MOST parents dream of seeing their children excel and to make this possible they try to provide them with whatever opportunities they can manage. While some set immediate, short-term goals others set their sights on the future and dream big for their family. Fortunate are those who not only succeed in seeing their dreams fulfilled but also inculcate values of hard work and integrity in their children through the process.
Vision: Not Just a Dream tells the story of one such man, Abu Zafar Azad, who realised that education can bring about a change in peoples’ lives. It is a tale of courage and commitment, of one man’s vision of making the impossible possible. A biographical book by Dr Shershah Syed (with Humair Ishtiaq), it chronicles his parents’ lives. Azad and his wife Atia Khatoon (Syed’s parents) made things turn around not just for themselves and their eight children but for countless others whose lives they touched for the better. And they made this possible through education. Abu Zafar Azad’s goal was not only to educate his family but to do his bit to improve access to education and bring about a change in the lives of people.
Belonging to a Patna family whose ancestors had lost all their fortune in the freedom struggle against the British during the 1857 War of Independence, Abu Zafar had inherited the political legacy of his forefathers. He was so involved with the Congress-led Quit India Movement during the early 1940s that he started rubbing shoulders with the likes of Gandhi, Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad and other members of the central leadership.
But Abu Zafar was disillusioned after witnessing at close quarters the corruption in politics, especially after being elected to PatnaCityMunicipality in 1946. A few months after Partition, he said goodbye to politics and came to Pakistan.
Being a practical man, Abu Zafar took up the challenge of beginning his life all over again and, in the prime of his life, set down to making a fresh start with a new focus. When moving to Pakistan, Abu Zafar had decided to stay away from politics. From here on, education became the new passion in his life.
In 1948, Abu Zafar opened a school. Along with improving his own qualification, he convinced his wife, who had no formal education at that time, to study as well. Seeing her intelligence, Abu Zafar encouraged Atia Khatoon to pursue medicine.
Atia Khatoon, who started school when she was a mother of four, became a medical doctor the year her eldest son, Tipu Sultan, enrolled in the first year of MBBS.
Due to his anti-imperialist beliefs, Abu Zafar had named his first son Tipu Sultan, a symbol of resistance against the British in the subcontinent. It was also an act of defiance for the British were still the rulers and they resented the name Tipu Sultan. In fact, he named all his children after figures of historical significance in the subcontinent — Sirajuddaula, Shershah Syed, Chand Sultana and so on.
The book shares stories of Abu Zafar’s family’s rise from humble beginnings, their triumphs and failures, and gives insight into their struggle and how education provided the way forward.
He had dreamt that all his children would become doctors and Syed describes how each of them fulfilled his wish even if, like himself, they had to make three attempts in intermediate exams to obtain the required marks to get into a medical college or if their father had to manoeuvre to secure admission for one of them. Once they entered practical life they tried to make a difference wherever they could and worked to change the system for the better.
Syed says of his father’s determination: “Abba never believed in going back on his decisions. Once a decision had been made, all that was left to do was to execute it”. And it was this will and determination that there are now 40 doctors in the immediate family — an ample proof of his lasting legacy.
Abu Zafar and Atia Khatoon not only emphasised on their children’s education but also influenced and raised many others and helped them gain professional qualifications.
Vision not only pays homage to Syed’s parents but also gives an insight into the flaws of medical education and healthcare system in the country and suggests practical and possible ways to manage what apparently is beyond management. It is obvious from the book that, inspired by the legacy of Abu Zafar and Atia, the family believes it can still make possible the impossible.
The reviewer is a Dawn staffer
Vision: Not Just a Dream
By Shershah Syed with Humair Ishtiaq
Scherzade Publications, Karachi
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