Archive for the ‘UNIVERSITY OF KARACHI’ Category

The Scientist Who Painted: Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui

December 29, 2010

It was in the wee hours of morning that the telephone rang….I am talking about the late 50s when having the landline telephone was a sign of luxury……My grandfather picked up the phone waking up from deep sleep and with a fear in his heart that something has gone wrong somewhere. The other voice pleaded to him, “Salam, for God’s sake bring him back from the lab. He is there for the past four days.” Within 5 minutes, my grandfather was in his Morris Minor driving down to Karachi University. The person on the other line was the German wife of Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui. When all things fail, she used to call my grandfather to practice his fine arts of persuasion to bring Dr. Siddiqui out of his lab where he was totally immersed in his work and losing all context of time. This story has been narrated to me by my late grandmother. I was just a twinkle in my father’s eyes.  On a different note, I was reading an interview of Dr. Siddiqui after many a years. He mentioned the importance of hard work and research and narrated an event when one of the scientist was disheartened as he/she was doing research for the past one year on  a certain assignment which was not going anywhere. Dr. Siddiqui explained his own experience when he worked for years and finally found out his original premises was not correct. The job of the scientist is to dedicate himself to pure research and hard work. Nobody can control the results. His life was a true embodiment of this principle.

Born in a well known family of Subeha (Barabanki District) near Lucknow on 19 October 1897, he received his early education in Urdu and Persian. He also developed interest in literature, poetry and calligraphy from his father Sheikh Mohammad Zaman. His elder brother Choudhry Khaliq-uz-Zaman was a famous leader of the Pakistan Movement. The young Salim uz Zaman and his family has been mentioned affectionately by QuratulAin Hider in her autobiography “Kar-e-jahan Daraaz Hai” as they were quite known in Lucknow society. After getting his graduation in Persian and Philosophy (a very interesting choice for one of the brightest minds of chemistry), he proceeded to England to persue medicine. However upon the advice of his elder brother to study Chemistry in Germany as they were the best in Chemistry, he later decided to go to Germany to study Chemistry and completed his PhD in 1927. In 1924, he married his German classmate, Ethel Wilhelmina Schneeman (who changed her name to Talat and was nicknamed Tilly) . One of the interesting fact of that stay is that Ch. Khaliquzzaman provided him Rs10,000 for his expenses and when they were eaten up by inflation, the great Hakim Ajmal Khan arranged Rs400 per month for him to complete his studies.

Upon his return to India, he established and became the first director of Ayurvedic and Unani Tibbi Research Institute at the Tibbia College Delhi, under the guidance of Hakim Ajmal Khan. (This very fact shows the emphasis over research being shown by the Hakims of Dehli. The same tradition was followed by Hakim Saeed in Pakistan and his brother Hakim Hameed in Dehli through Hamdard Foundation.) Over there, he was able to observe the various plants and herbs being used by the great Hakim as medicine for various ailments. He observed that Hakim Ajmal Khan used snakeroot for ailment of mental disorders. He started his research and his first breakthrough came when he successfully isolated an antiarrhythmic agent in 1931 from the roots of Rauwolfia serpentina. He named the newly discovered chemical compound as Ajmaline, after his mentor Hakim Ajmal Khan. Later on, Siddiqui also extracted other alkaloids from Rauwolfia. Many of these are still used worldwide for treatment of mental disorders and cardiovascular ailments, especially as antiarrhythmic agents in Brugada syndrome. After the death of Hakim Ajmal, he joined Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and later migrated to Pakistan in 1951 upon the request of Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan.

His later shifted his focus to Neem. Siddiqui was the first scientist to bring the anthelmintic, antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral constituents of the Neem tree to the attention of natural products chemists. In 1942, he extracted three bitter compounds from neem oil, which he named as nimbin, nimbinin, and nimbidin respectively From 1942 to the end of his career, he was able to identify and isolate 50 chemical compounds (patented in his name) from Neem just as a result of his own research in addition to those discovered as a result of his joint research with other colleagues and students. Most of these discoveries still remain vital natural ingredients of various medicines as well as biopesticides. In acknowledgement of these revolutionary discoveries, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1946.

