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Pervez Hoodbhoy's moving letter on Eqbal

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    Pervez Hoodbhoy's moving letter on Eqbal

    Pervez Hoodbhoy's moving letter on Eqbal Ahmed's last hours.

    -----Original Message-----

    13 May 1999

    Several of you had been receiving updates from me twice a
    day about Eqbal for the last one week. The very last one was
    full of hope although his condition was critical. The heart
    balloon machine seemed to be doing its job so well. I told
    you that we could all sleep easy until the next update. But
    you now well know there will be no more updates. It was
    exactly 5:25am on the 11th of May when he asked me to raise
    him up. Moments later the ECG went flat. He died in my arms.

    It is not easy to write about someone who I have been so
    close to, and who I loved so dearly. I am desperately
    battling my tears as I do so, but tell you I must. I must
    tell you because some of you loved him dearly too and would
    want to know. And there are so many of us, spread wide and
    far on the globe. But I must tell a few others too, even
    though they knew and admired him from some distance away.
    I'm not sure Eqbal would approve of my writing. He was a
    very private person in some ways. But I feel the compulsion
    because you and I will have that final rendezvous too. And I
    want to tell you just how the greatest human being I have
    known went. Perhaps there is something to be learnt here.

    The world outside continued to occupy him even inside the
    hospital. When we took him to PIMS he was in an awful state,
    vomiting violently and feeling sharp pains in his heart.
    During a quiet phase I said "when you get well I'd like you
    to look at an article I've just written against the May 28
    nuclear celebrations". No, he replied, give it to me now. He
    carefully adjusted the intravenous drip to take hold of his
    pen, asked me to raise his hospital bed to a semi-sitting
    position, and then went through the article adding his
    editorial comments here and there. That's what he's done all
    his life, I thought to myself, helping others, concerning
    himself with their problems.

    Yes, it was painful, bloody painful as he lay in the ICU at
    Shifa after the 3 hour long cancer surgery. As painful as
    you can imagine, and beyond that too. The morphine would
    knock him out for a while, but you could see the pain would
    still be there. Lessened a little, but ever present. But he
    remained the quintessential Eqbal to the very end. His mind
    remained incisive, critical, analytical. He wanted to know
    about every medicine -- the dosage, the effects and
    after-effects. His wit survived the pain. "Mrs Diamond"
    (she's Julie's mother and now over 90 years old), he
    remarked to Hajra, "is for all practical purposes
    indestructible". After one of his quips I remarked that his
    sense of humour was intact. "It's a useful thing to have
    sometimes", he said, "so I like to carry it along with me".

    His love for his friends helped mitigate the pain. When his
    dearest friend Edward Said called from New York just before
    the surgery, his eyes sparkled and he insisted on taking the
    call. When I conveyed the many phone and email messages sent
    by his other friends, I could see how much each of them
    meant to him. He was angry with me when I said that I had
    encouraged Dohra and Radha to come from New York. It was an
    unnecessary bother for them, he said, why did you do such a
    foolish thing? "You must think about how they feel", I
    replied. Half an hour later he relented. Yes, you are
    right, he said.

    He knew he was dying but made no useless supplications,
    asked for nothing, expected nothing. His intellectual
    integrity and dignity remained intact till the very end. Let
    others apply soothing balm for themselves in whatever form,
    indulge in whatever religious claptrap they believe in. He
    would have none of that for himself, but if others felt
    better he didn't discourage them.

    The doctors were awed by him and the nurses fell in love.
    Eqbal must have been the weirdest patient at the ICU they
    have experienced in their lives. Strapped in a maze of tubes
    and wires, in a state of clear agony, he still insisted on
    knowing everything, scolded one monumentally incompetent
    nurse, praised the two good ones, but charmed even the one
    he had scolded. I saw tears trickling from one nurse's eyes
    when they finally wheeled him out.

    Eqbal Ahmad is gone. Gone forever. That priceless jewel is
    no more. The loss is beyond words, grief knows no bounds.
    How I, and so many of us, will come to grips with this new
    reality I simply do not know. Pervez