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Ali Abbasi

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    Sunday Herald, 1.8.04

    Poignant farewell to radio star Ali

    Muslim broadcaster hailed as multicultural hero, as great and good
    gather for his funeral
    By Torcuil Crichton

    FOR once there were no traffic problems to report. Instead, everyone
    just had to have their own favourite Ali Abbasi story to help take
    the sting out of the tears.

    Hundreds of friends and colleagues turned out for the funeral service
    of Radio Scotland's traffic reporter at Glasgow Central Mosque
    yesterday afternoon, following Ali's untimely death on Friday at the
    age of 42.

    Ali Abbasi had been off the air for the past four months after
    falling ill with a virus. The illness destroyed his immune system, he
    then caught pneumonia and suffered a collapsed lung and kidney

    Like his close friend and fellow broadcaster Kenny MacIntyre, who
    died suddenly in 1999, Ali Abbasi had an impish style of his own that
    left listeners in a small nation feeling as if they all knew him.

    Muslim, Glaswegian, an adopted Gael and a walking broom cupboard of
    bad jokes, Ali Abbasi's multi-faceted character somehow struck a
    chord with modern Scotland. His wit and personality transformed
    mundane traffic reports into entertainment on wheels. He only read
    the traffic news, but he became an institution.

    Certainly, Ali moved across many areas of Scottish life. He came from
    Karachi as a toddler, grew up Glaswegian, found common cause with
    Gaelic Scotland and had high political friends. He was probably the
    only Scottish radio broadcaster whose name would be known by

    Ten years ago, when he phoned BBC Scotland to criticise the quality
    of programmes aimed at the Asian community, he landed himself a job
    and quickly gave up his post as a guard with Glasgow Art Galleries
    and Museums. Inadvertently, Ali Abbasi provided a glimpse of what a
    multicultural Scotland might look like accommodating, comfortable
    with himself and in any company, and always ready with a self-
    deprecating joke.

    Some stories are apocryphal, some so risqu that they are best left
    in the joke books he produced for the memorial fund for his BBC
    colleague, Kenny MacIntyre

    There is the one about the former BBC Scotland controller Pat
    Chalmers taking a delegation from the Commission for Racial Equality
    around the BBC Queen Margaret Drive headquarters. When the party
    alighted on the newsroom they found Ali and the respected political
    correspondent MacIntyre staging a no-holds-barred wrestling fight on
    the newsroom floor. Just as the delegation entered the room MacIntyre
    gained the advantage, shouting: "We're sick of you black *******s in
    Glasgow." There was a great bond between the two and their frequent
    jibes were laced with wit that punctured any sense of political
    correctness. One of Ali's favourite pictures was of MacIntyre and
    himself arm in arm which he had captioned: "We bring you the news in
    black and white."

    BBC journalist John Morrison, a close friend of both men, said that
    Abbasi lit up the newsroom with his wit and repartee. "More than
    that, Ali was kind, caring and compassionate," said Morrison
    yesterday. "You never left his company without a smile on your face."

    Morrison, a Gaelic speaker from North Uist and MacIntyre, from Mull,
    were Abbasi's entre to the Gaelic world. "The Gaelic department was
    where Ali had the most fun in the BBC," explained Morrison
    yesterday. "I think that's what got him started. He felt drawn to
    places like Skye and Lewis and he embraced the language, the culture,
    the music and the people."

    Perhaps the sense of family and community in his own Muslim
    background also drew Abbasi to Gaelic. He studied at Sabhal Mr
    Ostaig, the Gaelic college on Skye, and perfected his language skills
    on placement with BBC Radio nan Gaidheal in Stornoway. He was
    delighted to be made Scotland's first reading ambassador for the
    language. Within a year of starting to learn, he was broadcasting on
    Gaelic radio and television. "He was an amazingly positive image for
    Gaelic and for Scotland,"said Morrison.

    Ali Abbasi undoubtedly nudged along a small country still working out
    a definition of multiculturalism. Ali's friends ranged from the
    former Secretary General of Nato, George Robertson and First Minister
    Jack McConnell to the people of Mull and Lewis.

