A real and dangerous pandemic, and lives well lived

The Covid-19 pandemic is real and dangerous. Yesterday it likely snatched another beloved relative from us. My beautiful, youthful 83-year-old cousin Geti’s husband Ismail Saad, 90, passed away in the early hours of Monday morning. He was frail and not keeping very well, but was mentally all there. Had just finished yet another book – in Urdu. A comparison between educational systems in different countries, it will now be published posthumously.

Ismail Saad and Geti Waheeduddin a week before their wedding, 1967.

He wasn’t tested but the positivity rate in Karachi is currently estimated at 40%. Like others, many of our family members tested positive over the past weeks – most with mild or no symptoms, probably the Omicron variant, including my mother Zakia Sarwar, 82, and many overseas guests visiting for a family wedding. But it’s not mild or asymptomatic for everyone. The day before Ismail Saad’s passing, the virus killed a senior pediatrician at Aga Khan Hospital.

Ismail Chacha as we called him – chacha = father’s brother – didn’t even attend any of the events; he was too frail, wheelchair-bound.

At his 90th birthday last month, Ismail Chacha told the family it would be his last. His middle daughter Salma in Chicago, all packed and ready to travel, was unable to be there due due to a positive PCR test before her flight. She went into quarantine, sent her teenage son, and planned to visit in April.

28 Dec 2021: A joyous 90th birthday – “This will be my last” – Ismail Saad

“That will be too late,” Ismail Chacha said when the respiratory issues intensified. He was briefly on oxygen but not hospitalized. Seemed to be recovering but he knew he was on his way out.

Older daughter Nazish based in France made it to Karachi with her family but was unable to fly back as scheduled last week due to a Covid positive test. Like Salma, no symptoms. A blessing in disguise – she was able to be with Ismail Chacha when he breathed his last, together with her younger brother Najeeb Saad, a dental surgeon, who moved from Canada with his family a few years ago.

Geti completed her Montessori Diploma in 1966 – Ismail Chacha is credited with introducing the Montessori system to Pakistan. She also has an MA in political science.

Ismail Chacha and Geti Baji met in the 1950s through two journalists. His older brother Haroon Saad and her mamoo (mother’s brother) Mohammad Akhtar were fast friends. She doesn’t remember when they first met but it must have been at one of many gatherings and get-togethers that took place at the home of her parents, Dr Waheeduddin and Sadiqa.

Dr Waheed was a great supporter of progressive, secular causes. He is also the one who encouraged my father to go into medical school, and was solidly behind the Democratic Students Federation, DSF, the powerful movement Dr M. Sarwar led.

Akhtar encouraged his younger sister Shahida to marry Haroon (their eldest child, my cousin Mina, passed away last February after battling Covid. Also see: Partings without goodbyes, by Ghazi Salahuddin).

When Haroon’s younger brother Ismail returned from the USA with a PhD in Education – perhaps the first Pakistani with this degree – he asked to marry Geti. She is so grateful for that – “imagine if they had married me off to a doctor or engineer, I would have been stifled!”

They were friends and comrades who shared interests and secular, progressive values. They were devoted to each other and worked together on many projects. She is bearing this huge loss stoically and with the courage we expect from her.

Below, the obituary notice I sent to the media outlets I could think of.

Pioneering educationist Dr Ismail Saad passes on

Dr Ismail Saad: A humble and hardworking, progressive

Renowned educationist and writer Dr Ismail Saad passed away at his home in Karachi early Monday morning after a brief illness, surrounded by family – wife, children, and grandchildren. He was 90.

Dr Saad played a pioneering role in establishing the department of Special Education at Karachi University, where he served as Project Director, 1988-1996. He also served as Chairman, Department of Education, University of Karachi, 1987-1990.

He held distinguished positions in universities around Karachi, retiring in 2020 from the position of Dean, Faculty of Education and Learning Sciences, Iqra University which he joined in 2005.

He served as Vice Chancellor, Hamdard University, where he was earlier Dean, Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences and Director. He had also served as Registrar, University of Karachi, 1976-1979.

His “biggest accomplishment” was establishing the department of special education, says his life partner Geti Naseem Saad, 83, who lost her best friend just 40 days after the passing of her beloved older sister Shireen Isla

Geti remembers the breakneck speed with which her husband worked, their house filled with educationists for a week designing the syllabus and putting the programme together. Dr Saad trained the teachers and launched the department, Pakistan’s first at any university, in record time.

Born in Lucknow, 28 December 1931, Ismail Saad obtained his B.A. at Jamia Millia Islami, Delhi,1950. He moved to Karachi in 1953 after doing his M.A. in Economics at Meerut College. Besides Urdu and English, he was fluent in Persian and Arabic – his father Saaduddin Ansari was a teacher of Arabic who on principle took no remuneration for teaching.

Arabic teacher Saaduddin, Jamia Millia, Delhi. Family archive.

Ismail Saad followed his father’s example, teaching voluntarily throughout his life even on evenings and weekends, working overtime for household expenses through consultancies and administrative positions, and his printing press, Saad Publications.

“We never had a free day,” says Geti Naseem Saad, who worked closely with her husband on his projects. One of his earliest passions was the Jamia Millia Institute of Education, Malir, where he taught philosophy, theory, Psychology of Education, supervised a practical teaching programme and teaching and clerical staff, besides editing the Jamia Quarterly journal.

The couple married in 1967, some years after Ismail Saad returned from the USA with a PhD in Education and a minor in Sociology from the George Peabody College for Teachers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1961, from where he also obtained his second M.A. in Education with a minor in Sociology in 1958.

Dr Saad is arguably the first Pakistani to obtain a PhD in Education. His thesis was on comparative educational philosophers in India and Pakistan.

He played a key role in the field of teacher training in Pakistan, with the Government College of Education, Qasimabad, Karachi, 1973-1976 where he also served as Acting Principal, 1976–1979.

He wrote and translated numerous books on education and philosophy. He will be remembered as a simple, hardworking, and devoted teacher with a quirky sense of humour.

Dr Ismail Saad will be celebrated and remembered by his wife Geti Naseem Saad, daughters Nazish and Salma, son Dr Najeeb Saad, seven grandchildren, extended family, friends, and numerous students around the country and abroad.

Update: Post amended to reflect the uncertainty around Covid-19 as cause of death, and the subject of Ismail Chacha’s latest book.


4 Responses

  1. So sorry for your loss, Beena. May he rest in peace.



    Liked by 1 person

  2. Poignant account. Stay strong, Beena. Mask up.


  3. Poignant, Beena. Stay Safe. Mask up.


  4. […] my 90-year-old uncle Ismail Saad contracted omicron and passed away; my sister Beena Sarwar shares his story on her blog. And a month earlier, my elder cousin Shireen Apa also lost her life due to the pandemic and other […]


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