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Tribute to ‘Selfless Man of High Caliber’ Saiyid Hamid

In his touching tribute to Saiyid Hamid, Dr. Zafar wrote: He not only caused us momentarily happy but also gave us life-long lesson in high morality and outstanding conduct.

Dr. Syed Zafar Mahmood

Forty years ago it was Eid in 1975, a day earlier was our civil services exam paper in UPSC at Shahjahan Road, New Delhi. Next day was to be another paper; so the festival was sandwiched between two papers of civil services. We walked for Eid Namaz to the Parliament Street mosque, came back and resumed studies expecting the usual aloo ki sabzi and roti from the kitchen for which too we were grateful to God and the organizers of our trip to the capital.

We had hardly re-settled on our desks that we could see his self-driven old model Fiat car entering our gate. His children alighted the car holding one big dish each and their Ammi the third one. They brought for all of us home-made siwaiyan, kabab and biryani. He made our day memorable, while his friends, relatives and usual battery of visitors at home would have had to wait. He not only caused us momentarily happy but also gave us life long lesson in high morality and outstanding conduct. He was the then Secretary to the Government of India, Saiyid Hamid.

I learnt from him to be the first to say Salam;.he always managed to do so unfailingly while he was more than double my age and quite superior in governmental hierarchy. After a few years it transpired that he was faithfully practicing what Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) had prescribed for mankind. Later in life whenever I and my wife Nazira came out after a courtesy call on him and Begum Suraiya Hamid he would always escort us out upto the car and would habitually embarrass us opening the car door for Nazira. During journeys I found him to be extra-respectful even to the fellow stranger ladies. He unfailingly treated Begum Hamid as God’s special gift to him – with extreme courtesy, affection, care and consideration.

During 1981-84 I was heading the Income-tax Department at Aligarh with my office-cum-residence at Marris Road. He was AMU VC. Begum Hamid opened the portals of the VC Lodge to personally run a crèche. Our eldest son Kashif was less than three years. He went to the crèche everyday receiving best possible attention that a child could receive at that age. More than that no discussion or interaction ever took place between us regarding Saiyid Sahab’s running of the University, even though they sporadically obliged us through their affectionate visits to Aaykar Bhawan. Yet, I had earlier passed a coveted decade in AMU as a student and then as lecturer, thus was having a wide circle of friends on campus. From them I used to know what all revolutionary steps Saiyid Sahab was taking.

For selecting a really meritorious hockey team he invited the wizard, Dhyan Chand. Letters received from within India and abroad inviting papers for presentation at conferences were no longer passed on to the HOD concerned and, instead, was circulated by the Registrar through Notice Boards on campus. Papers were invited by the Registrar Office, were got vetted through a team of external experts and the one who submitted the best paper was sponsored by the University. Long leave of the teaching staff who had gone abroad for years together, yet retaining the post in AMU (and, in the process, compromising the teaching standards during their absence) was cut short and notice was served on them to join back within a reasonable period. Admission of  the students residing in the hostels for longer than a given number of years was discontinued. Grabbing the University contracts no longer remained the prerogative of an ‘influential’ coterie.

Thus, the institutional running of this great seat of learning was overhauled. In the process Saiyid Sahab did have to bear the wrath of many. But he valued long term community interests much more than short term personal ones. After completing his tenure at AMU – coupled with his high bureaucratic clout at national level – it was easy for him to grab a gubernatorial assignment and pass the rest of his life in maximum luxury at public expense in the precincts of sprawling Raj Bhawans cutting ribbons and inaugurating exhibitions. But he chose to be different and made his own niche in Jannah. He managed to personify God’s message given in Surah Al-Asr (103.1-3): Indeed, mankind is in loss, except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other truth and patience.

During his tenure as senior most member of the Prime Minister’s High Level Committee on Muslims (later known as Sachar Committee) his role was like an elder statesman. Before and after the meeting he would sit on the sofa in my room devoting every minute on discussing how best to ensure honest appraisal of Muslim status in India and make most meaningful recommendations. Moving to the Committee Room he would mostly keep silent during the meetings but would very minutely observe and follow the discussion. Whenever the situation so warranted he would put his foot down even though maintaining his usual highly sophisticated low pitch eloquence. Many significant additions to the Sachar Report emanated from his specific notes submitted to Justice Sachar who valued his counsel and would invariably approve their circulation and incorporation. Restoration of justice to the Ummah was very close to Saiyid Sahab’s heart. For that sake he would not mind bearing even ignominy at the hands of an inferior being.

His Urdu was flowery, his English stylish, his syntax amusing. He would never deliver a talk without carefully preparing for it. His discourse was based on well studied substance punctuated by properly selected words and phrases. His speeches as well as writings were lessons in more ways than one.  For summing up his life we must take recourse to Allama Iqbal:

Qaumon ki taqdeer wo mard-e-darvesh

Jis ne na dhoondi  sultaaN  ki  dargaah.

Destiny of the communities is enriched by those selfless and self made individuals of high calibre who do not seek personal favors from the powers that be.

May Allah bless him and Begum Suraiya Hamid with high pedestal in Paradise. May hundred flowers bloom … of his ilk.  Aameen

[Dr. Syed Zafar Mahmood is the President of Zakat Foundation of India.]

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