R.I.P Ruqaiya Hasan: A life well lived

Ruqaiya Hasan, Hong Kong, Feb 2015. Photo by Lexie Don

Ruqaiya Hasan, Hong Kong, Feb 2015. Photo by Lexie Don

Ruqaiya Hasan: Born -1931, Pratapgarh, India; studied at Allahabad University (1953); Government College Lahore (1958); Edinburgh University (PhD in Linguistics, 1964). Retired as Emeritus Professor Macquarie University. Passed on: June 24, 2015, Sydney, Australia.

She seemed to be getting progressively better since the life-threatening respiratory infection she’d contracted after receiving radiotherapy for her advanced stage lung cancer (she survived rectal cancer in the 1980s). I had rushed over to Sydney to be with her, not knowing whether she’d still be there when I landed. If she’s still around, I’ll get to see her, if not, I’d be there for my cousin Neil and Uncle Michael, I reasoned. We knew, as did she, that it was a terminal disease but the rate she was improving led the doctors to add a chart to her hospital room stating her expected date of discharge as: “(?) 07/07/2015. Destination: Home”. We knew she wouldn’t be with us long, but at least some months seemed assured.

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An Ozzie update, and thanks

Sydney, Feb 17 2015: Christian Matthiessen, Ruqaiya Hasan and Michael Halliday at a symposium in honour of Michael in his 90th year. Photo by Lexie Don, courtesy Frances Christie.

Sydney, Feb 17 2015: Chris Mathieson, Ruqaiya Hasan and Michael Halliday at a symposium in honour of Michael in his 90th year. Photo by Lexie Don, courtesy Frances Christie.

A quick update from Oz: my aunt Ruqaiya Hasan is improving, slowly but steadily. She was discharged from hospital and is now in another to receive palliative rehabilitation care until she is strong enough to return home, which the doctors hope will be in a couple of weeks. This really is nothing short of a miracle given the condition she was in last week. The other good news is that my mother Zakia Sarwar in Karachi has just got the visa and should be arriving on Sunday. Many people worked to make that happen in days rather than the month it usually takes. A multi-effort led to Ammi’s pre-visa medical exam being moved from July 4 to June 17. A heartfelt thanks to the friends in Islamabad who kept calling the Australian embassy, the linguists who appealed to the Australian government, and those who used their contacts in the Australian foreign office to expedite the visa.

Personal Political: Faiz and ‘Anthems of Resistance’

Published in The News on Sunday yesterday: The power of ideas

Andy McCord responding to a question at the Faiz panel. Photo: Beena Sarwar


by Beena Sarwar

I am no great expert on Faiz but his poetry speaks to me, touches my heart just as much as it does every other liberal, progressive, secular-minded person I know. Perhaps his poetry, with its universal messages about truth and justice, sorrows and joys that are just simply human messages, also touches some hearts that are not progressive and secular.

There’s also a personal connection that was put in context last weekend at a discussion on Faiz at panel organised at the Left Forum (formerly the Socialist Scholars Conference that became an annual event starting in 1981). I was roped into moderating it after the original moderator David Barsamian, the well-known radio producer and journalist (and fluent Urdu speaker), couldn’t make it at the last minute. Continue reading

‘And there shall be more caravans of passion…’

Title for documentary 'Aur nikleiN Ge Ushhaq ke Qafley' - design by K.B. Abro

Several items uploaded to the Dr Sarwar blog over the last month:

1. Learning from history in an age of bombs
– my article based on research done for the 30-min documentary on the 1953 student movement directed by Sharjil Baloch, that I produced (we are making some final changes after which it will be available for distribution upon request).

