Update 07/25/11: My sister Azra Raza has now written a much longer obituary of Ifti here.
A close family friend and renowned Urdu poet, Iftikhar Nasim, died in the early hours this morning in his beloved city of Chicago. Here is an excerpt from a remembrance of him by his friend Kareem Khubchandani on Facebook:
I am privileged to have met, known, and spent time with Ifti Nasim. Ifti was a gifted artist, an inspired activist, a successful businessman, and a truly spectacular being. Ifti was born in Pakistan, and moved to the U.S. to pursue an education in law, but he found that art (specifically poetry) truly moved him. He committed his life to writing, and has performed and published poetry in English, Urdu and Punjabi all over the world. His book Narman has been taken up as a source of inspiration and strength by young people in Pakistan who have had trouble reconciling their sexual orientation and gender identities with what society expects of them. Ifti has been an activist not only through his poetry, but on the ground in Chicago: establishing Sangat for LGBTQ South Asians, rallying South Asians to protest in the wake of post-9/11 hate crimes, and educating South Asians about HIV risk and prevention. Between his art-making and activism, Ifti also worked selling Mercedes cars, and prided himself on his sales skills. Every step of the way, he looked fabulous! Fur, silk, leather, diamonds, gold, sequins, glitter, wigs, makeup, ruffles, and jewelry, he wore it all in style. This is what I will remember most about Ifti, that there was always pleasure to be had; no matter how dire the situation, no matter how painful the issue, there was always pleasure to be found. Ever time I asked Ifti, “How are you?” his answer was, without fail, “Honey, I’m just trying to survive in this big, bad, heterosexual world.” But the grace, flair, and humor with which he “survived” assured me that he was doing more than just getting by, he was finding happiness in the crevices of what truly is a difficult world for an outspoken, queer, immigrant, Muslim, South Asian.
Our community has lost an important figure, but we must continue to be inspired by his activism, his art, and his exuberance. I have lost a special friend, but I will attempt to sustain the difficult work that he has done, and widen the path he has laid for queer desis in Chicago.
Here is a video of an interview with Ifti in Urdu:
Ifti (as he was known to all his friends) was one of my sister Azra's best and closest friends and several of his books are dedicated to her. I know that today will be a very difficult day for her.