By Zakia Sarwar
Forty seven years of sharing pain and laughter together… I find it difficult to say even a few words for this great event in which Sarwar is being celebrated and friends and like-minded companions are joining hands to look back in order to forge a way ahead.
When we got married in September 1962, we had the same social circle and family friends in common, great persons such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sibte Hasan, Hamid Akhtar, Zamiruddin Ahmed, Malik Noorani to name just a few. And we also shared the same kind of dreams. He used to dream of going to settle down in a village where I would teach, and he would do his medical practice and gather young men around him to improve their social set up.
That dream remained unfulfilled, but as if to make up for the promise of our unfulfilled dreams, Sarwar supported me in all my activities — whether it was to set up a centre in Sir Syed College to enable girls to earn their living through doing different kinds of handwork, or to be a part of the teachers movement to stand up for their rights against the Ayub regime, or to nurture the English teachers’ organization SPELT (Society of Pakistan English Language Teachers) to create opportunities and provide training for classroom practitioners with limited resources. He was with me in his own unobtrusive way.
In fact, in my young days, going about enthusiastically with whatever I was doing, I was almost unaware of his quiet support. I used to wonder why in the medical fraternity I was known as the “spoilt wife”. But growing older and looking around me, I realised how he was different and how in a way I really was ‘spoilt’… because Sarwar was a true democrat. He believed in the equality of men and women in the true sense of the word. And this meant that rules of equality were the same for him as for his wife and daughters. I never had to seek his ‘permission’ to do something, so implicit was his trust in my judgement as an equal human being. Living with him I was able to explore my space and find my potential. And he took pride in my successes and achievements, never once making the traditional complaints that I was neglecting either him or the children or the house. We both loved our ‘open house’ traditions, and with the passage of time his friends have become my friends and mine, his.
When I look back I realise that Sarwar let me do what I liked — act in plays, participate in TV or radio programmes and various other social activities — but he participated with me in activities that interested him. For instance when Anita Ghulamali led the PTCA teachers’ movement and I went on a hunger strike, he was the ‘official’ doctor. In the last days of this struggle, one of our colleagues was on a hunger strike unto death: at this critical point, Sarwar provided medical care for him. In the Zia era, when military enquiries were instituted against SPELT and myself, he guided my colleagues and I in important ways.
I think of him as a mentor who never ‘dictated’ a course of action, but modeled quietly what leadership means, and how transparency of actions and administration — whether financial or concerned with general management — builds trust and creates a firm belief in everyone’s equal rights.
The story of his own leadership of the students’ movement in 1953 unfolded to me gradually (as I had migrated from India in 1954 and so did not know I was marrying a ‘hero’). But whether in Pakistan or around the world, wherever I have gone, I have found Sarwar’s friends and admirers who give him deep love and respect which is amazing after such a time lapse.
While he fought his last battle, so many rallied round him to spend time with him and we all behaved as if everything was ‘normal’. But we took this cue from him… to keep the ‘party’ going… Sitting around together over food and drink, and talking about current situation, questioning and analysing to look for a way ahead. Today as we celebrate the Students’ Movement of 1953, in a broader spirit, the urge is strong that the party should go on.
In essence, for common good let there be a common platform which overcomes religious belief, ethnicity and gender differences, in order to move forward by questioning, objective enquiry and analysis. May this ray of hope continue to light our way!