Dr. Salimuzzaman was given the task of scientific research activities in Pakistan. In 1953, he founded the Pakistan Academy of Sciences as a non-political think tank of distinguished scientists in the country. He also served as one of the founding member of Pakistan Atomic Research Commission in 1956 and established Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) in Karachi.

He was awarded various medals by the Government and the Frankfurt University for organizing scientific activity in Pakistan. Another interesting fact is that both Dr. Salimuzzaman and Ch. Khaiquzzaman are the only brothers in the history of Pakistan to received Hilal-e-Pakistan medal.

In 1967, Siddiqui was invited by University of Karachi to set up a Postgraduate Institute of Chemistry in affiliation with the Department of Chemistry. He was designated as the institute’s Founder Director, whereas the additional research staff was provided by PCSIR. In 1976, the institute was offered a generous donation from Hussain Jamal Foundation, as a result of which it was renamed as Hussain Ebrahim Jamal Research Institute of Chemistry. In due time, Siddiqui transformed the institute into a distinguished centre of international excellence in the field of chemistry and natural products. In March 1975, he headed the National Commission for Indigenous Medicine His tireless efforts for the promotion of science and technology earned him Hilal-e-Imtiaz by the Government of Pakistan in 1980. In 1983, he played a major role in the establishment of the Third World Academy of Sciences and became its Founding Fellow. He remained the director of the Hussain Ebrahim Jamal Research Institute of Chemistry until 1990 when he turned the reins to another great scientist, teacher and administrator Dr. Ata Ur Rehman. However, he continued research in his personal laboratory. Pakistan produces about 35 Ph.D’s in the sciences annually from its 24 universities and 130 research centers, of which, about half are now produced by H.E.J. Research Institute of Chemistry alone. Having the single largest doctoral program in the country, the institute provides a place of work to more than one hundred young scientists who are enrolled for Ph.D. Ievel studies on various aspects of organic chemistry, biochemistry and pharmacology. The amount of quality research and scientist churned out by this institute is perhaps the topic of another detailed article.

Usually when we read about the great Muslim scientists of the yester years, we observe that they were not just scientist, but had great interest in arts. Dr. Siddiqui was a follower of the same tradition. He was a refined poet, musician, and a painter. In August 1924, he held his first international exhibition of paintings in Frankfurt. Later in 1927, his works of art were exhibited at the Uzielli Gallery, Frankfurt. During his stay in Germany, he also translated Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry into Urdu, which was published in the journal of Jamia Millia Islamia. Though, his passion for arts was superseded by the enthusiasm in scientific research, he continued to patronize arts and culture. In 1966, he was at the forefront for setting up the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts in Karachi. He also compiled a selection of poetry of Mir Taqi Mir into Intekhab-e-Meer. In 1983, he published a portfolio collection of charcoal drawings from 1920 to 1950s.

I still remember when he attended a literary program of PTV where he spent about half an hour just explaining the meaning of the first line of Ghalib’s Divan

Naqsh Faryadi hai kis ki shauqi-e-tehreer ka

About whose mischievousness of writing is the image a plaintiff

He traced the origin of this line to the first couplet of Misnavi Maulana Raum

Listen to the reed of the flute, how it a long complaint makes:
it, explanation of the tale of separation, loud and faint makes…

“Ever since the time that I was torn away from the reed’s bed
my cries have caused men and women… many a sigh to shed.

He also related this to the Sufi philosophy of Wahdatul Wajood, that we are all part of the same light and we all feel unhappy as in our physical form we are being separated from the great light or noor. His method of explanation was so simple that it is still fresh in my memory after quarter of a century.

Dr. Siddiqui breathed his last on April 14, 1994 at the age of 97. His continuing legacy, perhaps are his great students who are continuing the fine traditions of research and service to humanity taught to them by this great scientist and human being. Perhaps Sadequein’s rubayi hold true in Dr. Salimuzzaman case too.

Chalo es baar Saahiri kar kay dekhoon

Kia farq hai shyari kar kay dekhon

Tasweeron mein ashaar kahen hein mein nay

Shayari mein mussawari kar kay dekhon.

