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April 20, 2019

Remembering Anwar Saleem Ahmad

Islamabad

 
April 20, 2019

In April of 2005, our father Anwar Saleem Ahmad passed away. Every year since then, we have written a note of remembrance for him on the anniversary of his death, in the pages of the same newspaper which carried his words for nearly a decade.

Our parents moved around a lot in the early years of their marriage, due to the nature of our father’s job. But after 1992, Rawalpindi became home. Our father was fond of nature, and we grew up on stories of stray dogs he took in when he was younger, and of his beloved pigeons. On weekends, he always spent a few hours out in the garden with us, at our house in Rawalpindi. Inevitably his eagle eyes would pick out wilted flowers and weeds, and we would be set the endlessly boring task of cleaning them out.

Rawalpindi remained home, even after our father’s death, until we finally moved to Islamabad in 2014. Our home now is a place our father never saw in his life, but over the years has become a place he would have recognized. We still spend weekend mornings sitting in the sun, often thinking of our father - a quiet but commanding presence in white shalwar kameez, wide brown glasses, and thinning salt-and-pepper hair (the subject of a running joke between him and us). Though he is gone, there is now a brood of feisty little grandchildren of his who play in this garden. And we await the time when, a few years from now, we’ll put them to work snipping off wilted flowers and pulling weeds. In memory of the wonderful man who taught us so much.

Life was never easy or conventional for our father. After the untimely death of his mother at the age of two, he was raised by his two sisters, themselves very young. They worked tirelessly to provide the best opportunities for him, and he in turn continued to excel. After attaining a Masters in International Relations from Quaid-e-Azam University with top honors, he went on to attain first position in the CSS examination and embarked upon a promising career in the DMG. His rise through the ranks was unprecedented, and his seemed to be a star destined to burn bright. In 1992, however, a car accident on a rainy night left him partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. After months of extensive rehabilitation, with our mother’s unshakable support, he rejoined the civil service in Rawalpindi. Though he needed a specially modified vehicle to travel in, and finger splints to be able to type, he continued his work in the service with a level of integrity and dedication that outstripped many of his able-bodied peers. He believed strongly in the higher purpose behind his work, and the fundamental goal of a public servant, while never considering himself morally superior to either his peers or those he served.

In September 1993, he started writing for ‘The News’, becoming a weekly contributor in 1994. He soon picked up a following of avid readers and remained a regular columnist for the next ten years, continuing to write up to a year before his death.

In 2000, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgins’s Lymphoma - a cancer of the lymph nodes. His incredible courage and dignity during his 5-year battle gained respect and affection from nurses, doctors, and even security guards at the hospital. It was this dreaded disease that finally took our father away from us, on 18 April 2005.

Even now, fourteen years after his death, people continue to remember him and speak of him fondly, not only as a kind, compassionate friend, but also as one of the most dedicated and hardworking civil servants in the country. In 2011, our father was posthumously awarded the Presidential Accolade for Pride of Performance, in recognition of his life’s work.

Despite handling disability and illness for so many years, our father remained a caring, attentive, and wise presence in our lives till the end. He knew us - his daughters - as individuals and had a unique relationship with each of us, so much so that we each considered ourselves to be his ‘favorite child’. Growing up, and now raising children of our own in an increasingly complicated world, we often find ourselves seeking guidance in how he lived his life. It is a small comfort to be able to pass his wisdom onto his grandchildren, and to perhaps raise them with the same unshakable faith in a parent’s love that we grew up with. We love you Aba, and we will miss you always.

By Suraya, Saman, Maheen, and Mariam Saleem Farooqi

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