My very dear friend, Asif Ali Khan, is no more. He breathed his last yesterday afternoon at his home near Byculla in Bombay after a prolonged but brave battle with cancer.
I joined a large number of his admirers (among them my longtime friends Javed Anand and Feroze Ashraf) to bid him final goodbye at the Nariyalwadi Qabrastan late in the evening. It’s a very serene place, full of trees and flowering plants. My grief-stricken heart recalled that it was at this very place that Asif, Javed, Ferozebhai and I had come, a little over a year ago, to bid goodbye to our common friend, Sajid Rashid, a renowned Urdu journalist and writer. First Sajid and now Asif, their departure leaves a big void in the field of social activism in a city that direly needs more such activists.
Asif strove passionately all his life for communal harmony, Hindu-Muslim understanding and amity, national integration, and socio-economic and educational progress of the Muslim community. Against all odds, and with an exemplary spirit of selflessness, he pursued ideals that were close to his heart. He constantly and sincerely struggled to build bridges of dialogue and cooperation between people with divergent views on socio-political and religious issues. It’s an endeavour that can easily create misunderstanding and disillusionment. But Asif’s sincerity of purpose and unassuming style of functioning won him the trust and admiration of a wide range of personalities in public life.
Asif gave expression to his thoughts and concerns through cartoons – he had an amazing sense of humour – journalism and non-political social work. He was very dynamic in his work, a person always on the move. Yet, he was also very gentle in the way he worked and interacted with people.
Asif was full of love for life. However, his fullness of love for life flowed from a deep awareness of the injustice, exploitation, cruelty and suffering in the world around him. He hated hypocrisy, bigotry and dogmatism. This dichotomy between Life, that is forever longing and trying to create a better world, and a world that is unable and unwilling to become better, was a source of perpetual sadness for him. But he rarely showed his sadness, except in private conversations with trusted friends. The sadness was well hidden beneath the natural smile on his face. His smiling face (which adorns his Facebook page) greeted me even when I last saw him on Wednesday, even though he was no longer in a position to speak.
My wife Kamaxi and I knew Asif and his family since the mid-1980s. We conveyed our heartfelt condolences to his old and ailing mother, wife Sharifa, their newly wed sons Naved and Rameez, and their daughters-in-law.
Asifbhai, you’ll forever remain in my heart. I am grateful to you for your love and friendship, for your understanding and comradeship. I shall forever remember your unpretentious but internally solid personality; your strength of character; your lifelong endeavour to contribute to justice and peace in this world (in Bombay, our beloved city, to begin with); and for all the happy moments we shared. Surely, you were the kind of person that our Almighty Creator has a special liking and love for.
Father Harry Stocks, CSC passed away on Saturday, January 19, 2013 at Hospice Niagara (Canada) after a lengthy, courageous and serene struggle with cancer. Born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, he was the son of the late Andrew and Jean Hunt Stocks. After his early education, he advanced from copyboy to reporter at newspapers in Edinburgh, Golspie and Glasgow, and then immigrated to Canada in 1957, believing his future lay in print or broadcast media. After a year as the city life reporter on the Toronto Telegram, he changed course dramatically and joined the Congregation of Holy Cross in August1958, after philosophy studies at the University of Notre Dame and theology studies at Holy Cross College in Washington, DC, he was ordained priest in May 1966.
His first assignment, to the Holy Cross Missions in Bangalore, was the beginning of a life-long, passionate commitment to India and its people. He learned the Tamil language and was initiated into his option for the poor by his involvement in two large projects: a workers' centre and a housing project for the homeless. He developed a special sensitivity to people who are deaf and dedicated the next 42 years of his life to their benefit. He built a training centre for the deaf in Bangalore. Its modern equipment enabled students to get jobs especially in many public sector factories in Bangalore. He began a second such centre in Karwar.
His work with the deaf and the workers' movement led to national involvement with several organizations, other religious communities and non-Christian agencies. His work with and advocacy for the deaf extended into Asia. Because of declining health he moved back to Canada. Still he was able to serve as Chaplain to the Deaf Community in the Archdiocese of Toronto from 2005 to 2010. At the same time, from 2005 up to October 2012, Father Harry ministered to the deaf of Niagara at a monthly Mass at St. Kevin's Parish. Because of his poor health, this was not easy for him in the last several months but he carried on with what he called his sacred duty.
His energy that seemed to keep him forever mobile and his unstinting commitment to the poor, especially to the deaf in India, and the deaf he worked with in different networks throughout Asia and in Canada. Fr. Harry was well known for his inimitable Scottish humour.
Father Harry was an instrument of peace, a channel and an avenue through which God’s love and compassion flowed out to others. Essentially his life, as I knew it, was a reminder of prophets in the Old Testament who declared God’s will to the people. “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”
Deeds of righteousness are what make a good and godly man. And these were the stuff of Father Harry’s life. His was a humble walk with God, not visible to people, even to himself. His life was a life lived with God - a life not lived to be visible, approved and applauded. It is not a subject to our pietistic judgement but thrives upon its simplicity and straightforwardness, even dispensing with the culturally prescribed norms of social behaviour. Its deceptive lack of visibility makes for depth and a hidden richness.
Father Harry died not in defeat but in victory, unafraid and in unabated trust in his Maker. He always remained calm and undismayed, never displaying anxiety or concern for himself. In his passing, he has left in me and many others around the world a legacy of compassion and care for others.
Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)