastname@example.org