2. Articles specially written for the Jan 9, 2010 Event Book on the 1953 student movement:
Keep the fire burning – End Note by Zakia Sarwar
Continuing Stories: Social Action and Change – by Ruqaiya Hasan
The High School Students’ Association and my rite of passage – by Ghazi Salahuddin

3. Scans of the Event Book, Jan 9, 2010 – Copies available upon request

Happy 25th Spelt, and good luck with the conference

spelt04

Suhaee and Babar perform at Spelt’s 25th birthday celebrations. Photo: K.B. Abro

DIWALI GREETINGS TO ALL. Here are some observations on the silver jubilee of Pakistan’s first volunteer-based, professional English language teaching organisation, based on my comments at the 25th birthday celebrations of the Society of Pakistan English Language Teachers (Spelt) on July 31 this year. Spelt’s annual international conference begins today in Karachi – an event they have been holding every year since they started and which involves a ‘travelling conference’ at which key plenary speakers address similar conferences in other cities. I think this must be some kind of record.
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Remembering those who have passed on

Minal and Maha with Dr Sarwar (Zakia in background), Jan 2009

Minal and Maha with Dr Sarwar (Zakia in background), Jan 2009

Post on Dr Sarwar blog, Sept 21, 2009 (Also posted recently there – photos of Dr Sarwar & Zakia Sarwar, 1980s, with Ali Sardar Jafri and Ismat Chughtai in Karachi, Sehba Sarwar’s poem Doc 101… and more):

As we celebrate special occasions like birthdays, Eid, Christmas or Navratri, we especially remember those who have passed on. Here is a note from Sehba in Houston relating a conversation with her daughter Minal who turns five years old on Sept 21 (happy birthday Minal, and thanks for your words of wisdom and love):

Right now, we’re in the car doing errands. Minal had a busy morning playing with one of my friend’s kids. Suddenly, she says: “Every one dies no matter what.”

Reně and I nod.

She adds: “I miss Nana. Sometimes I stay up at night and cry for him.”

“You do?” I ask.

“I wish I’d talked to him before he died.”

This just came out of the blue. We hadn’t talked about Babba for sometime. But maybe she was thinking about him because we skyped with Beena this morning.

Dr Sarwar Reference, Aug 8, Lahore

Final-Dr Sarwar reference-flyerYour presence is cordially requested at a
REFERENCE IN BELOVED MEMORY OF
DR. M. SARWAR (1930-2009)

Founding member, former President
Democratic Students Federation (DSF);
Former Secretary General (Central)
Pakistan Medical Association (PMA)

Related articles and photos at: www.drsarwar.wordpress.com

Saturday, August 8, 2009
5:00-8:00 PM
Programme:
5.00-6.00 pm: Formal Reference
moderated by Hussain Naqi, former General Secretary NSF & President Karachi University Student Union

Speakers:
Hameed Akhtar, writer; Abid Hasan Minto, advocate; Prof. Afzal Tauseef, writer;
I.A. Rehman, Secretary General HRCP; Zaman Khan, activist; Farooq Tariq, Labour Party leader; Salima Hashmi, artist; S.M. Naseem, former editor ‘Students Herald’;

Dr Haroon Ahmed + Dr M. Ilyas, former PMA office bearers; Dr. Izhar Chaudhry, Secretary General PMA Punjab; Ammar Ali Jan, activist; Dr Farrukh Gulzar, follower; and Dr Sarwar’s wife Zakia Sarwar, educationist

6.00-6.30 pm: Tea

6.30-8.00 pm: Discussion, deliberations and other offerings
Facilitated by S.M. Naseem, Beena Sarwar, and Ali Cheema
Venue: Dorab Patel Auditorium
Aiwan-I-Jamjoor, 107-Tipu Block New Garden Town, Lahore – 54600
Tel:(92) (042) 5838341-5864994-5865969

Web site: www.hrcp-web.org

Email: hrcp@hrcp-web.org

PUNCTUALITY IS REQUESTED – we aim to start on time
Organised by friends and admirers of Dr M. Sarwar and his legacy

For more information, please contact Dr M. Farrukh Gulzar 03004818390

‘This wonderful Doc…’

NOTE: A slightly longer version of this article was published in ‘The News on Sunday’, July 5 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/tns-doc – also uploaded at This wonderful doc (2) at the Dr Sarwar website . The title is borrowed from Ali Jafari’s tribute posted at the Dr Sarwar site which also contains contributions by I.A. Rehman, Dr Badar Siddiqi, S.M. Naseem, Eric Rahim, Salima Hashmi, Drs Anwar and Abdullah Mangi and Dr Asif Ali Hameedi and others.

