Columnist, journalist and writer Anil Dharker who founded India's most respected literature festival - the Mumbai International Literary Festival -- breathed his last in Mumbai on Friday. The septuagenarian maverick had undergone bypass surgery at a Mumbai hospital on Thursday. He developed postoperative complications soon after and passed away in the early hours on Friday. He is survived by his daughter Ayesha and partner Amy Fernandes.
A wearer of many hats, Dharker was a columnist, writer, architect, and also on the advisory panel of the film censor board. He had headed several news publications, including Mid-Day and The Independent. He also played an important role in opening the Akashwani Auditorium in south Mumbai as an art movie theatre.
Given how multifaceted he was and the indelible mark he left on each sector and the teams he headed, it is no surprise that tributes have poured in from the who's who of the world of arts, literature, politics, activism and more.
Actor-activist Shabana Azmi said she was unaware that Dharker was unwell or had any heart issues. “He was so immersed in his Litfest, so engaged with life, that his passing away has come as a big shock,” she said and added, “I've known him, his daughter Ayesha, his partner Amy for years and send them my deepest condolences.”
Azmi reminisced how the Mumbai Litfest was his lifeblood. “He approached each new edition with the excitement of a child and shaped, nurtured and made it one of Mumbai’s most exciting literary-cultural events. We will miss him.”
Close friend and well-known author Shobhaa De said: “Goodbye dearest Anil. An elegant mind, a stylish writer, and a loyal friend. You will be missed by all those whose lives you touched. RIP.”
Others like historian-writer William Dalrymple also tweeted: “RIP Anil Dharker, kind and generous man and director of a great Lit Fest.”
Fellow journalist and well-known sports commentator Ayaz Memon remembered working under his baton as editor at Mid-Day and The Independent. “Man of delectable prose and varied interests. Sports buff. Compassionate and caring. Freethinker and fiercely democratic. RIP,” he recalled.
Not many may know that Dharker, the renowned writer, journalist and civil rights practitioner, was also a founder member and third president of Citizens for Justice and Peace(CJP), a post he held for the past several years. Activist Teesta Setalvad said: “He was a sage and committed guide to the organisation committed to battling for the constitutional rights of all Indians, fearless and courageous in the face of brute targeting and attack. Be it CJP’s commitment to pursuing justice through the courts, an invariably long and testing process, our Hate Watch initiatives, the pathbreaking work in Assam, our struggle for land rights for Adivasis and forest dwellers, Campaign for Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley, CJPs #LetMigrantsVote or Fellowship programmes he was one hundred per cent committed to our widening struggle for human rights. For me personally, as secretary of CJP, his was the voice at the end of the call, calls made often, where his calm, sagacity and unflinching courage informed us. A guiding star. He will be so sorely missed. For his close family we have just love and hugs.”
Mumbai also has Dharker to thank for its firefighting preparedness in high-rises. When he came back after a stint as faculty with the University of Glasgow (where he specialised in Building Services Engineering) and joined a local architecture firm as consultant, he noticed fire safety was not even on the radar here. He would go on to pioneer the use of smoke detectors, sprinklers, positive air pressure and other practices which still continue to remain part of the India's urban fire-safety template.