Karachi, Jan 2007. Photo: Anwar Sen Roy

Published in The News on Sunday, June 7, 2009

A freedom man

Dr Sarwar belonged to that group of human beings who win recognition not only by what they do but also by simply being themselves

By I. A. Rehman

Providence had given Dr Mohammad Sarwar a tall frame but he made himself stand taller. That is the only true measure of the gentle and large-hearted physician who recently decided he had had enough of this rowdy, irrational and violent world.

No honest chronicler of the story of Pakistan will fail to record, and this with appreciation, Dr Sarwar’s struggle to realise his people’s dream of liberty and equality. He was one of the founders (and one of its most dedicated leaders) of the Democratic Students Federation (DSF) — which was one of the few glorious offshoots in Pakistan of the subcontinent’s fight for freedom.

For the love of freedom and the rights of the young ones, he cheerfully faced bullets and suffered imprisonment when jails had none of the facilities they now have. The banning of the Democratic Students Federation and All Pakistan Students’ Organisation could not force him to surrender. He carried on his romance with liberty as one of the leading lights of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) that has been in the vanguard of civil society’s movements for the rights of the people, specially the under-privileged.

S. Sibte Hasan, Dr M. Sarwar, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Photo by Dr S. Haroon Ahmed

All this will hopefully be written in a legitimate history of the Pakistani people. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity of directly witnessing the events that have been recalled in Dr Sarwar’s obituaries and memorial addresses. But that does not matter. The dedication with which the DSF and PMA stalwarts stuck to their noble mission of liberating and completing the lives of their compatriots, even after becoming successful doctors, lawyers and journalists, can tell us all we need to know about their mettle. Dr Sarwar was one of those who tempered the steel. In any case, he was larger than his work.

Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr Sarwar at PMA mushaira

Quite often Dr Sarwar (or his DSF comrades, for sometimes it is difficult to mention them individually) reminded me of what Pakistan’s promise was and how the people were cheated out of it. Breaking with his family’s nationalist politics in his early youth, he raised the crescent-and-star flag and travelled to Karachi to savour the joys of a nation in the making. He fell so deeply in love with the challenge as to stay on and meet it. But when the people chose imbeciles as their rulers, democrats like Dr Sarwar decided to serve the people in whatever ways were open to them. He became a dispenser of relief from pain and suffering to a large congregation that he loved and cared for as his extended family. But the man was bigger than the doctor too.

He was bigger because he had the courage of his conviction and the strength to keep the book of his life always open. The freedom his marvellous life-partner and children enjoyed was a reflection of his appreciation of the meaning of freedom. He loved laughing with children and was not afraid of being laughed at. He made no effort to hide what his friends considered his weaknesses — his languorous life-style, his aversion to travelling (and his penchant for giving up the idea of going abroad minutes before boarding the plane), and his refusal to be drawn into battles he could not accept as genuine.

Dr Sarwar was a friends’ friend. Strangers could have no idea of his ability to develop his argument and hold on to it because in their presence he limited his utterances to words of cultured courtesy. But in the company of friends, especially the knowledgeable ones, he enjoyed having a vigorous discourse and nobody could doubt that he kept himself informed and abreast of times. What, however, hurt his friends sometimes was his loss of optimism. The collapse of the world of his dreams exacted in such moments the heaviest possible price — frustration replacing hope.

He had the capacity of bearing his losses and adversity — and he had his share of both — with the patience of a stoic. Nothing proved this better than his reaction on being told a couple of years ago that he might not survive for more than a few months. As a doctor he knew that he was melting away day by day. He was in and out of hospitals and he had pain and discomfort for considerable spells. But he refused to be broken. His robust spirit kept him going longer than his doctors expected. Dr Sarwar belonged to that group of human beings who win recognition not only by what they do but also by simply being themselves. They may well be called normal persons — by all accounts a vanishing breed in our land. That cuts deeper than the loss of an esteemed friend.


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