  1. 1.       Special Thanks to Dr. Ghulam Nabi Kazi and Obaid-ur-Rehman Advocate for providing and clarifying facts

For some rare photos of Dr. Saleemuzzaman please visit Dr. Ghulam Nabi Kazi’s photo stream

Dog days of IBA

September 2, 2010

It was a hot, sunny and sticky day (as if there is any other kind in Karachi) when I got my notice of admission to the IBA. Getting admission  to the IBA is no mean achievement! More than a thousand gave the aptitude test and only 30 survive the grilling to join the coveted first semester.

I survived, not just the initial written test but also the dreaded group interview. If you have ever seen a trembling rabbit in the sights of a hunter’s gun, you may understand the feeling. Surrounded by professors, all peppering you with questions at the same time, an applicant must have the presence of mind to answer each one of them, simultaneously. I am reminded of an interesting incident with one of my friends who was interviewed by Mr. Iqbal Ismail (a renowned finance professional and a stock market broker now) He simply asked him, “ Do you know anything?”. My friend replied, “No”. He was admitted. This was only question asked and answered in that interview.

I had first got into Ford, Rhodes, but than I got into Fergusons, but within the month I was thoroughly bored with the esoteric numbers. I could not see myself pouring over lifeless journals and ledgers at 9 p.m. every night. Therefore, I applied to the IBA.

After the much-dreaded group interview over there, the newcomer has to pass another hurdle, that of the group discussion. This too inspires much fear. There is a topic on which you have to speak for a few minutes and then the group discussion starts. I collected the points in my mind but something else happened. The girl before me somehow spoke all the points that I had thought of. I had to come with something different in a very short time. Fortunately, I actively participated in the group discussion and I think that may have saved my skin.

So began my journey to the fabled IBA at the Karachi University campus. Settling in was not easy. On the first day, we were thrown into the pool as per the old tradition. In a vain attempt to save myself, I tried to put all my weight on the remaining leg that was still on the ground but to no avail. My hands and other leg were already grabbed by other senior students. Being of abundant corpus, three people tried to lift that leg but were unable to. I finally surrendered, as I was scared that this may result in repeated involuntary trips to the pool in the coming days. I heard a comment while I was flying into the pool that made my day, “Yaar, ayenda wazan kar kay admission hoga”.

IBA was ruled by Dr. Wahab during those days with an iron fist. A stern administrator, a sharp marketer, and an amazing politician. He planted self-serving stories that he is the one who established the discipline, which is the stuff of many fables. We were told one simple principle; the IBA cannot afford to be closed. So do not ever think about fighting at the main University. Should you slap somebody at the University (before they kill you) you will be out of the IBA. If somebody slaps you and you reply, you will be out. We were literally implementing Jesus’ principle of turning the other cheek over there. You may think that this is a joke. Let me give you a few examples. The IBA teams were playing a cricket match at one of the University stadia. We got it reserved for us. In the middle of the match, two Jamatis stomped in, threw out our stumps, and told us to get out, as their friends are planning to play a match within half an hour. There were three dozen of us versus two matchstick-size guys. Can you guess what we did? Yes, very abjectly came back to our campus. This is not just limited to outside the campus. Two of my friends were having some fun. One of them shook a Pepsi bottle really hard to spray his friend. Suddenly they were surrounded by Jamatis again who were yelling and asking if he thinks that this is champagne. We are talking about a small, frail, and petrified young man who cannot even withstand one slap. His friend, who is a solid Pathan, stood in front of him with his hands open and saying, “Yaar choor do, mazak kar raha tha”. That Pathan guy almost received about a dozen slaps on his face. He could have killed a few of them with his bare hands. However, he remembered the two golden principles. Always stand up for your friend and never fight back. And yes, the Jamatis loved us poor disciples of Gandhi and Mandela, more afraid of Dr. Wahab.

The first 2 weeks were eventful. On one occasion when our bus entered the University, (the Rangers had not yet conquered us), the bus was invaded by PSF activists at the cafeteria. For the first time, I saw what a TT looked like, with its barrel on my head. They asked us to come out. On the day previous, a student was killed by the rival faction and they were searching for the other members of the faction in our bus. But before we come out of the bus, somebody yelled, “Abay yeh zanany IBA kay hein”, and we were allowed to go in peace. I never loved my masculinity (or lack of it) more than on that day.

