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Remembering my friend Irfan Husain

I first met Irfan when he was Mazdak and I was Iskra Begum. It was at the offices of Herald magazine in Karachi for which we both wrote scurrilous anti-government pieces but used pseudonyms because of our connections to the government. He was a senior civil service officer and I was married to a policeman and these were the days of Press pre-censorship in Zia-ul-Haq’s government.


Over the years we would bump into each other in Karachi but it is only when we both became emigres in London in the late 90’s that our friendship deepened, especially after his marriage to the kind, caring and generous Charlotte Breese whose home was open house to so many Pakistani exiles.


Irfan was my go-to person for immediate reaction to all that happened in the homeland. His incisive analytical powers and unwavering moral compass always cut to the heart of the matter. Even when we did not agree, I could see that, more often than not, Irfan was on the right side of the argument. These were characteristics that endeared him to so many readers.


Widely read and highly intelligent, Irfan’s writing was informed by meticulous research, and he blazed a trail with his willingness to push the boundaries of what was acceptable to say in print in Pakistan. But it was his erudition and pithy style of writing that I most admired. He did not waste words, quickly cutting to the chase in a single sentence where others would have rambled on for eternity. It was this quality that made his column so eminently readable.


Gracious and accessible, Irfan enjoyed engaging with his many readers of which my mother Zeenat was one. Whenever he had occasion to take me to lunch in Karachi, he made it a point to arrive early to spend a few moments in her company, much to her delight. When I founded the ZHR Writing Prize for Women, Irfan was the first to lend his support as a judge in its inaugural year and wrote a column about the experience.


To his closest friends Irfan was a thorough gentleman and bon vivant par excellence, delighting in the company of good friends, good food and good cheer. Many of us also shared his epicurean passions. A generous host, he would entertain us at fancy restaurants in London and Karachi and at his home in the English countryside, where he demonstrated his not inconsiderable skills as a desi chef. I spent many weekends in Dorset and Wiltshire with Irfan and Charlotte having all kinds tasty morsels, hearty meals and loving attention being lavished upon me, and these will remain among the fondest memories of my life.


Irfan, my friend, I will miss you. I will miss your company, I will miss your writing and I will miss your cooking. But most of all I will miss our conversations full of your learning, your insight and your indomitable spirit.

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