PERSONAL POLITICAL

Beena Sarwar

Newly weds circa 1962: Zakia and Sarwar at Karachi beach

Newly weds circa 1962: Zakia and Sarwar at Karachi beach

She is not the grave-visiting sort. A white-haired dynamo with luminous eyes she pioneered teacher training and teaching English as a second language in large classrooms with limited resources. The activism she brought with her from Pratapgarh in UP, India, to Pakistan in the late 1950s has remained, nurtured and encouraged by the life partner she found.

Zakia met Sarwar after moving to Karachi from Lahore in 1961. The unconventional, dashing, long-limbed Allahabad-born doctor was known as the ‘hero of the January movement’. He came to Karachi after Partition and joined Dow Medical College. There, he started Pakistan’s first student union, catalysing the first nation-wide inter-collegiate students’ body. When the government ignored their demands related to fees, lab and hostel facilities, the students held a ‘Demands Day’ procession on January 8, 1953. Confronted by armed police, Sarwar tried to stop the students from surging ahead. Police opened fire. Seven students died on that ‘Black Day’. Several, including Sarwar, were injured.

Sarwar and his even taller older brother Akhtar were jailed (Sarwar received his final MBBS results in 1954 while in prison for a year) during the crackdown on progressive forces, after Pakistan and America signed a military pact.

Akhtar’s sudden death (pneumonia) in 1958 at the peak of his career devastated his circle of progressive writers, poets, activists and journalists. Sarwar, who had been particularly close to Akhtar, insisted that everyone get on with their work and not sit around mourning.

Zakia’s older brother Zawwar Hasan was also close to Akhtar. They had played field hockey for rival college teams in Allahabad, re-connecting as sports journalists in Karachi. Some years later, when Zawwar’s young children were ill, Zakia would take them to Sarwar’s clinic nearby.

1983 mushaira at PMA House: Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

Defying the dictatorship: 1983 mushaira at PMA House – Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

Their romance included outings like seeing off the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz to receive the Lenin Peace Prize. “As a comrade, his relationship with Abba was an unspoken clear bond based on a shared understanding of the universal struggle for a just human order,” says Salima Hashmi, Faiz’s daughter.

Sarwar and Zakia married in September 1962, overcoming parental apprehensions about religious differences (Shi’a, Sunni). Neither was religious. Akhtar would have approved, as Zawwar did.

As their eldest child, one of my earliest memories is Zakia and other college teachers on hunger strike, demanding an end to the exploitation of teachers. Sarwar supported her against the muttered disapproval (‘women from good families out on the streets’), as always, giving her the space to develop her potential.

He practiced as a general physician for nearly fifty years from a modest clinic in a low-income area, treating struggling workers, journalists, artists and writers free. He was contemptuous of doctors who charged high fees, prescribing costly tests and medicines where less expensive ones would do. He helped launch the Pakistan Medical Association and its affiliated Medical Gazette – platforms that have played a significant role in Pakistan’s progressive politics.

Diagnosed with cancer in August 2007 (‘stage four’, pancreas, metastasis to the lungs), he remained characteristically calm and good humoured. “Look,” he reasoned, “everyone has to die. If this is how I have to go, so be it.”

He refused to give up drinking or smoking, reminding us of friends who died early despite giving up such habits. When a cousin’s mother-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer, he asked wryly, “And does she also smoke?”

He defied doctors’ predictions of ‘maybe six months…’. “To look into the eyes of  a killer disease, and yet not roll over is something that the bravest could envy,” wrote Zawwar in October last year.

