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KARACHI: A book on the life and works of distinguished Marxist scholar Hamza Alvi titled Professor Hamza Alvi — Awam Dost Marxi Danishwar authored by Dr Riaz Ahmed Shaikh was launched at the Arts Council on Friday evening.

Sayeed Hasan Khan, who presided over the launch, said he met Prof Alvi for the first time in 1961 when both were in London. The two hit it off. In 1962, the professor formed the committee for the restoration of democracy of which Khan was also a part; 95 per cent of the people who were with him belonged to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Mr Khan said the late professor could not work at one place for a long time, but whatever he did, he was brilliant at it. Had he stayed at one place he would have been one of the leading intellectuals of Europe. Echoing an earlier speaker’s thoughts, Mr Khan said painstaking research and study needed to analyse what caused partition of the subcontinent to take place.

Renowned historian Dr Mubarak Ali spoke via phone from Lahore. He congratulated Dr Shaikh for translating some of Prof Alvi’s works (originally written in English) into Urdu for it to reach a wider audience. He said when readers read the works of a scholar they also desired to know about his private life. Dr Ali, in his inimitable style, informed the audience that Prof Alvi’s family belonged to Karachi. When the British started using Karachi as a port, they brought in some communities — such as Bohras, Ismailis and Parsis etc — to the city. Those communities did a lot for the welfare of the city, including establishing various institutions. Prof Alvi belonged to the Bohra community.

Dr Ali said had, as a banker if Prof Alvi had continued with his career at the State Bank, he would have certainly retired as its governor. But he did not opt for it as a career and went abroad. This was the time when there were a great many of leftwing movements going on in Europe. Prof Alvi was also influenced by them and subsequently wrote articles which were published in reputed journals. He taught at some of the UK’s educational institutions. His works were translated into many European languages. And once during his visit to France, he met with the existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre who was familiar with his work. Dr Ali urged Dr Shaikh to work more on Prof Alvi’s works and translate some of the professor’s letters as well which were no less important.

Journalist Zubeida Mustafa said the fact that the book was written in Urdu made it possible for more and more readers to go through it and get familiar with Prof Alvi’s works. She lauded the phrase awam dost in the title of the book saying that the scholar never severed his ties with the masses.

Another important aspect of Prof Alvi that the book touches upon, Ms Mustafa said, was the scholar’s activism. He knew that in order to achieve his goal, he needed to convince people of his ideas by being with them. The third aspect that the author has mentioned with reference to Prof Alvi was his views on Pak-US relations. Ms Mustafa argued that his opinion on the matter was relevant to date. She smilingly added that it would be interesting to know what Prof Alvi would have thought about present-day China.

The author, Dr Riaz Shaikh, in his vote of thanks mentioned three facets of Prof Alvi’s life: his stint as a banker, his role as a teacher and his political activism. He bemoaned the fact that the academia today was missing individuals such as Prof Alvi. He thanked Sayeed Hasan Khan, Zain Alvi and M.R. Khan for their valuable input in making the publication of the book possible.

Earlier, Dr Ayub Shaikh talked about Prof Alvi’s work in which he had pointed out about the Muslims of UP and Bihar’s nexus with Punjab in the creation of Pakistan, which later on resulted in creating a sense of deprivation among the smaller provinces of Pakistan.

Piler’s Karamat Ali said Prof Alvi was a true public intellectual. He especially mentioned two of the Marxist tinker’s articles: one, on the post-colonial state and the other, on agrarian structures of society.

Anis Haroon said Dr Shaikh has made a commendable effort in trying to introduce Prof Alvi to the younger generation.

Prof Dr Haroon Ahmed said, among other things, an interview of Prof Alvi included in the book was very interesting.

Prof Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan conducted the programme.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2018