ENCOUNTERS WITH DEATH

    LETTERS TO THE FAMILY OF THE HEART…LETTER NO…4

Dear Friends, the family of my heart,

Last night while discussing my short story, khudkushi ya qatl [suicide or murder] when someone asked me why did I choose to name the hero of my story Saeed Anjum, I realized that I became quite sentimental. As I talked, I realized how much I missed him and how much I was still grieving the loss of his life and friendship. I remember when writers of Toronto got together to mourn the loss of that wonderful writer, I had shared my philosophy in the words of Simone de Beauvour, who had said when Jean Paul Sartre had died, “Your death separated us and my death will not bring us together” I have not heard a statement better than that, reflecting the feelings, when an atheist loses a dear one.

I really felt sad last night when I shared that while Saeed Anjum's dead body was ready to be buried no one was willing to offer the special prayers [namaz-e-jinazah]. His family stated he was no longer an Ahmedi and his wife’s family stated that he was not a Sunni. I heard that he was buried without the prayers.

When I heard the story I thought that if he had written his will or expressed his wishes, like N.M. Rashid that he was an atheist and did not want to be buried like a traditional Muslim he would have made it easier for his religious friends and family members to deal with his dead body.

But then I thought of Saqi Farooqi’s essay, that he had written after attending Rashid’s cremation ceremony, stating that even when Rashid had stated his last wishes, it still did not make it easier for his friends and relatives, as they struggled with their own religious beliefs and traditional ideas, while he was being cremated in London. I remember reading somewhere that when Ismat Chughtai was asked why she wanted to be cremated rather than buried, she stated that it was a matter of aesthetics rather than religion. Being a writer she could not imagine her dead body being eaten up by worms and maggots in the grave. That image repulsed her as an artist and offended her sense of aesthetics so she wanted a “clean death” by being burnt.

While I was thinking of Ismat Chughtai I remembered another great Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Minto who wanted his tomb-stone to say “here lies a man who all his life wondered whether he was a better short story writer or God.”

Of all the graves and cemeteries of great writers and artists I have visited I felt most sad when I saw the grave of Asad-ullah Khan Ghalib in India as it has been completely ignored. On the other hand I was most impressed by the grave of a Persian poet Baba Tahir in Iran as his friends, students and admirers had erected an impressive tomb around his grave and all his poetry was presented on the walls with wonderful calligraphy. Anyone who visits his grave can read his poetry.

            While I was driving back from the meeting of the Family of the Heart, my nephew Zeeshan, the new born poet, who was excited to share his poems in the meeting last evening, asked me, “Uncle what would you like to be done to you after you die?” I smiled and said, “I would like my eyes and heart to be donated to some charming women in need, so that they can see the world with my eyes and feel the ecstasies of life with my heart [my last gift to women and fulfilling my fantasy to live half of my life as a woman] and then my body be cremated and ashes divided in many parts and sent to my friends in different countries. In this way my ashes will be scattered all over the world.”

“And if they want to bury your ashes what would you like to be stated on your tombstone?” he was curious.

I was silent for the longest time, trying to capture my personality and philosophy in a few words, and then said,

“Here rest the ashes of a man who :

loved life,

enjoyed telling stories,

dreamt of a peaceful world,

and

helped people as a psychotherapist

to discover their healthy and happy Green Zone lifestyle

by promoting creativity, spirituality and serving humanity”

My nephew Zeeshan did not pursue the issue any further as he was not very comfortable discussing the subject of death of his uncle.

Dear Friends,

Maybe I can ask all of you, especially my socialist and atheist friends, to share your wishes what would you like to be done to you after you die. That might help your friends and family members to deal with your body and do not have to face the same dilemma as the family members and friends of Saeed Anjum had to face after his death.

                                                                                    Affectionately,           

Sohail   

    March 12th, 2005