PESHAWAR: On Oct 7, a reference in honour of a distinguished personality from Edwardes College will be held whose memories evoke feelings of nostalgia, loss and salvation. For all who knew Professor Syed Ziaul Qamar, he was an embodiment of joy, radiance and optimism all the years he lived.
Edwardes’ College happened to be his Alma Mater, an institution that educated and groomed him and finally catapulted him to exceptional accomplishment and recognition.
During the post war period of 1950s and 60s a revolutionary zeal prevailed in the world. Socialism was the buzzword for progress, idealism fired many a youth towards an utopia that few doubted, or considered unattainable.
Professor Ziaul Qamar was an embodiment of a bygone romantic period with an insatiable thirst for literature. He imbibed a wide array of literature, comprising W H Auden, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, or reading Albert Camus, George Orwell, Kafka, Graham Green and Boris Pasternak. Prof Zia represented a generation of “hopeless romantics” whose dreams knew no boundaries; but neither could their disappointments be allayed.
Likes of leftist writers like Faiz and Habib Jalib, Intezaar Hussain and Jamila Hashmi in Pakistan, or their fellow revolutionaries Josh Maliabaadi or Sahir Ludhianvi, Quratul Ain Hyder across the border in India, spoke the same language of emancipation and progress; inevitably followed by lost hopes and dream shattered; a destiny that embodied the spirit and times of the subcontinent post independence.
Professor Ziaul Qamar would often quote a protestant work ethic he had taken at Edwardes College when he joined as a lecturer in 1964.
Having lived a frugal life, he would often quote the protestant ethic which emphasized hard work, discipline and frugality. He quoted an oath teachers would take at Edwardes College subscribing to Spartan lifestyle without demanding rewards in this world.
But then life was never easy for an idealist that was Prof Zia. Having served his lifetime he was relieved of his position for breaking the ‘discipline’ of using official phone for a personal need. This was not something a renowned professor of English literature deserved to have been so ill treated.
But true to his rebel instincts, Prof Zia packed his bags to bid farewell to the institution he had helped build with compassion. He would be posted as principal by the considerate Governor Khurshid Ali Khan, to a farflung area in Khar, Bajaur Agency. Taking the gauntlet, he became the Principal of Bajaur Public school, Khar, now renamed Governors Public School and College, Khar.
His students remember how he took pains not only to teach English language skills but the graces and mannerism of being gentlemen and how to conduct themselves. He also took with him, a missionary Mr Rob Samson for teaching. Prof Zia finally had to quit for health reasons.
The stint in Institute of Management Studies, UOP was not less eventful. He would urge the University of Peshawar governing body to establish an autonomous institution, namely Institute of Management Sciences at Hayatabad. Prof Zia’s communication skills and ability to soften the hard-nosed officials was unquestionable. He reportedly bowled over opposing voices with his wit and charm.
Thus, in 1988 the Institute of Management Sciences was established. Like the King’s knights who gave the final blow to the unsuspecting Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket in 1170 AD, the high drama of ancient story was replayed in 2005, when the high priest of English literature was betrayed by his trusted legions.
According to confidants, being relieved from the coveted teaching position at IM Sciences was a lethal blow for the aging academic. The invincible man of high ideals never recovered from the experience. Thereafter, physically and emotionally, he was on a downhill slide.
In his final years, Prof Zia would regale his visitors with his proverbial wit and humour and anecdotes. He was getting weak and immobilised owing to nagging knee disability, but his spirit never wavered and remained full of boundless energy, despite the terminal disease that eventually sapped his mind and body.
He would remain addicted to books till he bade farewell. In a hospital bed during the final days, he requested Dr Lubna Hasan to get him a newly published diary of Agatha Christie and Raza Rumi’s “Delhi by heart”. His biggest regret before he lost his senses was his inability to read through these two books.
To his credit, the organizers of the event of “Tribute to Prof Ziaul Qamar” have given him due respect and recognition as a “humane” personality who dedicated his life to the quest for knowledge.
Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2017