Zafar Iqbal Mirza, or Lord ZIM as we called him, is not dead. His ideas and his very being live within all those who knew him … and knew him well. He was fond of saying: “Banday da kee ay” … and the line that followed is unprintable.
So what we stand for is what lives on. That is why Lord ZIM is not dead. At this early stage of his physical passing away, all those who knew him are presenting personal feelings. In this tribute to my guru, let me present a brief history from the very beginning. It might, probably, bring some perspective as to what the man stood for, how events shaped his life and how he spent the last days among those who respected and admired him.
Born in 1936 in Kucha Chabakswaran inside Lahore’s walled city’s Mochi Gate precinct, his father was a strict police officer. Among his neighbours were the great miniature artist Abdul Rehman Chughtai, the great Urdu short-story writer Rajinder Singh Bedi, the journalists Hamid Sheikh and Abdullah Malik, the famous psychologist Dr Muhammad Ajmal, the zoologist recommended for the Nobel Prize Dr Ahsanul Islam, the family of the renowned Maulvi Noor Ahmed Chishti, and the famous Al-Makky family. All these famous personalities were family friends living in the same ‘mohallah’ and when ZIM was born, so he told me himself once in a sentimental moment, they “blessed me and I am what I am because of these giants.
But then he attributed his upbringing to his mother and to my grandmother, Syeda Begum, a young widow who taught at the Victoria School. “I loved travelling in a ‘doli’ with your grandmother to school and back when I was very young”, he said. “If I ever got my spelling wrong what a whacking she would give. The worst part was if my parents got to know of the spanking I would get another one at home,” he recalled fondly. The positive side was that after a spanking she would give me ‘methai’, which was ample compensation.
But then all these great men by 1936 had passed their Masters degrees and were making their name in their chosen fields. ZIM had all these distinguished neighbours as his ideals, and when they returned home they would look him up. Once Dr Ajmal came to meet his mother there and happened to look up his homework, which his mother proudly showed him. “It is fine, but try to avoid difficult long words,” said the wise psychologist. That, said ZIM, stuck to his mind.
Much later in life when my father became the Editor of ‘The Civil and Military Gazette’ at the young age of 37, the young Zafar Iqbal Mirza came to meet him for a job. I recall my father narrating this meeting. He asked about his family and was told he was about to get married. He smiled and took him to a jeweller’s shop to try on a ring. On return he handed him a copy to edit with the sentence: To be a good journalist, first learn to edit, and, please, leave out long difficult words. Keep it simple”.
So it was that ZIM started his career and as a young child he was every week at our house, where he was served with a ‘decent one’ by my English mother. I can never forget that one day he turned up unshaved and told my father that he was going to commit suicide. My father, calm that he always was, suggested that if he intended to go to Heaven he should be clean shaven. So off trotted ZIM and returned looking the part. My mother forced him to take a bath, and once done he was served the usual. That cheered him up, he smiled and walked merrily home.
Such stories of the man from Kucha Chabakswaran are endless, each more delightful than the last. Then my father had a heart attack and was hospitalised. On the second day the owner left his dismissal letter in hospital. ZIM was incensed and went on strike and resigned. Every day without fail he would turn up at Ganga Ram Hospital, take a peep and leave. The bills were piling up massively, and between ZIM and ‘Chacha’ FE Chaudhry, my mother suspected one, or both, were secretly paying them. We never found out.
Then my father joined ‘The Pakistan Times’ and started writing the ‘Lahore Notes’ column. He invariably called ZIM over to edit it. If a fault was found he clocked up a drink. The ‘ustad’ and ‘shagird’ equation was inbuilt because of the Kucha Chabakswaran link. When my father died in 1971, he refused to attend the funeral. My mother did not mind, and commented: “It’s good he did not come, he would have made a fool of himself”. I told ZIM about this remark and he, amazingly, agreed.
After I returned from England visits to his house started. Then one day as Editor of ‘Dawn’ he called me over. “From now on you will write about Lahore, and if you refuse my orders I will break your legs”. So it was that my weekly column started. He would often ring me to shout over one issue or the other. He invariably ended the call with: “Keep up the simplicity”. His words ring in my mind every time I complete a column, and it has been 16 long years now. From HS the ‘Lahori’ to ZIM the ‘Lahori’ to my simple column in ‘Dawn’ every week, the spirit of Kucha Chabakswaran continues. That is why Lord ZIM is not dead, and for me never will be.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2019