Friends flocked to ‘Doc’, hosting parties at his home when he was too weak to go out. Emerging from anaesthesia after getting a blocked bile duct cleared this April, one of his first questions was about the Indian elections. At home, when his breathing became dangerously obstructed, doctors suggested suctioning out excess fluid in intensive care, with the risk of lung collapse and life support if the procedure failed. He waved his hand and pronounced, ‘No point, no point’.

He died peacefully in his sleep that night, half an hour after I kissed him goodnight. “Sleep well Babba,” I said.

“Goodnight,” he replied, clasping my hand back. “Go to sleep.”

Zakia now takes time out from her work to sit by his last resting place. It gives her peace.

This article was first published in HardNews, New Delhi – http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2009/07/3060

1983 mushaira at PMA House: Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

1983 mushaira at PMA House: Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

Doc’s blog; Madrassas vs Pvt schools; Hoodbhoy on Pk; Cost of war and more

Condolences: Lourdes Joseph, longtime activist and office secretary of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) passed away today in Dubai of a heart attack. Funeral on June 10, 4 pm, at St Anthony’s Church in Karachi; burial at ‘gora qabristan’ 5 pm.

1. New blog – www.drsarwar.wordpress.com – with photos and remembrances, including by I.A. Rehman, Salima Hashmi, Dr Badar Siddiqui, S.M. Naseem, Ali Jafari, Mohsin Tejani and others

2. The Madrasa Myth op-ed co-authored by Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das, C. Christine Fair, and Asim Ijaz Khwaja, published June 3, 2009 –  http://www.foreignpolicy.com

Extract: `Rather than focusing on madrasas and public schools, the donor community should take note of a striking change in the Pakistani educational landscape: the emergence of mainstream and affordable private schools.’

Note from Tahir Andrabi (Professor of Economics, Pomona College, Claremont, CA):
“Trying to inject some sense in the mainstream of the Washington policy debate on Pakistan. Would like for once to having facts as a basis for conversation on Pakistan”. (The other Pakistani co-author Asim Ijaz Khwaja teaches at Harvard Kennedy School). http://tinyurl.com/lxlbrs

3. `Whither Pakistan? A five-year forecast’ by Pervez Hoodbhoy in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 3 June 2009. Article Highlights
• U.S. government officials and media outlets have exaggerated how close Pakistan is to collapse.
• That said, the speed of Pakistan’s societal decline has surprised many inside in the country who have long warned of the effects of religious extremism.
• The first step toward calming the situation–Pakistan’s political leadership and army must squarely face the extremist threat, something they’ve finally begun to do.
http://tinyurl.com/Pk-PH-5yr

4. The Women of Swat and `Mullah Radio’, Tuesday, 02 June 2009,
From a group of NWFP women, report published in http://khyberwatch.com
Extract: “Islam started as soon as we fled from Malakand. People outside Swat think we had Islam and Shariat. There is no Islam in Swat. The Taliban have finished it.’ -woman from Mingawera, Swat, in a Sawabai camp
Full report at – http://tinyurl.com/lrnvo4

5. HRCP report on the situation of the internally displaced, plus the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations at:  http://hrcpblog.wordpress.com
`A tragedy of errors and Cover-ups – The IDPs and outcome of military actions in FATA and Malakand Division’
The cost of the insurgency in the Malakand Division has been increased manifold by the shortsightedness and indecisiveness of the non-representative institutions and their policy of appeasing the militants and cohorting with them. While the ongoing military operation had become unavoidable, it was not adopted as a measure of the last resort. Further, the plight of the internally displaced people has been aggravated by lack of planning and coordination by the agencies concerned, and the methods of evacuation of towns/villages and the arrangements for the stranded people have left much to be desired….

Based on reports by HRCP activists in Malakand Division and other parts of NWFP/Pakhtunkhwa, visits to camps by its activists and senior board members, and talks with many displaced people and several Nazims and public figures
Direct link to report – http://tinyurl.com/mpy7et

6. From Isa Daudpota: Bill Moyers sits down with award-winning investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill to examine the human and financial costs of America’s wars.
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/06052009/watch.html
Plus a new website he suggests checking out: www.whowhatwhy.com

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