Ummid Assistant

Hajj committee's IAS coaching cell invites applications for new batch

AMU Centre for Distance Education to add five more study centres

Welcome Guest! You are here: Home Views & Analysis

Pakistani American who fought for 'minority within minority'

Thursday July 28, 2011 12:19:15 PM, Ashok Easwaran, IANS

Chicago: In the early 1990s, the concierge at the apartment complex where Ifti Nasim lived in Chicago, called up to say there was a visitor who insisted on seeing him although it was one in the morning. "It is a Mr Khan," said the concierge apologetically.

It turned out to be the legendary Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who had studied in the same school as Nasim in Lyallapore (now Faisalabad) in Pakistan. He had invited Nasim for a concert earlier that evening, which Nasim could not attend.

"He sang for me at my home till 5 in the morning, and I got goose bumps listening to him," recalled Nasim.

Nasim, who died last week of a heart attack, had indeed lived a full life. Since his death, eulogies have appeared in American newspapers across the country and blogs around the world. A columnist in The Chicago Tribune called Nasim the most famous Chicagoan whom residents had never heard of.

Nasim, whose poems have been immortalized by renowned Pakistani singers, including Ghulam Ali; an activist who founded Sangat, an organisation for South Asian gay and lesbians; an anti-war activist; and a mentor to many, Nasim was instrumental in several gays from India getting asylum in the US.

Nasim himself came to the United States in 1971 to escape persecution in Pakistan for his sexual orientation. Like many immigrants, he did several odd jobs before becoming a salesman at a luxury car dealership in Chicago. Although one of the dealership's top salesmen, he was, by all accounts, unconventional in his sales approach, wearing silk and brocades to work. He famously told a well known Chicago television personality who wanted a car's trunk opened, "Honey, do it yourself. I just got my nails done."

As I discovered in the 15 years I knew him, Nasim loved to shock and outrage people.

But beneath the bravado and the posturing was a man who cared deeply about people and the causes dear to him, and one whose engagement with other humans, went beyond the barriers of sex, religion, politics or geography. His poetry reflected the turbulence and pain of a life in the shadows. He was, for long, ostracized by conservative Muslims. "Even success brings only grudging acceptance. They just about tolerate you," he told me once, "if you are a gay Muslim in America, you are a minority within a minority."

When I was first introduced to Nasim, what struck me most were his outlandish clothes, which more or less reflected his flamboyant personality. He was the first openly gay person I had met in my life. I was intrigued, and perhaps, in retrospect, even a little wary.

Over the years, I got to know him better. He was fond of poetry and the Hindi films of the fifties and the sixties. One of his favourite Indian poets was the lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi, although he would always qualify his admiration with, "I, as a poet, would consider it below my dignity to write for films."

Immediately after the terrorist attacks in New York in September, 2011, I did an interview with him. He was one of the very few Muslims who spoke out openly when the community had withdrawn into itself. "The Mullahs are quiet. I do not know why," he said. "Hatred," he said emphatically, "is not a cause", a statement I found pithy enough to carry as the headline of the interview.

I learnt much later that Nasim had been a mentor to several young Indian Americans, turning around many turbulent lives in the process. He urged some of them not to rebel or to sever relationships with their parents, while persuading others not to abandon their education. I suspect that it was Nasim's bohemian demeanour that made his sage advice palatable to the young.

A columnist in a Pakistani American newspaper, Nasim also had a radio talk show. He was quick witted and unsparing in his barbs, but one had to know him long enough to realize that the profanity and crassness were only on the surface, part of a defense, one suspects, that sensitive gays develop to cope with a brutal and hostile environment.

I asked him once why most gays turn out to be gentle souls. His reply bespoke his past. "Because most of us have gone through so much pain and rejection in our lives, that we cannot but be sensitive to the pain of others." He would make a philosophical statement, then seek to deflect it, with a joke. I found him, almost always, effervescent, often beginning a phone conversation with 'honey'.

One of life's perennial regrets is not having spent enough time with those who pass on. A fellow journalist and I had been planning to meet with Nasim for several weeks. "Let us meet in my studio and then I will take you both out for a nice dinner," he had told me. Even as we were finalising the meeting, I learnt that he was in hospital in critical condition.

