Wednesday, October 9, 2013

How to Sprinkle Happiness Around You: Javed Bhai (Dr Zaeem Jafri) – A Jolly Good Fellow

How to Sprinkle Happiness Around You: Javed Bhai (Dr Zaeem Jafri) – A Jolly Good Fellow

14-Nov-2009: Last night I got an sms that Javed Bhai has been admitted to the hospital and is in serious condition. My heart sank. There was this feeling of heaviness that told me that this hospitalization may be the last one. He had endured the continuous slide in his health valiantly for the last several years. The last few conversations I had with him and those he met told me that it is now only a matter of months if not days.

Today the dreaded sms was there in the inbox of my cell phone. Javed Bhai has gone to meet his creator. We are from Him and to Him we return. Some earlier, others later. So many have gone ahead, and others who are here are preparing for their departure which may come any day.

There was this swell of thoughts that came rushing to me about Prof Dr Zaeem Jafri (1950?-2009) who was a hugely popular professor of LUMS (see for e.g this post and the facebook page in his memory) but to us was always our dear "Javed Bhai". I wanted to tell Abida Bhabi, Almai Jafri bhai, Farid or Aziz how much I miss him. But, then I thought I would better write down my feelings and this may be a better expression of the thoughts that were swelling up in me.

A week after his passing away, as I was getting ready for my office the reflection on a small incident that happened the day before, again triggered that rush of recollections. The incident happened at my cousin's house at the entrance. His son Mubeen, who was four then, had come out to greet us. I extended my hand to shake his hand, and unconsciously, my hand whizzed pass Mubeen’s outstretched hand leaving him a bit surprised, a bit perplexed and a bit amused because it had never happened to him that his outstretched hand had missed the hand shaking it. I had unconciously acted on the “sunnat” of Javed Bhai, who would often, while shaking hands with the kids, would give them this feeling of joyful surprise through this gesture, making it a memorable and an affectionate event. I could see this mix of joy, surprise and enjoyment again on Mubeen’s face. He tried to shake my hand a few times, and each time my hand would whiz pass his outstretched one, making this simple routine an opportunity for fun and laughter. Eventually I had a warm handshake with him. 

So, typical of Javed Bhai! How he would convert a seemingly usual mundane event into something that everyone can enjoy, have a hearty laughter and a moment to remember. I can’t remember exactly but long ago and far away in my memory there is a similar encounter with Javed Bhai when the palm of his hand had whizzed pass my outstretched hand.  The feeling of surprise and enjoyment still lingers on with me and now, whenever I perform this fun greeting with a new kid I seem to be transferring this Javed Bhai’s tradition forward. Actually, I now seem to be doing it quite frequently, and in a small way am helping to perpetuate this mixture of happiness and surprise that I must have felt when I was greeted with this fun greeting when I was a kid.

Later, when I was sitting at the breakfast table with my family and relating this incident and its relationship with Javed Bhai, a flood of memories associated with Javed Bhai came rushing to me.

I have a very old clear recollection of our first encounter with Javed bhai. It is summer of 1969 and there is this typical sweltering, dry heat of Kharian Cantt. I am around 7. There is this huge party of our extended family members gathered at the house of another memorable and jolly good person who is no more with us; Rauf Mamoo. Rauf Mamoo is another person whose mission in life, it now seems so clearly, was to spread happiness, enjoyment and laughter all around him. When I and others recollect about Rauf Mamoon, our memories are replete with the adventures and jolly good times we had through him. Javed Bhai, I think, was also cast in that same mould. Wherever Javed Bhai would go, there would be laughter, happiness and people enjoying every moment.

