Remembering Sibte Jaffar — a human par excellence

Karachi:March 18:Only last year were slain Professors Shakeel Auj and Wahidur Rehman added to the list of teachers lost forever. But sadly they were not the only educationists to have been killed in the last three years; rather every March 18 after 2013 sends us a grim reminder of the passing away of a revered teacher, poet and advocate Syed Sibte Jaffar Zaidi.

He was one of the several intellectuals to have been targeted during the latest terrifying sectarian strife that had gripped the metropolis for over four gruesome years, starting 2010.

However, the legacy of the man targeted in broad daylight as he rode on his old motorcycle, near Liaquatabad – an area where he grew up – is such that the mere mention of the title ‘Ustad’ is more than enough for his family, friend and his students to reminisce of their association with him.

Born on June 7, 1956, Jaffar got his early education from a government school in Liaquatabad and later went on to acquire a Masters in Urdu literature and Islamic Learning from the University of Karachi. He further went on to pursue his LLB from Islamia College besides also doing a B.Ed and CSS.

Jaffar who came to be known as ‘Professor’ and ‘Ustad’ was associated with the profession of teaching for at least 30 years as he taught at various schools and colleges of Karachi.

From 1981 onward he taught Islamic Learning, Pakistan Studies as well as Urdu at Government Degree Science College, Liaquatabad, and was serving as a Principal of the institute during his last days.

His contributions to the education sector of this country also included books on Pakistan Studies and Sociology.

However, while many may not have known him for his association with the field of education, and to add another feather to the legend’s cap, Jaffar was held in high esteem by the entire Shia community for his remarkable art of classical Soz Khwani - reciting elegy of martyrs and events of Karbala in melody.

Inspired by literature and religion, Jaffar took on the legacy of his father and harmonised both which did not only result in him reciting the elegy but also penning them.

Feeling that the art, unique to the Shias of the sub-continent, was dying a gradual and painful death, Jaffar decided to set up an institution, Idara-e-Tarveej Soz Khwani.

The institution continues to enrol aspiring young individuals who were interested in learning the art.

The dauntless family man

Sughra Fatima, his bereaved wife, also called Ustaani in reverence, smiled as she recounted of her late husband.

He was not just a teacher or a poet or a Soz Khuwan; he was a human who stood firm in his struggle to cast a change in the society, she said.

“He was fond of many things, be it art, social science, poetry. In fact, whilst at university he also took part in arranging a ‘Gilli-Danda’ tournament. But there were some values he strongly believed in which included equality and justice for all.”

He did not believe in cowering away and kept contributing to the society in some way or the other, Sughra recalled.

“He was a very plain man who had no fear of death,” she said while speaking of the time the family was informed, in 2001, of his name having appeared on a ‘hit list’ disclosed by a few militants arrested for carrying out sectarian target killings.

But the man never thought of leaving Karachi. “He travelled to attend recital gatherings but always returned to the city,” his wife added.

A father to two daughters and a son, Jaffar made sure he balanced his family life with all his other commitments.

His wife, who knew Jaffar’s father as her teacher before knowing him as a father-in-law, relived the time he would always attend parent-teacher meetings and other school events of their children.

He was said to have always remembered birthdays. And his love for children, besides his own was such that he would carry sweets with him to give to them, this habit of his earned him another title, the ‘toffee walay uncle’, Sughra said while speaking of the man’s larger than life persona.

A few days before his murder, one of the residents in the area was also killed in a targeted attack, and soon after his burial a rumour that Ustad had also been shot, started doing the rounds, she said. “But we were to earn the relief of knowing he was alive that day,” she said as she went on to recount the day the world was robbed off a gentle human being.

The news eventually came true some weeks later. The family sat in shock and horror watching the television as the national media dashed to give coverage to Jaffar’s death.

The benevolent yet lively teacher

One of his earliest students, Imtiaz Abbas while speaking of Jaffar remembered him as a benevolent person, but a teacher who did not believe in teaching strictly to be taken seriously by his students.

“I don’t remember him scolding us, he would rather sit us down whenever he saw us being wrongful toward another, but would certainly show his disapproval if the habit was repeated.”

But yes, he was a man full of life, he said, adding, “When we asked him if he ever got serious, he would quip ‘I take matters of jokes very seriously’,” Abbas laughingly added.

“He had this knack for puns which added life to all discussions but had it not been for him, I would surely be without a direction today,” he reminisced.

Of a great mind and heart

“It was after his demise that I realised that there were countless people whom he had helped without ever revealing. There were many who told me that they had been orphaned,” his wife had said while speaking of Jaffar’s humility.

However, the opinion was just his wife’s but also of Prof Kanhaiya Lal Nagpaal, a close aide of Jaffar’s.

Prof Nagpaal refrained from using the past tense as he spoke of Jaffar, “He was special in every sense of the word. He was unique, in his honesty, in his truthfulness and in his service to people.”

People take extreme measure to accumulate wealth but Jaffar was completely the opposite, he remarked.

He would leave his own work for the sake of happiness of others and never accepted anything, neither monetary or in any other form, whenever he was invited for his recitals, he added.

Alluding to an incident imprinted in his memory, Nagpaal recounted, “His previous motorbike was old and many a times he would stay behind for his vehicle would give up on the way. I told him that my travelling was far less so he should take my bike instead and after a lot of canvassing he agreed only to buy me a new one later. It was the same bike that stayed with him till his last breath,” he said with the sentence fading out as he ended it.

“He did a lot for everyone and we can never repay him. He possessed a mind and a heart not possessed by many. He was one of a kind!” Nagpaal fell silent as he let himself be consumed with the memories of his beloved friend.The news.