It had been a long day at work, and I was just packing up for a meeting when I got a text from a friend asking me whether I was going to Musadiq’s memorial in the evening. I felt a jolt of surprised pain and a sizzle of anticipation at the thought, so I immediately replied back asking for details. Turns out, friends and family of Musadiq Sanwal had decided to come together and share their memories and love for the great man.
I immediately logged onto Facebook and found the event’s details. I was going.
* * * *
Musadiq had been my mentor and Editor during my brief time at Dawn.com
. I remember his constant smile and the spring in his step whenever he would enter the newsroom, walking up to each and everyone of us for an individual chitchat. No matter how singular we all felt on an individual level, we were all extremely attached to Musadiq in one way or another.
When Musadiq passed away in January 2014, it was as if the world had stopped moving. I had been telling my teacher about my experience of working with him at the Dawn.com news desk just one day before in Journalism class. That night, a colleague messaged me to tell me Musadiq was in the hospital in critical condition and blood was required. I immediately called up his “right hand man”, as I called him then (who I shall – for this blog – now call Uso). I found out to my great horror and even greater sorrow that Musadiq was in ICCU for pneumonia and was in critical condition because his kidneys had failed. He had already lost one lung to cancer and had been fighting the illness for the past year.
I decided then and there to go visit him in the hospital the next day after work and donate my blood. The next morning, as my parents and I were headed towards the license office, I was messaged by a close friend and colleague at Dawn.com (I shall call her Fatty), informing me about Musadiq’s death.
“Noushin, Musadiq is dead.”
Those four words should have felt like a bomb had just been dropped on top of my head. All I felt was…. numb.
There was a hollow pit at the bottom of my stomach, and my mind was as if moving in slow motion. I told my parents “Musadiq passed away. I just got a message.”
My mum and dad expressed their sadness, and I agreed. Yet, I felt nothing inside. As if my body had decided that to not feel at all was the best way to deal with the news.
We arrived at the license office and went inside, waiting for our turn. We were made to fill out forms and were soon going about our business, trying to get a license. All this while, my stomach had dropped somewhere down to my knees and my mind was as though detached.
I knew they were holding a meeting at the Dawn.com office in the cafe right at that moment, I knew the silence that had probably gripped the newsroom and the tears and sobbing that was sure to follow; yet, here I was getting my license made as if it were just any other day in the world. All this time, I had a feeling Musadiq was probably standing at the newsroom door or sitting at the cafe table just like everyday.
My mind failed to register how completely contradictory these two scenarios were, yet for me they seemed completely normal.
I managed to score a permanent driver’s license to my complete surprise, and upon arriving back home I called Uso and found out the venue for the funeral prayers. I was completely calm on the outside, but something inside had begun to slowly crumble. I refused to acknowledge it and went about picking the perfect dress – I even asked my boyfriend’s advice on what to wear to a Shia Mosque because I had never before set foot in one. I finally decided to just go with whatever I was wearing; being there was more important than being dressed in white or black.
When I arrived at the Imam-Bargah, the street was blocked and we had to walk to the main gate. People were streaming outside, and my heart sank as I realized I had come too late to participate in the prayers. As I walked down the long stretch of pavement leading up to the women’s section (I’d gotten lost and had had to ask around) I saw women sitting together in the main room, some reciting Surahs from the Koran, while others were huddled together and cried softly for their loss.
I was suddenly faced by the fact that maybe, just maybe, the news had been real. And he had indeed passed away.
Even so, I located my friends from Dawn.com sitting on one side of the room and went softly across the white sheets lying on the ground towards them. I greeted them all then sat next to Fatty. Sid, another girl who had worked with me at the news desk was came up to sit with me. They shared how they had felt when the news had first broken, and as I sat there surrounded by people who were grieving for him my eyes welled up with tears and a few slipped down my face.
Being hugged by a loved one at such a moment is the only thing that keeps you from totally falling apart. Yet, even after I had attended his funeral, I did not truly say goodbye. I could not talk about him or write about him – which is weird, because writing for me is both therapeutic and what I do.
