Obituary writing and obituaries of notables from Karachi
THE Daily Telegraph is often dubbed as one of Britain’s ‘big three quality newspapers’. Aside from high quality reports and articles, one of the attributes of the newspaper is its obituaries, some of them affectionately introducing readers to what can only be described as ‘eccentricities’. In its June 10, 2016 issue, for instance, the newspaper published an obituary of John Gaustad, who opened “the first shop in Britain devoted solely to sports books”.
The Daily Telegraph’s obituaries have been compiled in several volumes on the basis of themes, such as, the 20th century lives, the heroes and the eccentric lives. A selection of the finest pieces from these books has appeared in a volume titled The very best of The Daily Telegraph books of obituaries and it did sell well.
The Economist London publishes obituaries, almost every week, highlighting the difference the subjects made to the world. This can give us some idea of how important, and popular, obituary writing is in the West.
Obituaries can be a very important source of information on history or, at least, on subject’s life. An obituary giving life-sketch and details about the achievements of someone who has influenced a sphere, if not history, can be very useful for future researchers, albeit sometimes an obituary may seem unnecessary or useless when published immediately following a death.
When it comes to Urdu, Syed Sulaiman Nadvi can be credited with reviving the age-old tradition of writing obituaries. Published on a regular basis in Ma’arif, the obituaries written by Nadvi Sahib today give us vital information on some of the authors whom very little was known about. These obituaries have recently been compiled by Dr Muhammad Suhail Shafeeq.
In recent times, Prof Muhammad Aslam became quite known for his works recording the brief life-sketches and dates of death of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of prominent Pakistanis. In fact, he was the first in Pakistan to have published the obituaries in book form. His books, Vafiyaat-i-mashaheer-i-Pakistan and Vafiyaat-i-a’eyaan-i-Pakistan, both published in 1991, gave some very vital but missing information on a large number of celebrities from all walks of life.
By visiting the graveyards of Karachi and Lahore Prof Aslam noted down the important information from the tombstones of hundreds of notable personalities and presented them in two separate volumes, titled Khuftagaan-i-Karachi (1991) and Khuftagaan-i-khaak-i-Lahore (1993).
Some of the other works that give details about those Pakistani and Indian celebrities who have left this world include books by Malik Ram, Gopi Chand Narang, Muhammad Asim Butt, M.R. Shahid, Zahid Hussain Anjum, Basharat Ali Khan Farogh, Sanjeeda Khatoon, Nasiruddin Siddiqi, Sabir Berari and Ahmed Hussain Siddiqi.
But the researcher who has surpassed them all — both in quantity and quality — is Dr Muhammad Muneer Ahmed Sletch.
Khuftagaan-i-khaak-i-Gujrat (1996), Dr Sletch’s first book on obituaries, recorded the lives and deaths of prominent personalities from Gujrat, Punjab. It also gave the inscriptions from the epitaphs. The book was well-received. But when his gigantic work Vafiyaat-i-naamvaraan-i-Pakistan (2006) appeared, giving the biographical details of about 10, 000 notable Pakistanis, Sletch surpassed all previous works as he had not only encompassed all information found in previous works but had corrected, with back-breaking research, the innumerable inaccuracies that had crept in the previous works. It covered the obituaries from Aug 14, 1947, to Dec 31, 2004.
Dr Sletch’s next work was Vafiyaat-i-ahl-i-qalam (2008), recording the biographical details and important literary works of Pakistani authors who had passed away between Aug 15, 1947 and Aug 14, 2007. He came up with another kind of necrology: Tanhaiyyaan bolti hain (2012), a book describing the life-sketches of about 500 notables buried in the graveyards of Islamabad. The book also gave the feats achieved by these personalities, along with the carefully copied-down epitaphs of their graves.
As if all this was not enough, Dr Sletch has just published another work on the dead: Vafiyaat-i-mashaheer-i-Karachi, a work on the notable individuals who belonged to Karachi and died between Aug 15, 1947 and Dec 31, 2015, whether buried in Karachi or elsewhere. Published by Qirtaas, Karachi, the book enlists the names of about 2,500 notables, taking care of the mistakes made by the authors of similar works published previously.
Dr Muneer Sletch is a medical doctor and psychiatrist by education and profession. He is a practising psychiatrist and also teaches psychiatry at a medical institution in Rawalpindi. Mr Sletch has penned a number of books and articles on literary topics. But rather than his patients, apparently, he is more interested in reviving those who have passed away: he records and edits the obituaries of notable individuals, especially writers, poets and intellectuals, thus giving them a new life, at least on the pages of his books.
Emphasizing the importance of Karachi and recalling its literary luminaries, Dr Moinuddin Aqeel has rightly underscored the relevance and importance of the book in his introduction. The book gives, in alphabetical order, the name of a person and his or her claim to fame, along with places and dates of birth and death. Keeping in line with his previous works, Sletch has been very careful in citing the sources.
With so much hard work and meticulous research going into the book, it has naturally become an authentic source. It is a must for researchers, journalists, teachers and anyone interested in Karachi and its people