‘This wonderful Doc’ – Ali Jafari

Sarwar & Zakia, late 1970s

Sarwar & Zakia, late 1970s

ALI_Jafari_1Ali Jafari is a management consultant and professor of management sciences and long-time friend of the Sarwar family. He is the son of satirical poet Syed Mohammed Jafari

ISLAMABAD, June 6: I have sat down three or four times to write about the Doc and each time I have stared at the screen and gotten up without writing a word. There are so many memories of him since he was no ordinary man that one could just write a few perfunctory cliches of condolences and get done with it. Let me share with you what I wrote to my siblings and to the whole Jafarigroup (an extended family based yahoogroup). This group includes all of my paternal and a few maternal cousins, my siblings and my nephews and nieces. I have received many phone calls from my cousins who knew Doc and those who didn’t know him wanted to find out more. A few even complained as to why I didn’t ever take them to your open house of the 70s to 90s as I knew it. Well here is what I wrote to them:

“Dear all,

Many of you may not have heard the name of Dr. Sarwar. The first time I had heard this name as Muhammad Sarwar, I was a student of grade 5. He was the pioneer student leader who led the first student protest in Karachi in the early 50s to protest against stagnant, outdated and unfair education policies of the Government of Pakistan. We got an early break from our school in Saddar Karachi one particular day when some college and university students came and asked the headmaster to shut down the school. We were quite oblivious to what the hoopla was all about and only learnt later of the clash between the students and the police.

Doc Sarwar was a student at Dow Medical College at that time and was leading the movement. He was also one of the founders of the Democratic Students Federation (DSF), a left leaning liberal students body that stood for progressiveness, modernism and a fair egalitarian society. He was quite a fearless man and remained extremely calm in the face of danger and challenges. The protest that he had initiated led to killing of a few students due to inept handling of the situation by the nincompoop minister of education Habib-ur-Rehman (whom my late father dubbed as the Nikhattoo of the beehive of education in one of his poems – Nikhatto is the male bee that does no work and after it has mated with the queen bee, it is dispensed with quickly). The callousness of the Karachi Police ended in firing on the protesting students. Doc Sarwar remained undeterred and led the movement.

His apparent laid back demeanor and soft spoken speech could never betray that he was a man of intense resolve. The good thing about him was that he was never dogmatic nor he practiced any violent behavior if one disagreed with him. He just remained steadfast in what he believed.

Doc and his wife (and Zakia apa to us), are well known among my siblings – “us” meaning a group of my friends and I. Their house was open to everyone on most of the evenings during the 70s to the end of 90s, where poets, artists, intellectuals and young self styled “revolutionaries” like us would gather and discuss everything under the sun. If the house was not open then we opened it ourselves with the smiling Sarwars always welcoming us. Abba also joined us on a few occasions as he was much loved by Doctor Sarwar and Zakia Apa alike for his wit, humor and fearless criticism of the establishment. Similarly, Abba was also very fond of both Doc and Zakia Apa. My friend Asghar Abbas, a cousin of Zakia Apa, had introduced me to this wonderful couple.

I had already heard of Doc and his stature among the progressives and when I first went to their house, I saw the Doc in person – a tall and wheatish complexioned handsome man who shook hands with me warmly and when he learnt that I was Syed Muhammad Jafari’s son he expressed his warmth and acceptance by seating me near him. I was tongue tied and didn’t know what to say. Soon he put me at ease through his relaxed mannerism which was so natural and so devoid of being affected that I said to myself: how could this very amiable man be the leader of a left wing student movement that is preserved in the annals of early history of Karachi. That was the deceptive part of this man of firm beliefs and high ethical standards. Of course, he was much disillusioned and disappointed by the betrayal of the progressives in Pakistan but I never heard him whine or complain incessantly to sound fashionable nor was he an apologist.

Doc and Zakia Apa’s house was like a club for quite a few like minded young persons, who like me, had returned home after having studied and worked in the UK or the US. We’d meet and hold discussions, argue and plan passionately to bring about social change. Zakia Apa also participated in these discussions, and she also pampered us with her superb culinary arts by preparing some exquisite dishes and fed us the young cavernous ever hungry lot. Doc listened to us with patience and an understanding smile on his face. He would interject once in a while but never impose his ideas. When we asked he would give his incisive analysis.