At the KLF 2014, when Mohammad Hanif during his conversation in the Main Garden, read a poem by “my close friend Musadiq Sanwal”, I stood amongst the crowd and silently wiped away the tears that fell down my face, not caring about the looks people were passing me. I felt the pain, yet refused to let go. Thus it was that this memorial was extremely important to me. It would be my chance to finally sit amidst people who knew Musadiq and who shared a love for him – a deeper love and respect than probably I ever could, but which I shared just as wholeheartedly.
* * * *
All throughout the meeting I sat at the edge of my seat, conscious of the ticking of the clock. Thank fully, the meeting ended at 5.30pm. I had half an hour left to maneuver my way across the traffic-packed roads of KDA towards the Karachi Arts Council on I.I.Chundrigar Road.
When we reached the venue, only a handful of people had come so far. The event had yet to start. Famous Pakistani author Mohammad Hanif stood at the door welcoming the new arrivals.
Inside the auditorium, people were milling about trying to locate a good spot to sit, where they could be both closer to their loved ones and also have a good view of the stage. I spied the Dawn.com team sitting directly to my left as I reached the top of the stairs and walked up to greet my old colleagues and friends. The Desk Editor Quratulain “Annie” Siddiqui and Blog’s Editor Zehrish John were at the front of the auditorium, directly before the stage. I felt obligated to go greet them and pay my respects to these two talented ladies, who had helped me improve my writing skills and trained me under Musadiq’s watchful eye.
As a newbie at the News Desk, I worked directly under Annie and Zehrish (sometimes), but my features were always reported directly to Musadiq. So in a way, I worked with all three of them – mostly, however, with Annie and Musadiq.
The auditorium began filling up slowly, as the technical team set up the final few touches and necessary equipment. All the while, as we sat there talking to one another and catching up (I was meeting them easily after four months), a video of Musadiq’s song Aajzi was playing on the screen, his voice filling up every corner of the room.
It was beautifully sung, his soulful voice causing the hair to stand on end. I was staring at the video playing on the screen alongside my friends, and slowly the thought hit me: I never knew he could sing. I remember our lunch time conversations – or, rather, the ones we had in the cafeteria before lunch time since I was usually handling the desk during – and I know he had expressed a passion for music. I never knew how deep that passion was. Until last night.
The event started soon after. Hasan Zaidi, a close friend of Musadiq’s, had been chosen to act as moderator.
“Let me start by saying that we are not here in sadness, but are here together in happiness in order to celebrate the life of Musadiq Sanwal,” Zaidi started his speech. “And even if, sometimes, a few tears drop from our eyes, they are those happiness, at having had the pleasure to know such a person.”
And I could not help but think, as I looked around the auditorium at the many heads, all staring intently at the figure on the stage: “you brought all of these people together. They came because of their love for you. You are still alive among us.”
On stage, Zaidi went on to tell the audience about Musadiq’s many talents – a trained singer, journalist, actor – and informed them about his aptitude for languages.
“I know that if he could be here and see this he would say: Abay yaaar!” causing the audience to laugh appreciatively at this apt imitation of the late artist.
“Musadiq could speak fluently in a host of languages: English, Urdu, Punjabi, Saraiki… I decided to moderate the event today using the language we all share (Urdu) but please feel free to express yourself in whatever language you are comfortable with.”
He then recited a couplet from a poem by Musadiq’s favorite poet, Nasir Kazmi: “Zindagi maut k parday main rahi, Khwaab dar khwaab hi bedaar hue”.
The event was officially started off by Sagheer Baloch, another close friend of Musadiq’s. He performed a poem by Nasir Kazmi on his flute which was often hummed by Musadiq during his life, the sound hauntingly beautiful as it floated across the auditorium and captured each and ever member.
He was followed by Zafar Abbas, the Editor for Dawn Newspaper. Abbas looked visibly shaken as he came to stand behind the podium and spoke for a few minutes about the man who had brought us all together (from our different busy lives, in the hopes of sharing his life with each other for those few minutes before walking back out into the real world).
“In all this time, I could not properly know him!” He declared, hesitant to call it his biggest failure. “I am getting to know him now (his personality, the different sides to him.”
