Dr Sarwar, the importance of civil discourse, and the art of listening

Ali Jafari-Jaspal

S. Ali Jafari reading his essay; Jaspal Singh in background. Video screen grab.

At a small gathering last year, S. Ali Jafari read his essay in Urdu about Dr M. Sarwar, whom he called “Doc”. His son Salman videotaped the reading, which forms the basis of this 14-minute video edited for 26 May 2019, ten years after Dr M. Sarwar passed away peacefully at home in Karachi, at age 79.

Son of the famous satirical poet S. M. Jafari, Ali Jafari’s essay in chaste Urdu humorously captures the spirit and idealism of progressive politics. It also contains critical observations about the art of listening, and conversing with civility, respect and humour without making personal attacks, regardless of differences in opinion.


The importance of civil discourse and the art of listening: An enduring lesson from Dr M. Sarwar. Photo: 1995, Nathiagali, by Beena Sarwar.

As a student at Dow Medical College, Sarwar led Pakistan’s first nation-wide student movement spearheaded by the Democratic Students Federation. The movement carries enduring lessons about the importance of unity and forging a one-point agenda for larger goals.

For more on Dr Sarwar, DSF and the student movement see the Dr Sarwar website.

There’s also this 30 minute documentary made after Dr Sarwar passed away, Aur Niklen.ge Ushhaq ke Qafle (There will be more caravans of passion), below, with interviews of people like Zehra Nigah, Saleem Asmi and Dr Haroon Ahmed. Here’s the link to a piece about it by Agha Iqrar Haroon: Ushhaq ke Qafley— A Documentary about the Power of Student Unions and Forgotten Chapter of Political Activism in Pakistan.

Aur Nikle.nge Ushhaq ke Qafle: a documentary film on DSF

The inspiring story of Democratic Students Federation (DSF), Pakistan’s first nation-wide student movement, led by Dr M Sarwar (1930-2009). A historical documentary based on interviews, extensive research and archival material.

Credits: Continue reading

Learning from history in an age of bombs

Title of documentary ‘Aur NikleiN Ge Ushhaq ke Qafley’ (Design by K.B. Abro)

NOTE: Much of the research for this article was done for a documentary on the 1953 student movement directed by Sharjil Baloch, that I produced, for the event we held at the Arts Council Karachi on Jan 9, 2010, ‘Looking back to look forward’. The 30-min documentary title ‘Aur NikleiN Ge Usshaq ke Qafley’ (And there shall be more caravans of passion) derives from a poem by Faiz. This article was published in the website Pkonweb on Jan 8, 2010 (a revised and updated version of an earlier piece in the ‘The News on Sunday’, Dec 27 2009. A shorter version was published by the academic journal iWrite in its Jan-Feb 2010 issue).

Looking back to look forward

Commemorating Pakistan’s first nation-wide student movement that embodied student unity, cutting across political, class and ethnic divisions for a common cause: students’ rights … Continue reading

Zehra Nigah’s poem for the Jan 1953 martyrs

Jin ke piyar luT gaye - poem by Zehra Nigah for the Jan 1953 martyrs

She wrote these lines down when we went to interview her for our documentary on the 1953 student movement – she mentioned having written it as a high school student, and said it was quite long but was all she remembered.

Aaj unn toofaN badoshoN ka kinara kaun hai
Jin ke piyare mar chukey unn ka piyara kaun hai
Jin pe raateiN chaa gaiyeeN unn ka sitara kaun hai
Jin ki dunya luT gayi unn ka sahara kaun hai
DhoonDneiN ko apni manzil iss khash-o-khashak meiN
Kitne Ghunche mil gaye haiN gulistaN ki Khak meiN

“An institution in himself” – Dr Badar Siddiqi

Sarwar & Badar, Karachi, 2008. Photo: B. Sarwar

Sarwar & Badar, Karachi, 2008. Photo: B. Sarwar

Dr Badar Siddiqi

Citation for Dr Sarwar at PMA House

May 31, 2009

“Death is more universal than life;

everyone dies but not everyone lives.”

–   A. Sachs

We have met today to remember Dr. Sarwar. This man lived –  and lived an amazing life.

I think everyone who knew him very well would agree with me that above all he was a very kind person with a great sense of humor who would make people laugh.

We should all be thankful that we were given the chance to have known a man named Sarwer. So let us celebrate the amazing life he led. He will greatly missed.

When someone passes away one thinks if

“Did he/she live with passion

Did he/she contribute something to the world that was previously missing?”

Did He/She  touch other people’s lives in a positive way?

I for one have no doubt that his life was full of all three areas and more.

Sarwar was a leader and a extraordinary person. He was an institution in himself.

He added a new dimension to whatever he touched.

Most of us know this. It is all history now.

He formed Pakistan’s first student union DSF –  Democratic Student Federation – and was chosen its first President. He also developed the unique organization Inter-Collegiate Body bringing everyone under one banner…..ICB  1953

He was among the leaders of the historic student movement of 1953. He was injured and arrested and it was in jail that in 1954 he cleared his final medical examination. When they though he will now be OK for them they released him.

Going through all this would have been enough for any ordinary human being anyone but not Sarwar who was no ordinary man.

When a member of the medical profession he joined  the new leadership team of PMA where Sarwar, Hashmi, Khawja Moin, Haroon, Jaffer Naqvi – they traveled all over Pakistan organizing the medical profession and made PMA a strong and respected organization.

The new PMA launched a movement for just rights of the profession  and provision of healthcare for the population of our country.

In the early 1980s in the background of strikes an all Pakistan PMA delegation met the government. Sarwar then the General Secretary led the delegation. I remember both of us sitting in an Islamabad hotel the night before discussing the strategy to present the demands to the five Generals led by Gen. Ziaul Haq. That night he taught me so much about how to keep calm  and keep focused on the objectives and never to lose temper. He told me in the early hours of the morning that I will present the case for PMA as his personal background might weaken our case. This says a lot about the personality of this man.

He lived an amazing life. Sarwar  was one of those persons whom everybody liked immediately because of his simplicity, because of his naturalness, because of his comradeship, because of his personality, because of his originality, even before his other singular virtues were revealed.

These qualities which acted as magnet  to attract a galaxy of personalities to his house which was always a open and welcoming with his lovely wife Zakia at his side who we subjected to unfair demands. It is at Sarwar’s house that I had the rare privilege of meeting people from all walks of life in intimate and memorable gatherings which included all shades and of people. Poets, artists, writers, journalists. The atmosphere and the wealth which flowed from these meetings is impossible to put in words.

I will never forget evenings with great personalities like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib, Ahmed Faraz, Zehra Nigah,Syed Sibte Hassan, Ali Imam, Bashir Mirza{B.M}, Saleem Asmi – one could go on with an unending list

I will forever be grateful for the privilege more then 30 years  friendship  with a friend like him. All the memories I have shared with him will forever be cherished and remembered I will forever be grateful to have known Sarwar.

Doston Ke Dermian Wajeh Dosti Hai Tu

(Loosely translated: “You are the reason for our friendship”)

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