Husband, father, moviegoer, friend. Born on July 6, 1951, in Karachi, Pakistan; died on March 12, 2014, in Mississauga, Ont., of cardiac arrest, aged 62.
Yousuf Sewani used 1951 as his official year of birth, but he was never actually sure if it was 1951 or 1952. Apparently, record keeping was not a priority in those simpler days in Karachi. His childhood in Pakistan was far from privileged, but he recalled rollicking with friends, roaming the streets, and generally making mischief. Later in life, he would hum songs from that time, and quote lines from the movies and speeches of his youth.
His father, a bookie at a horse racing track, passed away when Yousuf was 19. With five younger siblings to support, he began working on shrimp boats in the Karachi harbour. Afterward, still smelling of the sea, he would go to his university classes to study international relations.
Although things didn’t come easily to Yousuf, he wasn’t the type to become cynical. He simply maintained a quiet persistence and his sense of humour. In 1982, he met Sakina Virani through a mutual friend, and had to propose three times before she agreed to marry him. Their marriage would last more than 30 years, bringing much happiness to both.
In 1984, they moved to Toronto to join family and seek a better future. During his early years in Canada, Yousuf held a string of jobs, including selling cars. Persuasive but not overbearing, he had a knack for sales. Even the most skeptical customers were disarmed by his humour and honesty.
But it was not until he opened Fieldgate Video, a small business in Mississauga, that he found his element. Joe, as he was known to his many friends, held court at this local hangout for 20 years. People from the worn-down neighbourhood came to discuss movies, politics and their personal lives. The store’s cast of quirky regulars included truck drivers, labourers, lawyers and artists.
Yousuf worked tirelessly at the store, putting in long hours to support his family and raise two sons, Rameez and Shehzad.
He had an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema, the humanities and popular culture. He often joked he had only “useless knowledge” – a claim belied by the fact that he was constantly sought out for advice. People came to him with questions on everything from car trouble to religion, topics on which he was equally authoritative.
Yousuf had his share of health problems, suffering from heart and kidney disease for many years. In 2009, he received the gift of a kidney transplant from his brother-in-law’s wife, Yasmin Virani. The operation went better than anyone could have hoped, making Yousuf’s last five years his healthiest. He ate all the foods and did all the things that he had long been denied.
Every morning at breakfast, Yousuf could be found poring over the newspaper. He was especially fascinated by obituaries; the trials and triumphs of ordinary folks resonated with him. He appreciated unique character and everyday resilience. We never expected to be remembering Yousuf, so soon, for those very qualities.
Rameez Sewani is Yousuf’s son.