He told us he had been introduced to Musadiq by their mutual friend, Mohammad Hanif. Soon after, Abbas had rejoined Dawn and begun working closely with Musadiq, who called him “Murshid” which is an Arabic term for ‘guide’ or ‘teacher’. Regaling us with their encounters, he remembered how Musadiq would often tell him to stop working constantly and take a break once in a while.
“Kabhi mere studio tou ao!” he said, remembering how Musadiq would often ask him to visit him in his studio and here him play his music. “I wish I could have gone once.”
He went on to tell us how Musadiq had broken the news of his illness to him one fine day. He had come into his office and asked him to come outside so they could talk, and said ‘Murshid ek problem hogai hay’. Contrary to what Abbas had initially thought, the problem was not related to work but was a lot closer to home.
He stated how Musadiq smilingly had told him about being diagnosed with cancer, while he had sat and stared in stunned silence unable to believe the news.
“Musadiq was a fighter!” Abbas declared. “He said to me, ‘laraingay! puri zindagi lartay aye hain, isay bhi laraingay!’ ”
There was a sad silence amid the soft clapping as he descended the stage afterwards to go back to his seat.
Zaidi then called for Wusutullah Khan, a fellow colleague of Musadiq’s at BBC Urdu. The man looked visibly shaken as he slowly climbed the stage and went to stand behind the podium, taking deep breaths before beginning. His speech consisted majorly of a poem he had written for Musadiq, and he ended his emotional monologue by comparing his late friend with Multani Mitti, which can take the shape of whatever the child wants it to be, saying “Musadiq mujhe woh mitti ka gola nazar ata hay.”
It was then Hasan Zaidi’s turn to take to the stage. The journalist regaled the crowd with a story he had recently come across while sharing memories of the great man with mutual friends and he asked permission from the original teller before stating the them of it.
“Nazish Brohi was telling me earlier about an incident that happened with her and Musadiq,” he began, smiling down at the woman sitting in the audience. “She told me they were camping around a fire in Thar desert, and Musadiq asked the camel owner to walk his camel around them in a circle because he liked the soft tingle of its ankle bells. He then began to sing, his voice floating around them. When he was done, Brohi picked up a few ghass poose and needles lying on one side and presented them to him as a gesture of appreciation. Musadiq, instead of taking it graciously, looked down upon the offering and said, ‘that is not a desert rose. I got one (from Hasan) and I know what it is.’
“Soon after he said that, a gust of wind came and picked up the thorn and needle bundle, carrying it far away. Musadiq raced after it, and was soon so far away that they had to travel in a car to get to him, where they found him lying in a heap on the sand with the bundle clutched in his arms. Afraid something had happened to him, the quickly went to his aid. Musadiq looked at Nazish and said, ‘Hasan ne tou mujhe maulvi bana dia hay.’
He was referring to how religious leaders refuse to accept and look beyond what they are taught or what they learn by heart, failing to see the beauty in the simplest of things.”
Zaidi’s anecdote left us all feeling slightly more nostalgic than when we had first entered the arena, the picture he painted so aptly describing Musadiq’s absolute acceptance of everything regardless of origin.
In continuing with the spirit of nostalgia that had slowly spread across the people attending the memoir of Musadiq, Zaidi then decided to call onto the stage Musadiq’s very own theatrical group Baang. It now consists of only three people after Musadiq’s death: Ali Hasnain, Khusauri and Farrukh Hassan.
Ali Hasnain started the speech, talking about how 22-years-ago Musadiq first started the group after he came from Lahore and taught them all how to act.
“We shared the same room for 10-12years, myself, Muhammad Hanif and Musadiq,” said Hasnain, talking about the difficulties of trying to introduce theatre for the first time in a society which had never accepted it before. “He would walk amongst the people and convince them to watch our performances.”
He regaled the audience with the economic difficulties they had faced, reminiscing about the time when they did not have money enough to even pay their rent.
“Ek martaba tou hum dukan ka pesa aur kamray ka karaya le kar bhaag gaye,” he said, causing the audience to burst out laughing.
Khusauri was overcome with emotion during his speech. He managed to utter a few incoherent speeches and abruptly ended the monologue by praising the broad mindedness of Musadiq Sanwal.