After a couple of months, a teacher of the main University died. We were in class and saw Dr. Wahab, surrounded by some yahoo-looking University students, approaching the classrooms. Our teacher simply said, “Dr. Wahab will now announce that IBA is closed due to mourning of the said teacher. You can go home. You guys will go to the City Campus (behind Nishat Cinema) and this class will resume at the same point after one and a half hour from now”. Can you believe that after one and a half hours, we resumed our class and the rest of the periods as if nothing had happened? However, we were not able to go back to the University Campus for another 6 months.

Let me illustrate this with one more interesting incident. The IBA closed down for one day! This was an anomaly. In the best of times, in the worst of times, in the age of wisdom, in the age of foolishness (with apologies to Dickens), the IBA was never closed. The entire student body came to the City campus where they were told that IBA is closed. We were astonished. A tradition was being broken. You know why? Zia ul Haq died a day before in the plane accident and the government announced a day of mourning and a holiday, and yet the whole of the IBA was there, as we refused to believe that death of a President could force closure of the IBA.

In the second semester, (apart from us throwing the juniors in the pool now) a few things changed. There were now Rangers staffing the door. No buses could go in the University. We were dropped at the University road, allowed in only after the Rangers checked our ID, and then walked to the IBA with the load of books, assignments, and reading material. The Rangers never mistreated us, as the IBA ID card was poof that we are only there to study. Some days, when there was some tension and nobody else was allowed to get in, we were swooshed in without a problem by the Rangers. The other students hated us for that. We had to walk a furlong where either we take the University buses to the IBA or the IBA bus which would have come back to pick us up. During that furlong walk, we were surrounded by the other University students because of two reasons. Firstly, we had the best chicks in town, and secondly they were yelling slogans like “Jamia mein puppo aaye”. We never minded that slogan as we very well knew where we would be after two years.

Some more memories. The IBA’s University Campus has beautifully maintained lawns and they won various awards. In fact, Altaf Hussain of MQM      fame used to sing praises of these lawns in his earlier speeches as he and his colleagues use to take panah in the IBA when they were followed by rival factions during their student days. The IBA had a very simple rule: ‘You can be absent from a class n number of times. We will not ask you the reason. But the moment you cross this limit, no matter how serious or genuine the reason is, even if one of your parent actually died, you will fail the course’. Another part of this rule says that you can be called for an exam any day, no matter what day it is. I remember that we gave our Micro Economics Final exam at the University campus in the morning of Jumatul Widah (Friday being the weekly holiday).  

The Annual IBA picnic is the source of much fun. Our picnic was at the beach. Again some of my friends tried to throw me into the sea. I was quite far away from the water, sitting in the sand, quite aware of their intentions, as I had thrown a few of them in the sea in the earlier part of the day. When they came to grab me, I started throwing sand at them. They grabbed me and tried to take me to the sea and but after a few yards they were panting. I walked to the sea on my own accord on my own two feet, and finally somebody pushed me in the water….But they really had to clean the sand from their hair, nose and ears on that day….yessssssssssss.

We were arranging seminars from the 3rd semester. Dr. Wahab was extremely punctual. If the chief guest or any guest speaker were late, the seminar would start on time. Usually, like all good Pakistanis, the chief guest or the other speaker would enter the hall with a sheepish smile to take his place. On sheepish smiles, I remember another story. Dr. Wahab had a very strange accent. He was a good teacher but to understand his accent was difficult even for us desis. So once he asked this question to a student “Johnny, if a country has many sheep what would it have? Johnny replied that perhaps the country has a lot of wool. Dr. Wahab was very upset, and replied…”Don’t joke Johnny, if a country has many sheeps it will have a strong navy”. (He, of course, meant to say ships, not sheeps).

