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