    In sunshine yesterday, a mixed crowd of mourners, many visiting a
    mosque for the first time, heard traditional prayers followed by a
    moving tribute. Ali is survived by his brother, sister and parents.
    He never married, but had been engaged.

    Ali, in fact, was often the first point of contact with Scotland.
    Driving across the Scottish Border once after a year spent in London,
    Ali's accent on the radio traffic bulletin was my first taste of
    home. I told him so the next day in Glasgow.

    "I hear that from a hundred people a week," he said. "Someone should
    write me a bagpipe tune: Ali Abbasi's welcome to Scotland." How very
    Scottish, how very typically Ali.

    Scotland on Sunday, 1.8.04

    Death of Ali Abbasi triggered by lupus


    THE popular BBC Scotland broadcaster, Ali Abbasi, who died on Friday, had been
    suffering from lupus, a disease of the immune system which is not usually fatal.

    It is thought the disease had weakened the 42-year-old presenters natural
    defences and caused infections which brought on liver and kidney failure and
    then pneumonia.

    Abbasi, who died in Glasgows Western Infirmary, was one of the estimated 50,000
    Britons who suffer from lupus. In most cases the symptoms of the illness are
    controlled through drugs.

    Details of the illness emerged as 200 mourners attended Abbasis funeral at the
    Central Mosque in Glasgow yesterday, including his family and many of his former
    BBC colleagues.

    In accordance with Muslim custom he was laid to rest within 24 hours of passing
    away, though it is expected another service will be organised to allow more of
    his friends and former colleagues to pay tribute to the travel news presenter.

    It is understood Abbasis organs began to fail over a week ago, and he was taken
    into the intensive care unit at the Western Infirmary and placed on dialysis.
    For a short time his condition seemed to be improving but later on in the week
    he contracted pneumonia and one of his lungs collapsed. He went into a coma and
    his last 48 hours were spent on a life support machine. On Friday the decision
    was taken to switch the machine off.

    The causes of lupus, which affects one person in 3,500, are not fully understood
    although it is believed to be genetic and to lie dormant until triggered by
    other factors, such as another illness, stress, trauma and in some cases high
    exposure to sunlight. There is no known cure but the disease is not contagious.

    When a person suffers acutely from the condition, the immune system produces far
    too many antibodies which, circulating through the bloodstream, cause reactions
    leading to inflammation anywhere in the body. Major organs may be damaged in an
    irreversible way.

    Symptoms include depression, extreme fatigue, joint pain and severe rashes.
    Others include mouth ulcers, hair loss and anaemia. In earlier times, the
    disease was recognised by the appearance of a severe facial rash, which is
    rarely seen today because of advances in treatment of symptoms. The rash was
    considered similar to the wound left by a wolfs bite, giving rise to the name
    lupus for the illness, derived from the Latin for wolf, lupus vulgaris.

    Studies have shown that the disease is most prevalent in people of
    Afro-Caribbean origin, and that people of Indian or Pakistani background are
    less likely to be hit than Afro-Caribbeans but are more at risk than whites. The
    disease is also more common among women than men, with nine out of 10 sufferers
    being female.

    Many sufferers of lupus are able to lead full lives if their symptoms can be
    controlled, but in a small number of cases the illness is fatal. Many of those
    who die as a result of the disease succumb in their 30s or 40s.

    The mourners at the service included Ken MacQuarrie, controller of BBC Scotland.
    Others included BBC colleagues Louise White and John Milne and STV veterans
    Fiona Ross and Bernard Ponsonby.

    Abbasis death shocked friends and colleagues. One close friend said: "It was
    such a shock. He phoned me less than a fortnight ago and was really in good form
    and talking about getting together for a night out. I cant believe hes gone."

    A BBC Scotland insider added: "The whole atmosphere around here is terrible.
    There is a gap in the newsroom. No one can believe it. He was only 42. We are
    missing him dreadfully. Its all so horrendous."

