Haider Rizvi, my Pakistani brother

Haider Rizvi, my Pakistani brother
Haider Rizvi celebrating life and love earlier this year, at Ghizar District, Gilgit. Photo by Qamar Abbas.

Haider Rizvi, a friend from Pakistan, suddenly passed away in Lahore.

By Partha Banerjee

By Partha Banerjee

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 never saw 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 racists and bigots.

Both of us went through a lifelong trauma we carried deep inside — because of the Partition, bloodshed and violence. We felt cheated by the rulers both in South Asia, 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.

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? C’mon…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, Yama took away two precious members of this society: 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 community.

Just three days ago, I spoke with Haider on Facebook. And now, he is gone forever. This was our 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.
(asterisks added)
October 27 at 7:17pm

Those were the last words he said to me.

Throughout his life, he showed 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.

Note: We are all mourning our dear brother, and some of us are also resolving how to pay our respects to him. Haider Rizvi was firstly a genuinely open and warm man with a golden heart, and secondly, a truly progressive, secular, and pro-peace, pro-harmony human being who did not believe in any racial or national divides. Let us keep this Haider Rizvi in our hearts, have gatherings to remember him where secular and progressive-minded Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and others can come together, and build bridges.

Dr. Partha Banerjee is a first-generation immigrant from Calcutta. He is a labor educator and human rights activist, based in Brooklyn, New York. This piece is adapted from the piece he wrote published earlier on his blog.

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