Back to the heat of Kharian Cantt of 1969; we are gathered under the cool shade of a huge sheesham tree. There is this donkey that Javed Bhai and company have gotten hold of from somewhere and are taking turns to ride it. The company included a host of our cousins; Anjum Apa, Kausar Apa, Rafia, Azam and Moazzam representing Numma and Mukhtar Khaloo. Zuhaira Apa, Humaira and me. Family of Rauf Mamoon and some members from Sardar Mamoon’s family. And, of course, Javed Bhai, Mano Apa and others. Of course we and the others belonging to age group less than 10 are excluded from this riding experience.

During that stay of Kharian, I learned for the first time how to be at the receiving end of humor. There was an incident where I saw a snake and was trying to relate its story, when I made a funny pronunciation. I pronounced “saunp” for “saanp”. This funny pronunciation became something with which Javed bhai would greet me whenever we would meet for the next several years. I still remember that this making fun of apparently very insignificant happenings without being personal or offensive was a typical Javed Bhai style. Due to his phenomenal memory he would remember such small incidents and would spread the fun even after decades of the incident.

Our meetings were not that frequent as Javed Bhai was in Lahore and we were in Islamabad and the travel was not that frequent.

Once Zuhaira Apa and I went to stay for a few days in Lahore in the early 70s. I think this would be around 1972 or 1973. Hasan Nana was at the old haveli-type house on main Jail Road. I remember the fascination and mystery surrounding that old structure. Its high walls and gigantic door-size “roshandaans” for ventilation. There were these intricate passage-ways to reach to roof and from there to those “roshandaans” that would provide us with so much fun and adventure where we would think of ourselves as some characters in “Avengers” or “Man from UNCLE” exploring an old fort. There I remember the love and affection of nani jan (Javed Bhai’s mother) with which we the kids were treated.

One night in this great haveli (at least for us) at around 3am I am awakened by some strange and grand noises that I could not place. I am terrified. Couldn't go to sleep. When they continued in some kind of rhythm and did not stop I came out of the bed, and tip toed in the direction from where they were emanating. I crossed one room and from there to another bigger one. I could peep in this bigger room which had some some low intensity lights on. I could see the big room with huge white hanging and flowing cloths of some thin material in sort of cubicles around two or three beds which were waving in the strong gusts coming from fan (later I realized these were mosquito nets whose ends were loose and waving in air). Around one of these flowing drapes like cloths I saw Hasan Nana deeply immersed in some zikr which would periodically increase in loudness and in its severity. I was in awe and terribly afraid. I receded back. I used to be so much afraid of him because of this "jalaali" side of him. But, later I realized the gentleness and help that he would offer.

Also, I remember the great experience of beating Javed Bhai at a chess game! Once, he asked me whether I played chess. I said yes. So, out came a chess board. Obviously, Javed Bhai would check mate me in a few moves. I would play chess more often with Nani Jan, she enjoyed playing and it used to be engrossing. I learned from Javed Bhai how to make a castle to protect my king. But, on one occasion, maybe it was a fluke, or Javed Bhai’s attention was elsewhere, I managed to corner him and checkmate him. This win gave me so much enthusiasm and exhilaration that I still remember it today. Although, I still think that I defeated him squarely. But, this win was instrumental in increasing my motivation in the game and giving me a huge bout of confidence.

This is 1976-77. I am preparing for my matric board exams. And, what a major undertaking a board exam used to be. I was preparing as if my life depended upon it. Javed Bhai was in Islamabad for some errand. Ammi Jan asked him to evaluate the progress of my studies. I am sitting in my bedroom that I have fashioned out of a larger size store next to the kitchen. Javed Bhai walks in and asks me what am I reading. I mention Newton’s laws of motion. He asked a question that I still remember. He asked how is it that a horse-drawn carriage moves forward when the horse pushes the ground backwards. The answer that I gave was appreciated a lot. Actually that very day I have read this particular scenario discussed in one old science book that I used to have as supplementary reference. He asked me a few questions as he drilled down the scenario. Anyhow, he appreciated my answers and told my mother not to worry. “Irfan is going to do excellently well and is going to make you proud”. These words that I overheard, gave me so much encouragement that I consider them to be the foundation on which my entire educational career is based. Not only these words of Javed Bhai encouraged me to study hard, but to study in depth from other reference books and gave me the confidence that I am really on the right path and am going to do well. I got very high percentages (according to the 70s standards) and positions in my matric and inter board exams and a substantial credit must go to him for those soothing words of encouragement and confidence.  Whenever I met him later he was always encouraging and appreciating my progress.