There were musical evenings at the Sarwars and the best performed there. There was a theatre group with budding artists such as Khalid Ahmad, Sheema Kermani (now a celebrated dancer), Zeenut Anis, Zakia Apa herself and a few others who met at the Sarwars. Once or twice I assumed the role of the Urdu supervisor for the diction, pronunciation and accent of the characters for a play written by Khalid Ahmad. As youth is quite cruel, we just took it for granted that we shall be fed and looked after by the Doc (as we addressed him) and Zakia Apa. Why we had this divine right? I fail to answer. It was all their fault, why did they pamper us. At times we even took our friends along and they were welcomed just as warmly. Doc would engage us in discussions without sounding antagonistic or patronizing and he always had a subtle and at times a rueful smile on his face when we talked of revolution and that too by 3 pm in the afternoon on that particular day.

What I always envied was that he was never overawed by anyone nor did he try to impress or pose in front of anyone. He didn’t have to, recognition and affection for him came naturally to him through his loving and friendly nature and people were attracted to him rather than being impressed or overawed by him. That is the sign of a great human being and a leader who doesn’t command respect due to his station or official position. Such a leader exudes a charisma due to his personal qualities. His leadership style was that of nurture through subtlety and love.

This wonderful Doc passed away last week at the age of 80. He was suffering from Cancer for the past couple of years or perhaps more. When I went to see him about a year and half ago, I expected to meet an emaciated bitter old man. Quite to the contrary, he was his old self. He knew what he was suffering from and was willing to give it a fight – like he had always done for all the issues and causes that he had believed in and with the same smile, composure and grit. When I tried to express my anxiety at his illness, he in a very matter of fact manner said to me: “look, everyone has to go and if I am destined to go this way, so shall I but not without giving a good run for its money to cancer.” He was as usual neither bitter nor did he complain as to why he had been afflicted by this terminal disease nor did he once talk of any discomfort, pains and aches.

He was a great stoic. He was just as interested in discussing all the latest in politics, sports, books, poetry or whatever you wanted to engage him in. Since his being diagnosed with the disease, the first time I came back after meeting him, I said to myself, surely the doctors have not diagnosed him properly. He is not behaving like a cancer patient. He had the same old calmness and zest for life about him. Yes, the disease took its toll and he didn’t always come down to meet people but I was one of the privileged ones who were invited to sit with him in his bedroom and chat about this that and the other.

Why do people like him so much, I would ask myself? Now that he is no longer with us, I have the answer: because he was interested in people and he demonstrated that by being a great listener. Even when he disagreed, he at least validated the feelings of the speaker and never insulted him/her. This was a gift that he presented to everyone – young, old or his contemporary, he would listen with sympathy and attention. There are few who are so gifted to give the wonderful gift of listening to people – read, giving respect and love to them. There is a couplet of the great Farsi poet Hafiz who says “There isn’t any foundation (of human relationships) that is free of imperfections except the foundation that has been laid on love” and Doc established his relationships on the foundation of love for human beings as he was forgiving and understood the human weakness and failings.

He was paid rich tributes by the Pakistan Medical Council (that he was a president of about 15-20 years ago) which held a reference in his memory and many a intellectual paid glowing tributes to this quite revolutionary.”

Zakia Apa, I can write much more but emotionally it is very exhausting. If you wish to share my email with others then please go ahead and do that. It has a few repetitions but since it has all come out spontaneously, I have not bothered to edit or proof read it much. Yasmin has asked me to convey her heartfelt condolences.

Lots of love

Ali

JUNE 22: Thanks for sharing Doc’s pics. Brought back a lot of memories. I am reminded of a couplet by one of the greatest Farsi poets, Hafiz Shirazi. It is difficult to translate any poetry because of the specific nuances, semantics, innuendos and poetic conceits of a language. Translation becomes even more difficult when the poetry is endeavoring to convey emotions and feelings through a particular diction in addition to all other complexities.

I have created and attached a document with the original Farsi couplet and its literal translation in memory of Doc. The translation only conveys the basic concept but does not portray the beauty of Hafiz’s unique style and diction.

Goethe read Hafiz’s translation in German and he was so moved that it compelled him to compose his Book of the East and he lamented that he couldn’t read Hafiz in Farsi.

In memorium (of Doc)

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2 Responses

  1. Ex Leader of NSF paid tribute to Dr Mohammad Sarwar

    Dr Sarwar will always be remembered as a brave and principled man who was committed to progressive ideology all his life and was inspiration to many student activists. In a joint statement issued here in London former general secretary National Students Federation Pakistan Asim Ali Shah, ex general secretary Punjab Ahmad Nawaz Watto, ex president NSF Karachi Jaffar Rizvi, ex president Dow Medical College student Union Dr Khalid Anwar and Dr Umar Daraz Khan paid their homage to Dr Mohammad Sarwar.

    They said that he was among the pioneer of left Student politics in Pakistan and he along with Hassan Nasir played highly significant role in turning NSF into a revolutionary Students organisation.

  2. […] ‘This wonderful Doc’ – Ali Jafari […]

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