‘The Young Engineer’ and Sibte Hasan

Sibte Sahib’s narrative has been the highest point in my educational career.

Habib Khan, Quetta: We had met Syed Sibte Hasan by chance. It so happened that we were roaming the corridors of a business center in Karachi’s “Qamar House”, and noticed his name was displayed at an office entrance; we impulsively walked inside the office to find the graceful figure of the elite progressive writer of the country sitting across a neat and clean table.

We were seeking advertisements to fund the publication of “The Young Engineer”, the annual magazine of our alma mater NED Engineering University. Karachi.

The year was 1978–Amir Naqvi was our publication secretary–we faced a challenge though–we only had around Rs 8000 allocated for the magazine, and the total cost was closer to Rs 40000–to bridge this gap, we needed advertisements to fund the gap.

Sibte Hasan Sahib received us warmly and talked with us in a kind and gentle manner–though I can hardly recall the specifics–we left his office amply encouraged.

If I recall, after six months had elapsed since that day, the “Young Engineer ” was finally published and was ready to be distributed among the students and the faculty.

Before that to happen, there had to be an inauguration ceremony as a tradition, and Amir Bhai dropped a bombshell by announcing that Sibte Hasan would be the chief guest at the ceremony.

Posters of “dahriya” (atheist) and “kafir” (infidel) were pasted and slogans raised at the campus from the student wing of a politico-religious party, but what surprised me was that even the members of our progressive party didn’t look much enthusiastic and some were even opposing Amir Bhai’s idea.

Matters took an alarming turn when the Vice Chancellor and the faculty boycotted the inaugural ceremony with Sibte Hasan as the chief guest.

In the mayhem, Amir Bhai remained firm and unwavering in his decision, and demonstrated immense courage by announcing that the ceremony would still take place with Sibte Hasan as the chief guest, with or without the participation of the University administration.

The date was announced, and tension in the campus rose to its peak with extreme possibility of clash between groups.

Though, I didn’t even have a bicycle or motorcycle, I was made responsible for the conveyance of the chief guest, and I somehow arranged a car from a friend and reached Sibte Sahib’s house five minutes before the fixed time. While waiting for him to arrive, I noticed with awe a large dining table that was heaped with opened and marked books. Soon Sibte Sahib appeared and we moved toward the University which was just a couple of kilometers away. I tried in my own way to warn him about the situation at the campus, but he seemed least bothered.

Obviously he must have seen worse situations, and had been in jail that’s why he is brave, I thought. But my heart was beating like a drum as we approached the campus.

Luckily, there was little but not a whole lot of slogans-raising as we arrived, and the Chief guest was escorted to the hall which was occupied by only a few students. Obviously again I thought that the boys wanted to avoid conflict, so the chief guest will have to speak to an empty hall, what a pity, I said to myself.

Little did I know that Sibte Hasan wasn’t just a great writer but a great charismatic speaker too, and a true judge of the situation; he knew how to attract crowds and what to say in such tense situations.

He started by saying that since he has come to an educational institution, he will just talk about the problems linked to education and will start by discussing how curriculums should be prepared. Then he spoke about the qualities of a good teacher and the student-teacher relationship, and how and when to challenge established ideas.

Within minutes, the hall was jam packed, and others had to sit outside and listen to the speech on the speakers installed outside the auditorium.

In the Q&A session, some tried to bring up controversial political issues which the genius veteran handled immaculately, and when a student brought up the issue of “hurting sentiments”, he said something that has remained in my memory to this day and has helped me a great deal in lifting my confidence. “Remember my dear boy, not just the religious person but every individual has his or her own sentiments, and hence sentiments of every individual irrespective of the beliefs, must be respected.”

Sibte Sahib’s narrative has been the highest point in my educational career. I still cannot thank Amir Bhai enough for his courage to defy the opposing parties, the cowardly management, and the so-called progressives. It had given us the opportunity to meet and listen to a great person.

Poet Habib Jalib had written about his refusal to accept an award from a capitalist:

جو مٹا دیتا تجھے وہ نام واپس کر دیا

چھین لیتا چین جو آرام واپس کر دیا

مرحبا سبطء حسن اے قوم کے زندہ ادیب

تو نے اک زردار کا انعام واپس کر دیا

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