IBA had some great teachers. Some of their stores have become legends. The late Mr. A.L Spencer, once replying to a question about how many dams were made in Pakistan said, “Son, we haven’t made any dams, but we produced a lot of damns” How true he was! And then there is the legend of Johnny…..no, not the one mentioned above but Dr. Junaid who used to teach Managerial Policy. From the first semester, we used to have nightmares about Managerial Policy in the final semester. He used to yell and throw abuses at boys and girls alike. He had the audacity of making girls stand on their chairs. Students had to work their asses off to collect original research for his course; otherwise he would fail them no matter what happens. His famous statement that “Managerial Policy is not made in class room atmosphere, it is made in an atmosphere of hate, tension and ulcers. I will create the same atmosphere in this class.” Don’t get me wrong; after all that, he was simply worshipped by his students. He had a passion and honesty for the material he taught. Another person worth mentioning was the late Mr. Fazle Hasan. He was introduced by a graduating student in the Convocation in the following words, “Anybody can teach Finance. Fazle Hasan taught us life”…and by God, he did. Fazle was a character. He hated Martial law and was a staunch PPP supporter. So if the class was for 50 minutes, he would make fun of the generals and call them retarded instead of retired. He will tell you stories about his life and his MBA days in Pakistan and USA. In the last 10 minutes, he had the uncanny ability of explaining the most difficult finance concepts in such easy terms that you would not forget for the rest of your life. He had a golden heart. Many IBA students, especially coming from a low-income group, owe their MBAs to Fazle. He would not only arrange the semester fees for them through his contacts in IBA alumni, and business and industrial circles but also sometimes even put his own salary towards it. I am speaking of the times when the fee of this great educational institution was the princely sum of Rs. 3,500 per semester.

Another interesting character was David. He was an old peon…an amazingly sweet and funny character, the only person who could sing, dance and joke with Dr. Wahab in front of others, and Dr. Wahab would just look the other way. Legend has it that when Dr. Wahab copied Zia ul Haq by coming to campus on a cycle, David took a lift from him. He was sitting on the back seat singing old Indian love songs. David does another service. After the IBA would close for the day, he would visit all the banks and multinationals and would collect bhaatta from the old students. Most of them have no problem. Some haughty ones hated to see his face. David didn’t give a damn. He would totally ignore them as he has a long list of his fans in high places. If you want a copy of a mark sheet or your degree from the University, David would arrange all that for you.

 In the final semester, we had to complete quite a few projects. So most of the time, we were on the streets of Korangi, SITE and our Wall Street, i.e. I.I. Chundrigar Road to meet with industry leaders and professionals to collect data for our projects. Crashing becomes more rampant. Crashing refers to real hard work in the last few days to complete our final reports and prepare for our final exam. Once to keep ourselves awake, we all took a quarter cup of boiling water, put three teaspoons of strong coffee, and gobbled it up. After that novel learning experience I never had a problem of just drinking either tea or coffee before going to sleep. Once I was studying at 4 am. I literally saw the book going three feet up in the air and started dancing. Instead of thinking anything else, I just grabbed it, put it down on the table, closed the light and went to sleep.

So our last day arrived. We planned a big party. Special shirts were made. We were the class of 1990. Color throwing, or holi, was a part of it. We arranged water-based colors, which could be easily cleaned, along with cans of shaving cream. We had a lot of fun. We paid extra to the janitorial staff so the premises should be thoroughly cleaned. We did not intend to damage our great institution. One of the traditions was to ask all our professors to donate towards our party fund and they did donate generously.

Before wrapping up, I have to tell you the story of our comprehensive exam. Simply known to us as the ‘compre’, this is a 6-hour final exam after you pass all the semesters. If you fail this exam three times, you do not qualify for the MBA degree. The day before the compre, the “pakka qila” incident happened. The whole city was closed down. Next day with shaky legs, we set off towards the IBA University campus in our cars, travelling in groups for security. Although IBA would never close down, but it would stop operating its bus – to prevent it being burnt down. The probable philosophy was you can always get students but getting the funds for bus is a mighty task. Maintaining this “no close” policy was also pretty safe for the professors as they all lived in the University staff town and it was us students who had to come from all over the city. The compre went off without any incident behind closed doors so not to give any indications that IBA is working.

After two years of very hard work, out of the original 30 students, only 20 survivors were sitting in our convocation. It was a proud moment for all of us. We had passed many a hurdle to reach our goal. I shall never forget the time we spent at this glorious institution.