Writer, Urdu poet, literature teacher, translator. Born Jan. 11, 1939, in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), Pakistan. Died Nov. 10, 2011, in Montreal of pulmonary fibrosis, aged 72.
Faruq Hassan was atypical of his generation of Pakistani-Canadians. While many of those who immigrated as part of the first wave of Pakistanis to Canada in the late 1960s and 1970s found jobs in the sciences, Faruq made a career out of his devotion to literature.
While many of his peers turned to a dogmatic form of Islam as they aged, Faruq never deviated from the humanistic Sufi Islam that he felt focused on a personal form of spirituality. He rejected convention and spoke plainly. He often let his hair grow longer, although whether this was by design or neglect was unclear.
Faruq was born and raised in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), Pakistan. He got married in Leeds, England, in early 1968 to Yasmin Rashed, daughter of one of the giants of modern Urdu poetry, N.M. Rashed. Faruq and Yasmin had a son, Ali, and a daughter, Naurooz.
While studying in Leeds, Faruq received a full scholarship from the University of New Brunswick to pursue a master’s degree in English. Late 1968 was his first introduction to Canadian winters, although Yasmin was familiar with East Coast winters as she had spent some years in New York.
Faruq taught English fiction and composition at Dawson College in Montreal for 35 years. For him, the purpose of higher education was the pursuit of learning, not the pursuit of marks, and woe betide the student who dared show up at his office asking for a higher grade.
Outsiders might think that teaching literature is ideal for a writer and poet, but it sapped Faruq of his creative energies. He once said he might have been more productive as a writer had he been a banker. He feared public speaking and described every first day of the semester as “plain hell.” Later in his career, he was invited to teach Urdu at McGill University, a fitting position for a major contributor to contemporary Urdu literature.
Outside his working life, he was an Urdu/English translator of literary works and an Urdu poet, once being described as having one of the most distinctive voices in Urdu poetry in North America. Always the epicurean, he loved to cook South Asian dishes and to listen to classical Indian music. Smoking was part of the artist’s life for his generation, and even though he quit in his 50s, it led to pulmonary fibrosis.
Throughout his life, Faruq eschewed Islamic piety and dogmatism. Despite, or maybe because of, a short teaching stint in Saudi Arabia, he remained devoted to the liberalism and free thought necessary for literature to thrive.
Faruq’s home was the literary world and Canada made it possible for him to thrive in it. He influenced generations of students to appreciate both English and Urdu literature.
By Azim Hussain, a former student and friend of the family.
Follow us on Twitter: