I knew Haider since our student days at Columbia University’s Journalism School. Haider was a poet, an award-winning journalist, and a wonderful human being. In my thirty years in America, I have rarely seen a man who was so progressive, so secular, and so much in celebration of life. I have never seen him in a mood anything but happy and cheerful.
Haider and I both have always rejected the British partition of India, and condemned the global warfare and economic colonization. We have both worked against the anti-immigrant hate crimes that exploded in America after 9/11: in fact, Haider himself was a victim. We both hated the racists and bigots.
Both of us went through a lifelong trauma we carried deep inside — because of the partition, bloodshed and violence, and felt cheated by the rulers both in the subcontinent, and later in America, where we were forced to emigrate. Honestly, to call him Pakistani, or Pakistani-American, would be a grave injustice to his humanitarian philosophy, and an insult to his soul.
Just three days ago, I spoke with him on Facebook. And now, he is gone forever.
Haider Rizvi…Pakistani? He left so suddenly that I wonder if he is still around, looking for such major errors in my writing, only to admonish me in his warm, smiling way. He would perhaps say, laughing, “Partha…Partha…I love you man…but Pakistan? India? Cummon…gimme a break! No Pakistan…no India…only the world, bro…only the universe!” I can hear his deep, sombre voice, and his thunderous laugh…
“No Pakistan…no India…man, we are all equal. We are all one.”
In America as new immigrants, we do not have too many relatives or close friends we can call our family. This is an excruciating isolation few talk about, or care to know about. Over the years, we have rebuilt a society of our own — from zero, and especially for emotional and extrovert people like me, it is truly a lifeline. Without it, we die. I believe death is a part of life, and having come from a rough background and gone through many untimely and violent deaths, Lord Yama does not scare me anymore. He has failed. It is not the death that hurts me and saps my energy; rather, it is the loss of a precious society that I try to cling on to in this un-united states of alienation that does it.
This week, back to back, two precious members of this society were taken away by Yama: my Ph.D. advisor Walt Sundberg who was once like a father or a big brother (old-fashioned Indian mentality, I know), and my journalist-poet friend and colleague Haider. In a week, I have lost two members of my small American society.
Yama knows he can’t have the last laugh, and I will pull through. But he has done what he does the best: take some precious people away from life, untimely, without notice, and without any compassion for small people’s small happiness. He is no different from a hurricane, tsunami, bank robbery, war, riot, or rigged election. He knows he cannot win over our spirit and desire to live, for long.
Three days ago, Haider and I had this Facebook conversation.
Me: Bernie believers have misplaced their anger. They should have raided DNC and media from Day 1. Bernie is too modest.
October 27 at 4:56pm
Haider: Remember 2008? Dont worry.
October 27 at 5:00pm
Me: Rizabhi, you too? So naive!
October 27 at 5:14pm
Haider: Dear Partha, tell me what is the virtue in being smart?
October 27 at 5:15pm
Me: Nothing. We are eternal idiots, bro. Or, why would we hope for anything in the first place?
October 27 at 5:16pm
Haider: *****So we must celebrate our ability to celebrate life. No?*****
October 27 at 7:17pm
That was the last words he said to me.
Throughout his life, he has shown me how to celebrate life. No pain, no trauma, no violence, no war, no oppression, no lies, no cheating, and no failure could stop him from celebrating life.
I am sure, wherever he is now, he is making everyone around him cheerful, with his deep, thunderous laugh. A glass of whiskey…rum…vodka…red wine…well…we can’t imagine him laughing and chatting…without it, no?
“Love you…love you…love you…” Haider would say to everybody he knew.
We love you too, man. We love you dearly.
We shall celebrate your life.
Brooklyn, New York