Remembering A Literary Colossus: Honouring Asif Farrukhi's Legacy

"The hallmark of Asif's short stories lay not in their grandeur or spectacle, but in their quiet introspection and profound humanity"

Remembering A Literary Colossus: Honouring Asif Farrukhi's Legacy

In the quiet embrace of remembrance, four years have drifted by since Asif Farrukhi bid farewell to this world. Within the intricate tapestry of contemporary Urdu literature, his absence still echoes, leaving behind a void that seems impossible to fill. Asif Farrukhi wasn't just a figure; he was a literary giant whose presence illuminated every corner of the literary realm.

Born into a household steeped in the fragrance of ink and the rustle of pages, Asif inherited a rich legacy from his father, Dr Aslam Farrukhi, a renowned educator and writer. Surrounded by books that seemed to breathe with life, Asif came to see them not just as collections of words, but as living entities pulsating with stories and wisdom. His home wasn't just a place; it was a sanctuary where literary greats of the past lingered in the air, whispering their tales to those willing to listen. Within the walls of his familial abode, Asif's connection to literature ran deep, extending beyond the physical realm to encompass the ethereal presence of literary luminaries from generations past. Figures like Deputy Nazir Ahmad and Shahid Ahmad Dehlavi, close relatives of his mother, and Muhammad Hussain Azad, whose works his father researched, were not distant names but revered ancestors whose stories and verses resonated within the very fabric of his being. Asif felt as though he had personally encountered these great personalities of literature, their spirits lingering in the air, guiding him on his literary journey. They were not mere relics of a bygone era to him; rather, he felt their breath close to him, their influence shaping his thoughts and perspectives.

Moreover, Asif's upbringing was enriched by the presence of his father, a distinguished teacher of Urdu literature, and a prolific writer and poet in his own right. His grandfather, too, left an indelible mark on Asif, with his remarkable memory and penchant for Urdu couplets and old stories. Anwar Ahsan Siddiqui, Asif's paternal uncle, further enriched his literary environment, serving as a role model with his multifaceted talents in literature, poetry, journalism, and politics. These writers, both familial and literary, formed the cornerstone of Asif's mental training, profoundly influencing his development as a writer and thinker. Their collective wisdom and guidance laid the foundation for his journey into the literary world, shaping his worldview and nurturing his passion for literature.

As Asif grew, his orbit expanded to encompass a rich tapestry of literary luminaries who graced his father's wide circle of disciples and friends. From the cherished confines of his childhood home, Asif beheld a procession of revered writers, their presence transcending the confines of printed pages to animate the very corridors of his existence. Conversations with these literary titans, once confined to the realm of imagination, now unfolded before him, offering glimpses into worlds both real and imagined. From his earliest forays into radio broadcasts, where he rubbed shoulders with luminaries like Aziz Hamid Madani, Saleem Ahmed, Qamar Jameel, and Zameer Ali Badayouni, to intimate gatherings in the company of acclaimed figures like Ghulam Abbas, Asif's journey was marked by encounters that left an indelible mark on his impressionable mind. It was Ghulam Abbas himself who unveiled Asif's inaugural collection of short stories, a gesture that served as a testament to the esteem in which he was held within literary circles.

Beyond his literary endeavours, Asif Farrukhi emerged as a towering figure of support and inspiration within the literary community

Yet, it was in the intimate exchanges with critics like Muhammad Hasan Askari that Asif found himself steeped in the nuances of literary critique. Visits to Askari's abode, while still a student, exposed him to a world of erudition and simplicity, leaving an indelible imprint on his burgeoning intellect. Though influenced by Askari's insights, it was the writings of Intizar Hussain that truly captured Asif's imagination, inspiring a profound devotion that found expression in his seminal work, Chirag-e-Shab-e-Afsana, a luminous tribute to Hussain's artistry and persona. Among the pantheon of influences, Shamsur Rahman Farooqui stood as a beacon of inspiration, his words resonating with a clarity that transcended the boundaries of time and space. While their meetings were sparse, Asif's immersion in Farooqui's writings served as a constant source of enlightenment, enriching his understanding of storytelling and critique.

