Sunday July 03, 2022

Columnist Irfan Husain passes away

December 17, 2020

Syed Irfan Akbar Husain passed away quietly and peacefully at 4:30 am this morning, the 16th of December 2020, at home in East Lulworth.

His passing will be mourned by his family and friends of course, but also by the many others around the world who have followed his columns over the years. It was, perhaps, one of his longest and most abiding passions. Some years ago, I went to see Irfan as he was being prepped for heart surgery, and found him sitting in bed, writing. "Just a minute" he said, "must send off this column!" A few days ago, I was reminded of that as I heard that he had been trying to dictate a column. That one unfortunately, shall remain unfinished.

Literature and the arts generally were part of Irfan's inheritance and I always see him surrounded by books. I grew up with Irfan - our mothers were sisters - and there was a time when I was living with his family in Napier Barracks, Karachi. We were partners in crime, from ganging up on his elder brother to learning to be mechanics and driving huge lorries and dumper trucks on our uncles' crusher plant outside Karachi. We were, however, unable to help him realise his one unfulfilled dream: to come up with a better game than Diplomacy or Monopoly!

Irfan had for a time dabbled with poetry in Urdu, but then seemed to have given all of that up and we both set off for Turkey - him to do Chemical Engineering and I Architecture. Before the year was up, he realised that engineering was not for him and he thought he would try his hand at journalism and returned to Karachi University where he was fortunate to have Javed Jabbar and Anwar Maqsood as class fellows and Jawed Ali Khan as a lecturer, a friendship that still endures.

After a degree in economics he took the CSP exams and joined the Railway Accounts Service. There he learnt to drink tea and perfect the art of "noting" and dealing with a dozen files in less than 10 minutes without interrupting the conversation. When I suggested that this was not what he was cut out for, he pointed out that he had started writing columns, often under a pseudonym, ranging on a variety of everyday affairs as well as on food. He stuck it out with the CSP for about 30 years, including a stint on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's staff and later, as Information Minister at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington under Benazir, and eventually quit the CSP to take on the presidentship of the Textile Institute of Pakistan in Karachi.

Since he married Charlotte he has been spending much of his time in the United Kingdom, living first in London, and then Devises and now East Lulworth. Charlotte has always run an open house, and with her four girls (to whom Irfan has been an ally, confidante and generally there has always been much laughter and many people with friends and family from around the world dropping in and staying. This warm and welcoming style is something that Irfan was also brought up on by his mother. Irfan and Charlotte added to this by building a superbly located villa on Sri Lanka's southern coast near Hambantota.

Charlotte and Irfan's homes have become a welcome haven for visiting Pakistanis - often friends of friends of friends. All who come are infected by the warmth and familial feelings that draw in and transform everyone, regardless of race, creed, culture, age or gender, and new and enduring friendships are born. This will probably be the most lasting of Irfan's legacy. In over 75 years of knowing him, I have never seen or heard him being angry or unkind.