December 16th, 2020
By Rehan Piracha
Noted columnist Irfan Husain passed away on Wednesday in England after battling cancer for over three years.
Announcing his demise, his son Shakir Hussain tweeted that he was grateful that he slipped away gently and that he was able to be with him.
My father and dear friend, Irfan Husain, passed away in Dorset, England. I am grateful that he slipped away gently and that I was able to be with him. See you on the other side, Abba.
— Shakir Husain (@shakirhusain) December 16, 2020
Born in Amritsar in 1944, his family migrated to Pakistan after Partition. A civil servant, Husain worked as a freelance journalist and columnist under various pseudonyms, including Mazdaki, Ferida Sher, Akbar Hussein, Abdul Ghani, and Shakir Husain. He also wrote a book called Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam, and the West which was published in 2012.
Husain had disclosed that he had been diagnosed with cancer nearly three years ago in a column published in August this year. He was educated in Karachi, Paris, and Ankara, and joined the civil service in 1967 after obtaining a master’s degree in economics. Husain divided his time between the UK, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in 2002. Husain also wrote on food and occasionally shared his culinary expertise in his columns.
The news of his passing away was widely condoled by friends, admirers and readers. Tahir Jahangir, who was friends with the columnist over 40 years, said that Husain was in Pakistan in April, and had treated his friends to the best desi food from the Khan Baba restaurant in Chauburji, home delivered due to the COVID lockdown. He said Husain had worked as a civil servant but had initially not even had enough money to buy his own house.
“Irfan Husain had worked as head of the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) as well as a finance director in other government institutions,” said Jahangir. “He had been living in Dorset with his British wife and I had visited him in Dorset only last year. I remember he had to use a pseudonym while writing during his career as civil servant because of a ban on government servants writing in newspapers.”
Jahangir added that despite the pen name, several of his columns were edited out due to criticism of government institutions and ‘sensitive agencies’.
Senior journalist and former Dawn editor, Abbas Nasir, called Husain a ‘generous friend, a man with a beautiful mind, impeccable integrity, a sure-footed guide, a delightful writer, an intrepid traveler, and a fellow foodie who could cook any chef out of a job’.
“What a wonderful man we lost today,” tweeted Nasir. “So long, Irfan.”
Speaking of his association with the late columnist, Nasir said he had first read his Mazdaki column in Dawn as a student. “Did not miss a single column over four decades. Was privileged enough to make friends with him later,”. Nasir said he last met him in his Dorset home, two summers ago. “He was ill and frail but was bloody-minded to keep up the fight. And he did,” he wrote in his tribute.
@irfan_husain, generous friend, a man with a beautiful mind, impeccable integrity, a sure-footed guide, a delightful writer, an intrepid traveller and a fellow foodie who could cook any chef out of a job. @shakirhusain, what a wonderful man we lost today. So long, Irfan.
— Abbas Nasir (@abbasnasir59) December 16, 2020
Another of his friends, senior journalist Zahid Hussain – also a Dawn columnist – said he was deeply saddened by his death.
Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training, Shafqat Mahmood said he was “deeply grieved” to learn about Husain’s demise. “Knew him since college days in Lahore. Widely read columnist of Dawn and a gentleman of high integrity. Always enjoyed his company and writings,” he said.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman said she was “heartbroken”. “We all just lost a great writer, life-long friend, and a nurturing colleague. Feels like the end of an era. He was the finest of men, right to the core,” she said.
Mourning the loss, writer and columnist Wajahat Masood said his departure would have left a void under any circumstances but ‘we, as a nation, needed his voice of sanity all the more in these tumultuous times’.
What a loss! His departure would have left a void under any circumstances but we, as a nation, needed his voice of sanity all the more in these tumultuous times.
— Wajahat Masood (@wajahatmasood) December 16, 2020
Columnist Nadeem Farooq Paracha described Husain’s death as a “great loss”. “Such a fine man. I had been a fan of his columns for over 30 years. And he was always humble and cheerful whenever I got the chance to meet him,” he said.
So sorry Shakir. A great loss. Such a fine man. I had been a fan of his columns for over thirty years. And he was always humble and cheerful whenever I got the chance to meet him. May his soul rest in peace.
— Nadeem Farooq Paracha (@NadeemfParacha) December 16, 2020
Journalist Amber Rahim Shamsi said she had been reading Husain’s column for years so it “almost felt like I knew him”.
American journalist Declan Walsh called Husain a warm, wise and generous man and one of Pakistan’s finest columnists. “I was lucky to count him as a friend,” he tweeted.
A warm, wise and generous man – not to mention one of Pakistan’s finest columnists – has passed on. I was lucky to count him as a friend. RIP Irfan Husain https://t.co/Lu7l6buevH
— Declan Walsh (@declanwalsh) December 16, 2020