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July 6, 2020

Prof Dr Ijaz Ahsan — 1934-2020

The Prime Minister was on the phone: “Is Prof Sahib not your brother?” This might seem a queer question because she well knew he was. So it was more a reminder than a query. But a serious matter had raised the question.

At the apex of his career, Ijaz had resigned from the dream post for any medic: that of Principal of none other than King Edward Medical College, the oldest school of medicine in Pakistan. At issue was his refusal to comply with the Punjab CM’s directive to admit a candidate not qualified on merit. When finally left with no other option by the persistent CM, Bhai tendered his resignation remarking that his successor may perhaps oblige but he could not inflict such injury upon his own alma mater.

Now the CM had contributed his one cent needed to make the dollar whereby alone could a majority, and government, be maintained. But with that critical single cent the CM himself had also become the CM. And Dr Ijaz had put the coalition in jeopardy.

The CM complained to the PM. She turned to me. Governor Altaf, also a friend of the family, volunteered to accompany me to Ijaz’s house, and did. I knew it would be futile. Altaf got nowhere. So she rang me. Told of the mission’s failure, BB had asked: “Is Professor Sahib not your brother?” I replied that he was.

“Then why does he not do your bidding?” she asked. I answered with a question: “BB, is Murtaza your younger or elder brother?” “Younger” she said, puzzled. “Well,” I solved it for her, “How can I influence Bhai’s decision. He is 11 years my senior”.

BB took a deep breath saying “Ah then I quite understand”. Prof Ijaz’s successor obliged the CM.

April 20, 1998: The heavy police lathi that hit my head had broken into two. Such was the force applied to the blow to the head of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. I kept standing but companions rushed me to the PIMS ICU in Islamabad. Within the next few hours Bhai Ijaz had flown into Islamabad and was at my bedside.

He was also at call in the night shift of my elections from Lahore. This shift was a crucial six hour session when he would meet with all the ‘coordinators’, and discuss the requirements of each section of my constituency: election material, publicity, important persons to meet, feedback on my visits to that area. Before he rose in the morning to go home he had sent out all the requirements of any area or sector. He took charge of this crucial ‘night shift’ precisely because he could not take part in electioneering as a public servant. With a penchant for prescribed processes and rules he would not touch a party flag or publicity material. Yet all these got distributed and delivered while I campaigned or rested.

Professor Ijaz never regretted resigning as Principal KEMC. He always did what was right, and did it without fear of consequence. Resigning from service on question of principles had been in his blood. Our grandfather, Chaudhry Bahawal Bhaksh, as a young police officer had walked out on a superior after refusing to be partial towards a majority community in the area of his police station. Our father, Muhammad Ahsan (Alig) had resigned from the civil service despite an elite posting as Revenue Officer, Murree, returned to his hometown, Gujrat, and courted arrest in the 1946 Movement on the call of the Quaid-e-Azam. Bhai was perhaps just keeping up the family name.

Bhai Ijaz was always the top student in his class. He thus became the gold standard for us: Nasreen, Shireen, and me, his junior siblings. He was also devoted to playing tennis. I would see him, winter or summer, cycle out of our house on canal bank to play some vigorous sets at the KE grounds in his custom white shorts. More recently he would laughingly recall those days and say how it seemed odd now that the game of tennis was, but the cycling of eight miles to it and back was not considered exercise.

Bhai’s resignation won him an instant honour and recognition from his community and peers. He was elected to serve as President of the Pakistan College of Physicians and Surgeons. He had already served as Principal, Allama Iqbal Medical College, Lahore, and as the Dean of the Post Graduate Medical Institute, Lahore.

Professsor Ijaz’s devotion to teaching impelled him to contribute an authentic text book on his own passion, Surgery. So worthy is the volume that the David Cheever Professor of Surgery at the Harvard Medical School: William V McDermott MD wrote of its US edition: “The charm and appeal of the book lies in its simplicity, directness, accuracy and completeness.” Simple, direct, accurate and complete, that was Bhai himself was.

His eminent colleagues such as Professor Dr Rashid Latif remember Bhai for his humility despite having occupied all the commanding heights of the Medical profession. Besides his humility, he is remembered as a very engaging conversationist and wit. He could hold an entire dinner party in rapt attention recounting an endless treasure of anecdotes that came fluently out of memory. The two hundred plus articles that he kept contributing for newspapers after leaving government service are testimonials to his command of all manner of subjects, and of the most cogent and relevant episodes of our history, sociology, politics, political structures, administrative traditions and behavior as well as diverse other topics. He was a renaissance man.

In 1962 Bhai married Bhabhi Farhat, the daughter of DIG Malik Ata Muhammad Noon, a most unlikely police officer. Honest to the core, I remember him recalling the days when just one murder in a district would incur an angry call from the chief minister. By that count our CMs today would spend the entire day in conversation with the DPOs.

Bhabhi, herself a Masters in Psychology, maintained an enlightened atmosphere in the house bringing up their two beautiful daughters, Saira and Amina, as elegant, graceful and confident personas. They also take after their father in compassion and concern for others. Bhai was, to his last days, concerned in the world around him. He agonized pondering not his own weak health but the future of Pakistan as a state and a society. His articles brought to surface that innate agony.

Dr Ijaz left us on 23rd May, the night before Eid. Normally we would have collected at his residence in Zaman Park and been served a sumptuous lunch by Bhabhi Farhat. This Eid we could not even embrace each other to mourn his death the day before. The COVID-19 SOPs required us to maintain a distance. We only asked the thousands of callers who reached out to his wife, daughters, and siblings, to pray for him at their own homes. It was perhaps Bhai’s way too. He wanted always not to cause any inconvenience to others. He went his own way.