It is hard to believe that Farhad is dead. And it is hard to write an obituary for someone you can’t believe is dead. Only 46, he was. A fragile giant. Now a missing presence.
He had a mind so vast and a capacity so natural to conceptualize new ways of seeing things that made him very special. And that, more than anything, makes it hard to believe that he is not here anymore. The intellectual space he created seems, without him, a void.
To show the unusual nature of Farhad’s mind, we can take the example of his contribution at the LALIT Symposium on 50 Years De-Colonization held in 2018. The very title of his paper gives an idea of the precision of his thinking and its originality: “Mauritius is a Beach: Decolonizing Representation and Self-Representation in Mauritius Islands”. (Note, also, the little “s” at the end of Islands, signifying his own work at decolonizing his representation of Mauritius – something very rare amongst those in the intelligentsia.) And to understand the sweeping, swooping creativity he brought with him, he included visual references, video clips, to show how Mauritius is represented in popular Bollywood films.
I met him through Shakuntala Hawoldar, when together we worked on a literary magazine. Farhad shouldered a lot of work, while making any meeting into a pleasure rather than work, and always making collaboration, rather than individual endeavour alone, come naturally.
And then I got to know him because he taught my novels at the University of Mauritius, where he worked. And he would invite me to talk to his students to discuss one or other of my novels. Students love meeting a living author. Farhad would phone some 8 weeks ahead, and ask for my agreement in principle. And then 4 weeks ahead propose a date and time for a long session with his students. I mention this to show how he also had consideration for others, as well as an attention to details – things that some great minds lack. He would be very careful about the time, the exact place, the number of students, the request for a short reading to be included, and phoning the day before to confirm everything. And once the session started, he would slide behind one of the student’s desks as if himself a student – big as he was – and be so proud of his students’ fine questions. So intuitively able to understand how I craft my work, and so rivetting in passing this knowledge on to his students, the sessions were always a pleasure. And, in his questions, because he always had a few, he could roam from the novel to the real world to literary theory and philosophy as if merely changing keys on an instrument. And it was always enjoyable, enriching, enchanting to be in his presence when he was thinking.
In 2006, Farhad was amongst the poets who read their work in the setting of an art exhibition – all under the title “For Freedom, Against Repression” – organized by Ledikasyon pu Travayer. It was for the winter solstices. With him, reading from their work were: Sedley Richard Assonne, Anitah Aujayeb, Jeanne Gerval Arouff, Henri ek Marie-France Favory, the late Vidya Golam, Anil Gopal, Yusuf Kadel, Umar Timol and myself.
And I also got to know Farhad because we travelled together, attending literary conferences, both of us presenting papers, over the years at three different universities – the University of Barcelona, University of the Witwatersrand, and one at Reunion’s University. At each conference, he was somehow a key contributor to the success of the event. In Johannesburg, he could work to get together a team of 10 writers and visual artists and academics from Mauritius to contribute to the concept of “Literary Ecologies of the Indian Ocean” – an unforgettably rich experience.
Yet, I noticed that, love Mauritius as he loved it, he was always in better physical health after being away from Mauritius for a day or two. The change was remarkable. I don’t know why. I commented on it to him once. He agreed. I said that one day we must talk about how to bring the good health home to here. Laughing at himself, he said he would contact me for this pep-talk. That never was to be. Life being too short.
Together with his vast knowledge of literature and fine grasp of literary theory, he was also someone who could tell witty stories. To give just one example, being a polyglot, when visiting China with two friends, he could speak to people there. One group in China asked where the three were from. The first said, via Farhad, “Brazil”. This meant nothing to anyone in the group. Never heard of it. The second said “Nigeria”, and everyone drew a second blank. When Farhad said he was from “Mauritius”, they all started saying, “Oh, Mauritius”, “Oh, Mauritius”! They all knew Mauritius. That was a blow to any crypto-big-country chauvinism. But, it was explained by the fact that Farhad and his friends were in the very area where all the thousands of Chinese women working in Mauritian textile factories came from. Then again, to Farhad, that little “s” at the end of “Mauritius Islands” means we are a pretty big country.
And the space he created with his imagination in his works of fiction shows how vast he saw his country to be. He was, as well as all his other intellectual accomplishments, as well as being an oral story teller, a fine writer of fiction.
In my own name, and in that of LALIT, I express condoleance with his family, his friends and colleagues, here and world-wide. We, like them, will miss him.