In the hallowed presence of these literary giants, Asif received an extraordinary education, a veritable masterclass in the art of storytelling and critique. Each encounter, each conversation, served to shape his understanding of literature, imbuing his works with a depth and resonance that would define his legacy for generations to come.

In the tapestry of his own literary contributions, Asif's works shimmered with a unique brilliance, each collection a testament to his boundless creativity and unwavering commitment to craft. Aatishfishan Par Khile Gulab, Asif Farrukhi's inaugural collection of short stories published in 1982, heralded the dawn of a prolific career that would span decades. Subsequent works, including Ism-e-Azam Ki Talash, Cheezain Aur Log, Shehr Beeti, Shehr Maajra, Main Shakh Se Kyun Toota, Ek Aadmi Ki Kami, and the poignant Mere Din Guzar Rahe Hain, bore witness to his evolution as a storyteller, each narrative thread woven with the finesse of a master craftsman. In 2011, Samandar Ki Chori emerged as a selection of representative short stories, showcasing the breadth and depth of Asif's literary prowess. Though diverse in theme and tone, each story bore the unmistakable imprint of his singular voice, imbued with a sense of intimacy and authenticity that resonated with readers. It was not merely the plots or characters that captivated audiences, but the palpable sense of the author's own thoughts and concerns, woven seamlessly into the fabric of each narrative.

Indeed, the hallmark of Asif's short stories lay not in their grandeur or spectacle, but in their quiet introspection and profound humanity. While some may not have achieved widespread acclaim, every word carried a deeply personal resonance, inviting readers into the inner recesses of the author's soul. In this deeply personal exploration of the human experience, Asif found his truest expression, crafting stories that transcended the confines of time and place to touch the hearts and minds of readers across generations.

But Asif's talents transcended the realm of fiction; his prowess as a critic was equally formidable, illuminating the hidden depths of Urdu literature with profound insights and discernment. Asif Farrukhi's legacy as a critic was enshrined in three seminal collections of critical essays each a testament to his keen critical insight and scholarly acumen. What many may not realise is that Asif's journey as a critic began in his boyhood years with a critical article titled Naya Novel. This early foray into criticism laid the groundwork for a career marked by meticulous analysis and incisive commentary. Over the years, he honed his craft, penning book reviews and critical essays in both Urdu and English. His early English writings found a home in publications such as Morning News and Current, before he transitioned to contribute to esteemed English journals like Herald and newspapers like Dawn.

The author (left) with Asif Farrukhi

In 2004, Asif unveiled his first critical collection, Aalam Eijad, a compendium of essays that reflected his evolving understanding of fiction. Describing them as the ‘notes of a reader,’ Asif's essays were a testament to his unique approach to literary criticism, informed by the insights of Russian philosopher and literary critic Michael Bakhtin. Through his meticulous examination of literary texts, Asif unearthed layers of meaning and significance, shedding light on the nuances of the Urdu novel, particularly those of the 19th century. Subsequent essays, collected in the book Nigh-e-Aaina Saaz Mein, continued to showcase Asif's depth of knowledge and breadth of vision. Each essay was a testament to his unwavering commitment to scholarship, offering readers a window into the rich tapestry of Urdu literature and its myriad complexities. His final critical opus,  Ek Khaani Naye Mazmoon Ki, published mere months before his untimely passing, served as a poignant reminder of Asif's enduring legacy as a critic. In these pages, his voice resonated with clarity and conviction, a testament to a lifetime dedicated to the pursuit of literary excellence.

Yet perhaps his most enduring legacy lies in his passion for translation, a literary endeavor that spanned continents and bridged cultures. Asif Farrukhi's journey as a translator began in his student years, a testament to his early commitment to the art of literary exchange. His first translations, including Ayn Rand's Tarana and Girish Karnad's Tughlaq, were published in 1987, marking the inception of a prolific career that would see him translate works from a diverse array of languages and genres.