    Abbasi was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and moved to the UK with his family in
    1963. He joined BBC Scotland as a travel presenter in 1994 from Glasgow City
    Council, where he worked as an art gallery assistant.

    As well as presenting travel news at the BBC, Abbasi worked as an audio
    technician with outside broadcasts and radio cars. These jobs brought him into
    frequent contact with many Scots in public life, and he became friends with
    First Minister Jack McConnell.

    Former Nato Secretary-General Lord Robertson described Abbasi as a "wonderful

    Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland, Robertson said: "He was a complicated character
    at times but at the same way he was irrepressible. He had an infectious humour.
    The voice was a trademark. And he was just somebody who made a huge impression
    on anybody who met him."

    Abbasis decision to learn Gaelic was seen as a major encouragement for the
    language which has suffered a major decline in speakers in recent years. Gaels
    praised his near-perfect accent and pronunciation and he featured in a number of
    campaigns to raise the profile of Gaelic.

    Alasdair MacLeod, cultural development officer for Highlands and Islands
    Enterprise, which helps fund a number of Gaelic courses, said: "He was the
    highest-profile celebrity to learn Gaelic and we will struggle to get anyone to
    fill his place."

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    Guest started a topic Ali Abbasi

    Ali Abbasi

    (English translation follows Gaelic text)


    Scotland on Sunday, 1.8.04

    Tha Alba agus saoghal na Gidhlig gu h-raid air rud a chall le bs
    Ali Abbasi ann an Glaschu oidhche Dhihaoine.

    Shmhlaich e rud a bha sinn son faicinn anns an dthaich seo. Fear le
    dualchas Aisianach, ach a ghabh ri Alba mar a dhachaigh. Fear a bha
    comhfhurtail leis an an d dhualchas agus a bha air son ite a thoirt
    dha cultar dthchasach na h-Alba fhin. Ann an Alba far an fheum
    iomairtean a dheanamh an aghaidh grin-cinnidh, bha Abbasi,
    agus 'obair aig BBC Alba a' sealltainn mar a dh'fhaodadh cisean a
    bhi le daoine a' measgachadh agus a' gabhail idh ann an dualchas
    cch a' chile.

    Ceithear mosan air ais dh'fhs e tinn le galar a mhill inneamh-don
    a' chuirp. Ghabh e an grim neo am fiabhras-clibhe agus bhsaich e
    nuair a dh'fhalbh sgamhan is a dh'fhilig 'irne neo dubhag, cha robh
    an truaghan ach dreach 42.

    Rugadh Abbasi ann an Karachi am Pakistan agus thinig e a dh'Alba le
    a theaghlach ann an 1963.

    Duine sprsail, duine ibhinn. A thug togail dha ite a dh'fhaodadh a
    bhi gu math troimhe chile. Thinig e dha'n BhBC ann an 1994, agus
    dh'atharraich e an digh anns an robh am BBC ann an Alba a' toirt
    seachad naidheachdan siubhail. Gu ruige sin, bhiodh am BBC a' gabhail
    fiosrachaidh a steach bho bhuidheannan bho'n taobh muigh. Thug Abbasi
    beatha dha'n fhiosrachadh siubhail nach robh aig a' phos sin de'n
    phrgram roimhn sin.

    Agus fhuair barrachd dhaoine elas air Abbasi air sgth nan rudan
    eile a bhiodh e a' deanamh timchioll air a' BhBC. A bharrachd air na
    naidheachdan-siubhail a libhrigeadh, bhiodh Abbasi cuideachd ag obair
    mar dorsair, a' leigeil dhaoine a steach gu cuid de na studios beaga
    taobh muigh nan uairean bhaisteach. Mar sin dheth, 'siomadh neach a
    bha ainmeil ann an Alba a choinnich ris aig doras studio,
    agus 'siomadh fear eile nach robh cho ainmeil ach a bhiodh air
    prgram a bhiodh a' coinneachadh ris.

