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October 14, 2017

The passing of an icon


October 14, 2017

Farida Talat had arrived in Islamabad in early 1972. Her first concern was to complete her education.

Having spent years tending to her ailing mother in Pakistan and later, in Germany, she had been unable to complete her education as the events of marriage and raising a family intervened. So she obtained admission in the Girls College, had her college uniform made and attended college with ponytails, in order not to stand out among the chirpy youth.

A few years later, having completed her education, she looked for avenues for contributing to the local society. Feedo or Fritzy, as she was called, got an opportunity to start teaching at the then newly founded first private school in Islamabad, Froebel’s, started by the widow of Admiral Zamir. The school expanded at a remarkable pace and soon Mrs Talat, on account of her organising abilities, became the first Vice-Principal of that school with its high standards of education. She soon became well known in Islamabad to the extent that her husband, Javed, was frequently introduced as the husband of Farida Talat.

Fritzy’s concern for her students was so overpowering that when the Ojri camp disaster took place in 1988, which also killed the father of the current Prime Minister of Pakistan, she was busy carting students to their homes while her own little son at the same school waited to be rescued.

Farida was also often seen at the Islamabad’s Polyclinic with ordinary people who could not get access to the medical services—the wife of the “dhobi” (washerman), the peon who worked in her husband’s office, the wife of their cook and similar other individuals. She had a passion for medicine and often regretted not having pursued that career.

Her concern for the lesser people at times kept her from attending fancy parties, and complaints from Benazir Bhutto were conveyed to her a couple of times. It also kept her away from the kitchen to the extent that when, later, having migrated to Canada, she had to cook, it invariably turned out to be a total disaster. And, again, it was that concern for the people in pain and needing help that instead of working on cooking skills, she started volunteering at the local Credit Valley Hospital near Toronto.

That same passion for helping the needy and those in pain also kept her busy as a volunteer at the hospital in Virginia in the U.S.A. for almost five years while her husband spent time at an international organisation.

In 2016, she was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalised a number of times. In the fight, which lasted over a year, there was an outpouring of affection from, among others, her former colleagues and nurses. During her last days in the Palliative Care Unit, she suffered immeasurable pain but never complained and whenever asked, said, in barely audible voice, “I am okay”. That tranquillity and forbearance earned her from the staff of the hospital the title of “The Angel of the Unit”.

The Credit Valley Hospital, one of the largest in the Greater Toronto Area, has paid her the unprecedented tribute by lowering the flag in her memory.

In the flood of messages received from her friends and former students, one read: “She was an Icon for a whole generation of the youth of Islamabad.”


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