IN MEMORY OF SAEED ANJUM

    LETTERS TO THE FAMILY OF THE HEART…LETTER NO…5

Dear members of the family of my heart,

When my dear friend and sweetheart Bette Davis asked me yesterday, “What are you writing so passionately?”

I responded, “Encounters with Death”

“Can I read it?” she was curious.

“Sure, when I finish it.”

And when she read the article she cried. When I saw tears rolling down her cheeks I inquired, “Why are you crying?”

“Reading about your possible death and the idea of losing you made me cry. So who was Saeed Anjum?” she was curious.

“He was one of the best Urdu short story writers, a wonderful human being and my dear friend.”

“How come you never talk about him?”

“It makes me feel sad.”

“I would like to hear the story of your friendship with him” then she paused and seeing a sad look on my face, said, “there is no rush, whenever you are ready.”

After that conversation, all day long, I was holding back tears. Later at home that night while Bette and I were watching an emotionally charged movie, Shall We Dance?,   in which Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon were exchanging passionate dialogues about feelings of affection and love and betrayal and loss, I started crying, weeping and sobbing.

“Are you okay?” Bette looked worried.

“Yes, I am okay” I tried to reassure her.

Bette felt I was reacting to the movie not realizing that I was remembering Saeed Anjum. Bette had never seen me cry, not even after the death of my mother. No wonder she was surprised. I was surprised too, as I was myself not aware of the intensity of my feelings towards my dear friend.

In the meeting of the Family of the Heart when someone asked me, “Why did you chose the name Saeed Anjum for the hero of your story?” the question touched somewhere deep inside me. In the past I would have tried to control my feelings and my tears and hide my emotions, but now I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts and feelings openly and honestly not only with my sweetheart but also with the Family of my Heart and my letters are an honest and humble attempt to do that.

            After watching the movie Bette and I had a cup of tea and I shared with her some of my cherished memories about my dear friend. I remembered the first time I met Saeed Anjum was in Norway. He came to see me in Har Charan Chawla’s house and then took me home to introduce me to his family. He shared with me some of his creative projects - the stories and the films he was making. He was warm and generous and loving. He was a great conversationalist. He laughed and laughed loud and made every body else laugh too. I was amazed with his memory. He remembered hundreds of stories of Urdu writers and the details of their characters.

            After that meeting we stayed in touch through phone calls and letters for the rest of his life. He was the most prompt friend to answer letters.

            In one meeting he introduced me to his mentor Mr. Abid Hasan Minto, a well respected Supreme Court lawyer of Pakistan. Minto Sahib was very kind and affectionate towards me. He shared with me that his wife Tasneem, a Women’s Rights activist, was quite impressed by my short stories. I thanked him for his appreciation and kind words. Saeed Anjum and Abid Hasan Minto were involved in human rights activities in Pakistan and were trying to raise social consciousness. They were hoping that Pakistanis might see a day when democracy would develop deep roots in the country and exploitation of the poor would be uprooted.

            Once I was invited by Sain Sucha, a common friend of ours to come to Sweden and attend the book launching ceremony of Saeed Anjum’s latest collection of stories. I attended the ceremony and shared my article Barzakh kay basi, [ People who live in purgatory] the article I had written about Saeed Anjum’s stories and the struggles of first generation immigrant families. Saeed Anjum was quite pleased with the article. He shared with me that he had also written an essay about my creations and had titled it Aqeedon kay shehr main tajrabon ka aadmi [A man of experiences in the city of faiths]. He was excited that we were creating a circle of Eastern writers, poets and intellectuals in the West.

            A few months before his death Saeed Anjum had a heart attack .He was admitted to the hospital. When he returned home he wrote me a sentimental letter stating that during his admission in his imagination he had visited me in Canada many times and those imaginary visits had a soothing effect on him. He complemented me by stating that he felt more connected to me, in spite of thousands of miles of geographical distance, than many writers who lived in his own city. That was the time I became acutely aware of the tragedy of many Eastern scholars and writers living in the West who do not have close creative and intellectually stimulating friends in their own town. Now I feel fortunate that we have created Family of the Heart to fill that vacuum in Toronto.

            My last contact with Saeed Anjum was on the phone. That was the time I was planning to fly to Pakistan and interview Javed Iqbal Mughal who was convicted of killing 100 children in Lahore and the judge had ordered that he should be hanged publicly in front of the tower Yadgar-e-Pakistan and then his dead body be cut into 100 pieces and put in drums of acid to dissolve, exactly the way he had disposed of dead bodies of those children. When I shared my dream of interviewing Javed Iqbal in his death cell with my friends and colleagues in Toronto they strongly discouraged me and told me I was crazy. They warned me against the Pakistani army and police and told me I was going on a suicide mission. Some of them thought I was losing my mind. When I called Saeed Anjum in Norway, I was pleased that he not only encouraged me, he also connected me with Mr. Abid Hasan Minto, who helped me in arranging my visit to Phansi Ghaat [the death cells] so that I could interview Javed Iqbal Mughal. When I published my book The Myth of the Chosen One, and reviewed the life of not only Javed Iqbal Mughal but also other famous serial killers and mass murderers of the world I wished Saeed Anjum was still alive and I could offer him a copy of the book as a present.

Bette was quite fascinated with the story. In the end when she asked, “What is your most memorable statement of Saeed Anjum?” I thought for the longest time and then said, “Saeed Anjum used to say to his Pakistani friends, “If you want your son and daughter to be a prince and a princess then you have to treat their mother as a queen. If you treat her like a slave then you son and daughter will also grow up to be slaves.” Saeed Anjum was one of the most liberated Pakistani man I have met.

Dear friends, sharing my short story khudkushi ya qatl with the Family of my Heart and listening to reviews and questions was a significant event for me. I want to thank all of you for your valuable comments and questions. If any of you remember stories about Saeed Anjum please write to us and I would ask Pervez Salahuddin to add them to Saeed Anjum’s website.  Though he might not be with us physically he still lives in the hearts of many of his admirers. I feel fortunate that I met him a few times and still cherish his memories. I did not realize that I had not grieved the loss of my dear friend. He is the first contemporary writer that I lost. I am realizing that as I grow older I might have to deal with more such losses. I am sure the members of the Family of the Heart, will not only share the exciting times but also share the sad times with each other. After all it is ‘all in the family’.

            Affectionately,  Sohail 

Mar 13th, 2005