This is May 1977. A large party is assembled in Islamabad at our home. The occasion is the marriage ceremony of Ghufaira Apa, my eldest sister. We are in a two story apartment complex, where we have not only people staying in our apartment but also in the rooms that we have loaned for the period from our neighbors. One room in the apartment above where Anjum Apa, Raza Bhai is staying with their daughter. One room in the diagonally upper apartment where Rafi Bhai, Farida Apa are staying. And, then there is this large drawing/dining room adjacent to our apartment on the ground floor where all the young and males are staying. There are these mattresses (“gaddays”), spread around in the room and around 12 of us are staying. Javed Bhai’s arrival was being awaited for quite some time.

There must have been a gang of around 25 cousins, boys and girls who had come for the wedding for around three to four weeks. The stay there was full of adventures. Especially the practical jokes where the males were staying. One day someone put a frog in the shalwar of Javed Bhai and tied the lower end while he was sleeping. Soon he woke up and characteristically of his sense of humor he enjoyed the whole event. In return, the other day someone put the niswar in the nose of the perpetrator when he was sleeping. Pillow fights, and sprinkling of water were the smaller incidents. I still remember the feathers from those precious pillows that our aunt has brought from one of her foreign trips were flying all around the room along with lots of cotton wool from the others. Also of interest is the look of astonishment and anger on the faces of elders surveying the fighting zone followed by long lectures.  

One day, Azeem Bhai’s scooter was taken for a long joy-ride by a group of three who were learning to ride, followed by a lot of angry and lengthy lectures on the appropriateness of the act. There were these night trips to Super market for ice cream followed by singing by the road side. Mind you, these were 70s. The roads in Islamabad were still empty. It would be pitch dark after eight as all would go to sleep. Safety and security was a non-issue. Girls would be cycling all day and night, going alone to schools, through desolate areas and traveling by bus with no fear or apprehension.

The trip to Murree , daman-e-koh, Ayub Park and so on had so many stories to recount. So many interesting incidents of that time are memorable that would require a separate compendium. Whenever those who were in that group meet the discussion always turns to those days memorable made by the magnetic and jolly personality of Javed Bhai. Special mention is the invasion  made of the house of Pasha Sb. The party consisting of around 15 people returning after watching the movie Great Escape in the 3-6 show at Odeon Cinema, was seeking out Javed Bhai who had not turned up to see the movie as per his promise. The entire party returning from that wonderful movie was fully charged up and someone said that Javed Bhai could not come because he was with Pasha sb. On arrival at the house, the party found the house to be locked and apparently no one was home. We thought that Javed Bhai has hid himself in that huge house of Pash Sb’s and has instructed those present to inform us that he is not in the house. We did not believe it. The party stormed the house. Banging at close doors, opening cupboards and locked rooms thinking that he may be hiding somewhere. Eventually some one thought that he is actually hiding in the bathroom whereas the person inside was someone else, leading to a lot of apologies and embarrassment. Despite all our effort we could not locate him. To this date we are not sure whether he was hiding there or not. Despite the subsequent embarrassment the thrill of trying to search for Javed Bhai is recollected and described in such a memorable manner by everyone in that party.

Each of the above incidents may require a longer essay of its own to recount. Much of the above fun and adventure is associated with the jolly good company of Javed bhai. Whenever some of us from that party get together we would invariably talk about the fun we had on those trips.
More recently during the 90s and 2000s on my trips to Lahore or through Lahore I had occasion to appreciate the other side of Javed Bhai’s personality. This time we came to know each other and had occasion to talk for long times on various issues. His views on education, his interest in mathematics and physics, history of science, family legacy, and so on. His contributions to the initiation of MUN and its development into an institution replicated now all over the country is phenomenal.