    Choinnich mi fhn ris an uiridh ann an Sternabhagh, nuair a chaidh
    mi a steach a dheanamh pos air Radio nan Gaidheal, bha e anns an
    eilean agus e ag obair anns na studios agus e a' deanamh posan air
    a' phrgram igridh Rapal.

    Nuair a thigeadh daoine dha'n togalach ann an Sternabhagh gus
    bruidhinn air na prgraman Gidhlig an t-seachdainn ud 'se Ali Abbasi
    fhin a bhiodh a' cur filte orra nan cnan fhin.

    Agus bha e fada ro iriseal mu dheidhinn a chuid Ghidhlig. Bu dual
    dha a bhi ag rdh nach robh a' Ghidhlig aige cho math sin. Ach 'si a
    bha math. Bha blas-cainnt gu h-raid aige a bha dreach glan fhin.

    Bha e cudthromach ann an saoghal na Gidhlig air sgth is gun robh e
    a' sealltainn gum faodadh daoine aig nach robh ceangal-teaghlaich ris
    a' Ghaidhealtachd tiseachadh air a' chnan a dh'ionnsachadh. Thug e
    misneachd dha luchd-ionnsachaidh na Gidhlig gun robh iad dha-rreabh
    nam pirt de rud-eigin, gun robh air slighe gus deanamh cinnteach gum
    biodh ceangal eadar barrachd is barrachd de shluagh na h-Alba agus
    dthaich a tha ln de dh'ainmean is dleab nan Gaidheal.

    Anns an Damhair an uiridh chaidh ainmeachadh mar aon de'n fheadhainn
    ainmeil a bha an riaghaltas a' cleachdadh gus toirt air daoine ga a
    bhi a' leughadh, 'se am fear a thagh iad dha'n Ghidhlig.

    Nuair a bhiodh luchd-ionnsachaidh a' dol tro na leabhraichean, bha
    fios aca gun robh barrachd dhiubh ann seach iad fhin, gun robh
    cuideachd feadhainn de 'celebs' a' str le grmair is facail
    Ghidhlig. Gum faodadh e a bhi ndarrach dha cuid a bhi ag rdh gun
    fheumadh iad beagan obrach a dheanamh air an cuid Ghidhlig.

    Thug e misneachd cuideachd dha daoine a rugadh is a thogadh leis a'
    chnain agus a dh'fhuiling bliadhnaichean de dhaoine a' cumail a mach
    gum b'e a bh'ann an Gidhlig cnan nach fi. An uair a bhios sinn a'
    coimhead ri saoghal a tha a' dol Beurla mu'n cuairt oirnn, tha e cho
    furasda dchas a leigeil seachad. Smaoineachadh gur e a bhios annainn
    fhn an fheadhainn mu dheireadh. Gu bheil cho math laighe sos ann an
    oisean mar am fuigheall ma dheireadh de thribh caillte, agus gabhail
    ris gu bheil an str seachad agus gu bheil ar dighean is ar dualchas
    gu bhi a' dol an diochuimhne.

    Tha idh Ali Abbasi is a shamhail ag innse dhuinn gu bheil saoghal a
    muigh an sin nach toirt maitheanas dhuinn ann am bith ma n sinn
    dearmad air ar dualchas. Nach fhaod sinn stad a str.

    Bha e a' tuigsinn co ris a bha e coltach an cuideam a bhi ort
    diochuimhneachadh air dualchas.

    Thuirt e ris a' phipear seo: "Ghabh mise idh anns a' Ghidhlig air
    sgth is gun robh mise a' tuigsinn bho'n eachdraidh agam fhn co ris
    a bha e coltach daoine a bhi 'gad chineadh is ag igheach ort, 'Coma
    leat a bhi a' bruidhinn cnan mar sin., chan eil i gu feum

    "Tha e truagh cho beag idh is a tha muinntirr na h-Alba a'
    sealltainn ann an cnan a bhuineas dha'n tr aca fhin."

    Tha e eagallach neach a chall aig aois cho g, bidh aobhair na
    Gidhlig ine fhada ga chuimhneachadh.

