REHMAN RASHID (1955–2017). “The stories go on forever; they’d outlast eternity if they could.”
It was with great sadness that we heard this morning of the death of our friend, Rehman Rashid. He suffered a major heart attack while out cycling in January, and never recovered. Our deepest thoughts are with his family and friends. Rehman was a singular character. Some found him abrasive and opinionated, “difficult” even. But that was to misunderstand the man. He cared deeply about his country and its peoples – not in some kind of narrow chauvinistic way but in the hope that the country could realise its fullest human potential. And Rehman cared deeply about language as the potent conduit for ideas (and his use of language was masterly). He disdained mediocrity. He didn’t suffer fools gladly. If those are faults, then so be it. Recently, Rehman seemed to have discovered a newly minted contentment, not least because of the reception to his two final books: Peninsula and Small Town, both published last year and offering some kind of vindication We corresponded a lot – about language, about cycling, about books, about the state of the world. I hope he wouldn’t mind me sharing his last letter, written in January not long before his fateful last ride, when he reflected on the fact that Peninsula was once again at the top of the bookshop’s bestellers’ list. His generosity was palpable. Here is what Rehman wrote:
Today I want to wallow in this like a kerbau in a mudhole: mmmm, how cool, oozy and exfoliating it is. Would you like to know how it feels? It feels like I can STFU at last. It means this isolated, solitary & reclusive life of mine now becomes right & good & proper, when until just over a year ago it felt all wrong that I should be so distant and alienated from everyone. I had friends once; family too. It’s normal for these circles to diminish in the latter years of a life. We grow tired of other people’s bullshit and they grow tired of ours. None of this changes with my book on top of the charts – ten thousand readers may not mean a single new friend – but it validates it, and I’m happy for that. I knew there had to be a reason I turned out this way, and this was the reason: so that I could write my heart out without thought of consequences.
Still in that situation, only deeper, so I’m not closing the gate on whatever might emerge henceforth. “The stories go on forever; they’d outlast eternity if they could.” I’m quite excited about the prospects ahead, to be honest. Writing what I do is like pulling away layered veils one at a time; each one revealing tantalising shapes and forms still to be uncovered. Puzzled as I’ve been by the absence of any “mainstream” attention to the phenomenon of ‘Peninsula’ last year, I now take it as a form of carte blanche: I remain free to do (or not do) as I please with what I have. From feeling rejected and disdained by the “literary fraternity” in this country, I now feel weightlessly above the mists & mire, and I like the view from up & out here. I’ve paid my dues and owe you nothing but my gratitude now.