Farukh Hassan was the last of the trio to speak and easily the most extrovert of them all. It was easy to see how he and Musadiq could have been such close friends. “Musadiq started theatre in Karachi from scratch and his was a progressive success.” He went on to talk about how Musadiq was both a mentor and a friend, who selflessly took care of them through thick and thin.
“Esa lag raha hay jese abhi Musadiq ayega aur zor se bolega, yaar drama shuru karo drama shuru karo sab aagaye hain!” he laughed softly, gesturing towards the crowd.
He further went on to regale the crowd of an incident between him and Musadiq. “The one quote of Musadiq’s that I remember clearly and always remember… I had just finished my thesis on psychologically unwell children and wanted him to take a look at it. He flipped through it and then wrote something on the paper before handing it to me. Gali gali meri yaad bichi hay, pyaray rasta dekh k chalo.”
This anecdote so clearly defined Musadiq’s love for his fellow man, accepting the people for who they are – and proud of being one of them, without judgement or fear.
These emotionally rich speeches were followed by two pieces of music recorded by Musadiq played to a collage of his pictures. The first song was in his Aajzi album, Saiful Mulook, written originally by Mian Mohammad Baksh. The second song was an – as yet – unreleased version of a Punjabi poem which he recorded against techno music with Bilal Brohi.
His rich voice filled the auditorium, for a second making us believe that he was right there among us. None of us could tear our eyes away from the screen, filled with remorse at having lost our time with him, happiness at having known him and joy at having the opportunity to celebrate his life with each other once again.
Zaidi then called on to Zehrish John, Blogs Editor at Dawn.com to say a few words regarding Musadiq and his memories. Wearing a beautiful orange and black sari, John spoke about Musadiq as a mentor.
“Very few people know about Musadiq the mentor,” she began, going on to talk about how the late Editor of Dawn.com was also a friend. She said Musadiq had had a flair for a variety of subjects, from philosophy to architecture to music. John’s speech was heartfelt and aptly described Musadiq’s ways.
“We at Dawn.com are a staff of only 28 people, so we are very like a family,” she said. “He was our mentor and our friend. Our problems became his problems, our happiness was his happiness.. He taught us about being gentle with strength and about being forgiving.”
Her speech made quite a few tears to be spilled, and sniffles could be heard in different parts of the auditorium. John’s voice was trembling with emotion as she finished and invited the members of the audience to view a clipping of the people of Hazara, a project undertaken by Dawn.com and very close to Musadiq’s heart. The clipping focused on the Sketch Club in Hazara community, aimed at creating peace and unity through art. You can view the indepth feature here.
The auditorium reverberated with claps as the clipping finished and Hasan Zaidi once again came on stage. He praised the video and Musadiq’s resilience in going after what he loved, before inviting Owais Tawheed, Musadiq’s close friend, to say a few chosen words for the departed.
Tawheed recited a few well-versed poems in Musadiq’s honor, calling the poet “sur ka musafar, Sanwal”.
He remembered the times when as students they would visit Musadiq’s room, knowing their friend would be there to welcome them with open arms.
“On one side lay the harmonium and on the other side of the room was his pile of books,” he laughed.
He ended the speech by poetically describing Musadiq to the audience.
“Na darwazay ko kufr ki adat, na anay janay k liye waqt ki pabandi.”
Mohammad Hanif and Arts Council President Ahmed Shah also spoke about Musadiq and shared their memories of him with the people. These speeches were followed by a musical project worked on by Musadiq and Bilal Brohi, who introduced it to the audience.
Unforturnately, I was unable to stay until the very end so I could not stay to hear the opinions and memories the audience was asked to share at the end of the event. It was an amazing way of sharing our love for a great man and celebrating him in our small way by coming together and joining our hearts if only for a few hours to pay him our respect and gratitude.
He changed the life of everybody he came in contact with, and in this day and age, that is not easily come by.
We shall miss you, sir. Until we meet again.
PS: You can read the Dawn Newspaper edition of yesterday’s event here.
One blog that really hit me was written by Chagtai Khan, who talked about the different faces of Musadiq really well.
Also, feel free to go through the blogs others wrote about him here.
Photo credit: Dawn.com