I remember his concern and care for his parents and those around him. Around five years after the death of his father in 2000-01, I remember him telling me that Irfan it has been so many years since my father died and yet not a single day passes when I do not remember him. I wondered at that time, how come this can be true. My father and mother both were alive at that time.  Now I know better. They both died in 2003 and 2004, it has been around a decade since they are gone. But, yes I can safely say that not a day passes when I don’t remember them. And with such remembrances, I cannot fail but to remember what Javed Bhai once said to me.

He was known as an electron in his UET student days and also later on as a faculty member. I think this was because of his shorter height and his great speed with which he would move around and do things. All his actions seem to be determined and done with speed and precision.

I think this was in 2006-7 when we were stopping over in Lahore at his place in LUMS on our way to Islamabad. This was December-January. It was cold. There was this picture in Dawn about several feet of snowfall somewhere. Right next was the story about cold winter in Sahiwal where four people had died of freezing. He connected the two stories and had many of our team convinced that there was several feet of snowfall in Sahiwal and four people have died. The convincing way in which this was done was amazing. The team members for some time were so worried about how to travel in such a weather and what to do and what not. What a fun we had later whenever we would recollect about the snow fall in Sahiwal.

In 1979 when I went to stay there to explore Lahore, Hasan Nana would guide us with the intenary that we should follow; which bus to take from where and where to disembark and how to take the next one, what to eat and what to avoid and would also give me and Saleem each a Rs 10 note. A big amount in those days when the public transport fare was just 50paisa and one could go from one part of the city to the other quite comfortably. We visited Lahore Fort, Badshahi Mosque, Jehangir's tomb, shalamar bagh and so many other places. Then when I went there after returning from USA in 1995 (about a few months before his departure to his last abode), he was in a different house at that time and was as helpful as ever in guiding us and we had some long discussions on life and expectations. Javaid Bhai was a great son of a great man. A waliullah living in our midst and we not realizing his true worth. In 2005, Javed bhai took me and Saleem to the graveyard where Hasan Nana and Nani were both burried along with his sister. Then Javed bhai showed me a place for a grave and said this would be mine. I was struck with the matter of fact manner with which he mentioned that. I looked at his face and he was serious. And a few years later he was resting there peacefully in great company. 

He was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors had given him a few months, but, I think his humor, his energy, his drive and the prayers of his well wishers and above all his will and Allah’s beneficence made us to benefit from him till end of 2009.

[Written in 2009. This needs extending. So many more events to recount]

Excerpt from his Profile:

After successfully achieving two MSc degrees in Physics and Electronics Technology, respectively in 1980, he went on to pursue a PhD. in Micro-Electronics from the University of Surrey in United Kingdom. He joined LUMS on July 12, 2000. Dr. Zaeem Jafri was working at LUMS as an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics along with performing the duties of the Director of the Office of Student Affairs. At LUMS he taught several courses including: (a) Theory and Applications of Science (b) Calculus (c) Foundations of Electronics (d) Foundations of Physics.

Besides his affiliation with LUMS, Dr. Zaeem Jafri’s career involved teaching experience at various notable educational institutes such as UET, Lahore.


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4 comments:

  1. i never got a chance to meet him. i have heard about him through you and zuhaira khala. ami gee has never mentioned him.

    all these people would have felt so happy and honored if they had the chance to read how important they were for you. isn't it better to tell them and appreciate them when they are still with us .

    i would love to read what you say about my father and he will also appreciate and love it.

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    Replies
    1. Dear Rabia: The incidents described here have been known n shared with your mother n khalas for umpteen times. Just ask them. They will know n remember most of these. They were part of many of these.

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  2. Just can't forget his kindness.

    ReplyDelete