At his funeral service, I could not help thinking about the precise randomness of death. The scythe, almost invariably, falls on those who have not drunk completely of the cup of life, although Nasim himself may probably have had a different view. "I have done everything, seen everything. I am tired," he told me recently before breaking into his characteristic high pitched laugh.

It may, of course, have been one of his statements meant for effect. Or then, again, he may have had a premonition. In tributes, fans have quoted one of his couplets:

"Ab nazar aana bhi usska ek kahani ban gaya
Wu zameen ka rahnay waala aasmaani ban gaya"

I could never transcend the thought that his self-depreciating jokes and his poems hid a deeper anguish. I would like to remember Nasim through one of Mirza Ghalib's couplets. The idea that life is a continuous struggle, which can end only when life ends is a recurring theme in Ghalib's poetry, as also in the films of Guru Dutt, a director whom both of us admired.

qaid-e-hayaat-o-band-e-gham asal mein dono ek hain
maut se pehle aadmee gham se nijaat paaye kyon

(The prison of life and the bondage of grief are one and the same
Before the onset of death, how can man expect to be free of grief?)



(Ashok Easwaran is a Chicago based journalist and commentator. He is presently writing a biography of the actor Ashok Kumar.

He can be reached at ashok3185@yahoo.com)


 


 



 

 

 

 

 

  Bookmark and Share

Home | Top of the Page

 

Comments

Note: By posting your comments here you agree to the terms and conditions of www.ummid.com

Comments powered by DISQUS

 

 

 

Top Stories

Promising 'new era', India, Pakistan unveil new cross-Kashmir CBMs

Moving beyond their post-26/11 rancour, India and Pakistan Wednesday sought to open "a new chapter" of "peaceful and cooperative" ties by pledging 

  All eyes on Hina, cricket diplomacy

  India-Pakistan diplomacy avoids media trap

 

  Most Read

Yeddyurappa can be tried for corruption, says Hegde

Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa can be prosecuted for corruption, Lokayukta N. Santosh Reddy said 

Hegde submits mining report, Yeddyurappa's fate uncertain

Reforms on track, inflation a problem: Mukherjee

 India's ambitious economic reforms agenda, that was set exactly 20 years ago, is on track and much of it just requires legislative action, which can take time due to the process involved, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said. However, he seemed to throw up his hands on 

 

  News Pick

France's burqa ban is Britain's gain

The burqa ban in France has sent wealthy shoppers from the Middle East flocking to London. London store Liberty has notched up a 45 percent increase of international visitors 

A new, safe Egypt woos Indian travellers

Want to visit the "new" Egypt? Five months after the uprising in the north African country, its battered tourism sector is looking at Asia, especially India, as its market of the future. "India and Asia, especially South Asia 

Indians Harish Hande, Nileema Mishra win Magsaysay Award

Two Indians, Harish Hande and Neelima Mishra are among the five individuals and one organisation cited for the Magsaysay Award, it was announced here   

Nileema Mishra to donate Magsaysay prize money

Indian youths on death row in UAE to walk free

Seventeen Indian youth on a death row in the United Arab Emirates for the death of a Pakistani national could walk free October after members of the Indian community in Dubai deposited "blood money" in a court in Sharjah 

 

Picture of the Day

Jamia Millia Vice Chancellor Najeeb Jang conferring the title 'Nishan-e-Azad' on Ambassador of Saudi Arabia Faisal Hasan Trad on July 20, 2011.

 

 
 
 
 
 

RSS  |  Contact us

 

| Quick links

News

 

Subscribe to

Ummid Assistant

 

National

Religion

RSS

Scholarships

About us

International

Culture

Twitter

Government Schemes

Feedback

Regional

History

Facebook

Education

Register

Politics

Opinion

Newsletter

Contact us

Business

Career

     

Education

       

 

 

Ummid.com: Disclaimer | Terms of Use | Advertise with us | Link Exchange

Ummid.com is part of the Awaz Multimedia & Publications providing World News, News Analysis and Feature Articles on Education, Health. Politics, Technology, Sports, Entertainment, Industry etc. The articles or the views displayed on this website are for public information and in no way describe the editorial views. The users are entitled to use this site subject to the terms and conditions mentioned.

2010 Awaz Multimedia & Publications. All rights reserved.