During his tenure at Harvard University, Asif embarked on a transformative exploration of language and literature, adapting the words of contemporary poets into English, which culminated in the publication of ‘An evening of caged beasts.’ This seminal work served as a testament to his ability to capture the essence of poetry across linguistic boundaries, inviting readers into a world where language served as a gateway to new realms of understanding. In the years that followed, Asif's translations continued to enrich the literary landscape, encompassing a wide range of voices and perspectives. From the evocative verses of Kishwar Naheed and Atiya Dawood to the timeless wisdom of Herman Hesse's Siddharth, his translations offered readers a passport to distant lands and cultures, fostering a deeper appreciation for the richness and diversity of human experience.

Moreover, Asif's dedication to translation extended beyond the realm of literature to encompass works of historical and cultural significance. His translations of Najeeb Mahfouz's works, presented under the titles Yadaon Ki Bazgasht and  Khawab Nama, offered readers a window into the complexities of Middle Eastern society, while his adaptations of Satyajit Ray's novel and Latin American writer Omar Rawabella's works brought new perspectives to Urdu readers. In recognition of his contributions to the field of translation, Asif's work was honoured with prestigious awards, including the Prime Minister Literary Award for his translation of Latin American short stories in Maut Aur Qutabnuma. Additionally, his selection and translation of Urdu short stories written in the context of the events of 1971, published under the title ‘Fault Line,’ served as a poignant reminder of the power of literature to transcend borders and unite humanity in shared understanding.

With a discerning gaze that spanned continents, Asif Farrukhi possessed a profound appreciation for both national and international literature. Among his favourite writers were luminaries such as Milan Kundera, Gabriel García Márquez, and Borges, whose works resonated deeply with his literary sensibilities. Additionally, he held a special admiration for English writers from India, particularly Amitav Ghosh, whose literary prowess captivated his imagination. The novel Lenin's Kisses by Chinese writer Yan Lianqi also held a special place in his heart, showcasing his eclectic taste and appreciation for diverse literary voices.

Not content to merely consume literature, Asif's talents as an interviewer and editor further enriched the literary landscape. His book Harf-e-Mann-o-Tu, a compilation of literary interviews with prominent figures of the time, stood as a testament to his skill in engaging with the minds behind the words. Moreover, his editorial endeavours included curating works such as a selection of Meeraji's poetry and a book penned by Mumtaz Shireen about Manto, titled Manto Noori Na Naari, showcasing his commitment to preserving and promoting the literary legacy of his contemporaries.

Beyond his literary endeavours, Asif emerged as a towering figure of support and inspiration within the literary community, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of Pakistani literature. His founding of the esteemed publishing house, ‘Sheherzade,’ served as a beacon of literary excellence, nurturing the talents of countless authors and scholars through the publication of hundreds of literary and academic works. Additionally, his visionary leadership extended to the realm of journalism, with the establishment of the prestigious magazine Daniyazad, a bastion of literary discourse that captivated readers with its unique blend of insight and creativity.

Together with his esteemed colleague, Amina Syed, Asif spearheaded the transformation of Pakistan's literary culture through the founding of literary festivals that transcended boundaries and united writers and readers in celebration of the written word. These festivals, conceived as vibrant hubs of intellectual exchange and creative exploration, breathed new life into the literary scene, fostering dialogue and collaboration among luminaries of the literary world. Furthermore, Asif's commitment to promoting Urdu literature extended beyond national borders, as evidenced by his steadfast support of the International Urdu Conference of the Arts Council. His tireless advocacy for the Urdu language and its rich literary heritage served as a testament to his unwavering dedication to preserving and elevating the cultural legacy of Pakistan.

Prior to his illustrious career in literature, Asif's passion for social change led him to work tirelessly for years with UNICEF, where he dedicated himself to improving the lives of children and communities across the country. Later, he embarked on a new chapter in his career, sharing his wealth of knowledge and experience as a teacher of liberal arts at Habib University, Karachi, where he continued to inspire generations of students with his profound insights and unwavering commitment to excellence.

Though Asif may no longer walk among us, his spirit lives on in the words he left behind. His legacy, woven into the fabric of Urdu literature, continues to inspire and guide those who follow in his footsteps, reminding us of the enduring power of storytelling to transcend time and space.

The reviewer is a poet, author and translator. His recent translations include Omar Shahid Hamid’s The Prisoner and Muriel Maufroy’s Daughter of Rumi. He can be reached at