    In Translation

    Ali Abbasi: the Gaelic world has lost one of its humble heroes

    Scotland and the Gaelic world in particular is poorer today after the
    death of Ali Abbasi who died in hospital in Glasgow last Friday night.

    He personified much of what we want to see more of in our country. He
    was of Asian background but made himself at home in Scotland. He was
    comfortable with both his Scottish and his Asian heritage and also
    wanted a place given to Scotland's indigenous culture. In a Scotland
    where national campaigns have to be run against racism, Abbasi, and
    his role at BBC Scotland, showed how things could and should be, as
    people of different backgrounds would mix and take an interest in
    each other's cultures.

    He contracted a virus four months ago which damaged his immune
    system. He then fell ill with pneumonia and died after a lung
    collapsed and he suffered kidney failure. He was only 42 years old.

    He was born in Karachi in Pakistan, and arrived as a toddler with his
    family in Scotland in 1963.

    He was a natural comic, a gentle man of fun. He gave a lift and a
    spur to a BBC office which could often be in a state of chaos. He
    arrived at the BBC in 1994, and changed the way that BBC Scotland
    dealt with the travel news, his own speciality. Until then, the BBC
    had simply taken people from travel organisations on air. Abbasi gave
    some life to a feature of the programmes which could be very dry
    until then.

    In addition to hearing him on air, many people encountered Abbasi in
    his other roles around the BBC. In addition to presenting the travel
    news, he often had the task of letting people into smaller BBC
    studios outwith normal hours. In that way, many people in Scottish
    public life came to know him as the man who got him into the studio.
    And many who were less famous but might be involved in a programme,
    got to meet him.

    I last saw him last year in Stornoway, when I was heading into the
    studio there to take part in a programme on the BBC's Gaelic Radio
    service. He was on the island and managing studios and also taking
    part in the youth radio show Rapal.

    For the weeks he was there, people who came to the studio out of
    hours in Stornoway, were greeted in their own Gaelic language by

    And he was all too humble about his own Gaelic. He would always say
    that his command of the language was not all that good.But his Gaelic
    was, in fact, very impressive. His accent in particular, was

    He mattered in the Gaelic world because he showed that people who had
    no family connection with the Highlands could take a real interest in
    the language. His presence in Gaeldom gave a spur to the often-lonely
    learners of the language who could feel that they were part of
    something ensuring that more and more Scots could have a more
    tangible connection to a country full of Gaelic place names and the
    relics of the Gaelic heritage.

    Last October, he was named as one of the Scottish Executive's reading
    champions, whom ministers hoped to use to get young people into
    books. He was the celebrity ministers chose to get children reading
    Gaelic books.

    As learners of the language ploughed through their books, they could
    know that they were part of a bigger community which took in people
    from all walks of life, that even 'celebs' were toiling with the
    grammar and the vocabulary of the language. It gave the hope that it
    might become a feature of a Scot's life to talk of working to improve
    one's Gaelic a little.

    He was also a boost to many who were brought up with the language and
    who endured years of people telling them that their language was
    worthless. As we see a world around us which seems to be going all-
    English, it is all too easy to give up hope. It is tempting to want
    to crawl into a corner like the last remnant of a lost tribe, to
    accept that the battle is over and that our ways and language are to
    be forgotten forever.

    The interest which Ali Abbasi and other learners show in the language
    should be a warning to us that there is a world out there which will
    never forgive us if we dispense with our heritage. That we cannot
    afford to stop struggling for the language.

    And he understood what it was like to be under pressure to dump one's

    He told this newspaper: "I took an interest in Gaelic because I
    understood from my own experience what it was like to have people
    slagging you off and mocking and saying, 'Don't bother speaking that
    old language, it is of no more use.'

    He added: "It is desperately sad to see the people of Scotland show
    so little interest in a language which belongs to their own country.

    It is heart-rending to see him depart at such a young age, the Gaelic
    world will remember him for a long time.