the Editor: Akhtar
June 17, 2005
Remembering Riaz Sahib
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 two years ago. How fleetingly does time
Or, is there greater truth in Austin Dobson’s
claim: Time goes, you say? Ah, no!
Alas, Time stays, we go.
Riaz Sahib was the one to go precisely two years
ago. 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 lalo 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 is immeasurable. His friends
grieve his passing away. Pakistan Link has lost
its patron saint.
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
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
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.
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.
His name continues to embellish Link’s editorial
page, his unoccupied desk lies vacant as if to send
out the signal that our dear mentor is on leave
and will be amongst us soon. 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. (Amen)