Isshack Through My Eyes

1999, I am a teenager in Lower 6. I get a call from my mother’s ex-colleague and family friend, Mr. Isshack Hasgarally, known to us as Isshack. Assuming that he wants to talk to my mother, I tell him that I’ll call my mother to the phone after exchanging civilities. To my surprise, he says no, that he wants to talk to me. He then proceeds to tell me that he is looking for an Urdu translator, for the weekly Sunday newspaper he was then heading, Impact News, to give to readers the possibility of reading the Friday sermon of the Imam of Jummah Mosque in French. To this end, he has thought of me, who have taken Urdu as a principal subject for A-levels. I can’t help but being flattered that he has thought of me, a mere schoolgoing teenager for such a task. For the following 4 years, this is a commitment that I undertake, without fail, under his guidance, where he gently geared me to find a style of my own. That was my first immersion in the newspaper world, thanks to him. 18 years later, making my voice heard through the newspaper, through these very columns, I am deeply upset with the loss of Isshack, who passed away on Monday, at the age of 77.
He was a creative soul, an activist at heart and a deeply interesting person to talk to. One could address an array of conversations with him without getting bored. Being a person of theatre, involved in various plays in his younger days, he was extremely sensitive to the arts. He was someone who would intensely react to scenes in films and discuss them at length. He was also the author of a book published in 1994, When Blooms the Talipot. He was also a ‘militan lagorz’, and would passionately discuss politics. He was press attache to Bashir Khodabux, then Minister of Environment and was later advisor to Paul Bérenger.
When he would come to our place on Saturdays to collect my translations (emails were not a given at that time), conversations would turn around films, politics, arts, books or CHA, where my mother and him worked together, until its closure in 1993. And the Saturday conversations would invariably end on him encouraging me, almost pushing me to write, to always write. On what, I would ask him, my teenage self not yet grasping the breadth of what he was veering me towards. On anything and everything, he would say, express yourself, your thoughts, do not be a passive spectator, he would say. And when I started doing it, I never got a chance to discuss same with him, I never got the chance to get more of his light, more of his wisdom and insight.
People come into our lives for a purpose, without us really knowing it at the time. Isshack was such a person for me. He had planted a seed in me, he opened doors for me, the immature me not realising what he was doing for me at the time. People like him are a treasure to behold and a blessing to be thankful for. Thank you Isshack, for your trust, your encouragement, for your friendship to my parents and for all that you have silently but faithfully contributed to this country. We do not come across men and women of your mettle often, but when we do, we need to righfully acknowledge. Godspeed, you remain steadfastly in my heart.