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Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time … and I am in love with it. If I ever had the chance to choose a career for life, Etymologist would be it.
Of course, I never did choose a career for life.
I started wanteing to be a doctor, like my father (Abi) - but not because of his real influence. Born in 1940 to a doctor - who had been recruited in late 1943 to the British Military Service in WW2 - I travelled to several cities (in and outside India, and to parts that later became Pakistan) with him until the war ended.
There were no children in camps but Abi insisted that Ummi (my mother) and I had to go along … and was granted permission to do so by the Army. So I was the only child around. The first trip I went to was when I was 4 years old.
With Abi I went fairly often to Hospitals where he treated several soldiers who were injured, some almost beyond belief. I saw nearly dead soldiers and even saw a soldier die before my eyes. I never seemed to fear death. In fact the oldest memory I have was that my Nani (maternal grandmother) died when I was 3 … and I remember that event so clearly. When she was gone, I was told that the angels had taken her to a place to cure her. That was what 'dead' meant to me for years.
In the middle of the war we went to Calcutta for a few days holiday with my Khala (Vaseem). It was there that sirens announced planes coming down (Japanese, I was told) to bomb us. We hid under tables. I was told not to pick up sweets that they may drop, because eating them would cause us to die. Don't know if that was to scare me or it was real.
There were two things I did remember from the camps: One was the day we were celebrating Victory. A young soldier climbed up a long set of stairs and jumped into a pool of water underneath. He missed. Fell flat a couple of feet away. And was dead. On the spot!
Before that death, I remember my father and his colleague discussing a man whose head been pierced by some bullet marks. His colleague, perhaps his senior, had said that they couldn't treat him as it was too close to the brain and there was no way that he would survive the surgery. I often thought of that. I even asked my father, who drew weird pictures on a piece of paper to show what a brain was. But I couldn't really understand.
Later on, just before the 1947 Partition, I was in Budge Budge where my Khalu (famous Indian hockey-player, Asad Ali) had been posted by the Customs. I saw a few dead people floating down the river because of Hindu-Muslim riots. The river was just across the street. My childhood friend, Sattar, a servant 3 years older than me, was playing football with me and he kicked it so hard that it went across the street, right into a winding part of the Hooghly River. He rushed and bent down the floating bushes to pick up the ball and threw it right back after showing it to me. It was the head of a dead child he had picked up by mistake.
So I wanted to be a doctor as I grew up. A brain surgeon was what I wanted to be. Life at colleges were tough. I got thrown out of one; I walked off the exams in the second one. That'll be in another blogpost that I write.
Abi was getting severe heart attacks during those days and I couldn't have lived off his money for long. Another year at college. Five years at Medical School. Two years of Internships. Several years of setting myself up as a Surgeon. No way!
I told Abi the only one of two lies I remember telling him: I had done well at my exams and was going to get a First Division. (The second lie I won't get into.) I then said I was going to sail away on a friend's father's ship to Chittagong and meet my cousin there … and come back. I wrote to him from Chittagong that I had actually joined a ship and was in the Merchant Navy now. He was most upset. Again, that'll be in another blogpost, too.
Abi died in 1963. Didn't even live to see me pass my exams and get a reward for having topped the International Navigation marks. Then they suddenly decided to stop giving the official awards, so my Merchant Navy College Head, Captain Safdar, gave me a TimePiece-cum-StopWatch as my gift.
Many of my loves and passions come to me from Abi: Classical Music, Eastern and Western; becoming a voracious reader in English and Urdu; love of and the writing of Urdu Poetry; watching Cricket & Tennis; being totally in love of Science; a passion for correct languages; fighting for Human Rights; loving the truth; even crying in movies :(
We were poor, too. My father had left the Army after Partition, had serious medical problems himself, had a few odd jobs but coudn't continue at his clinic so there was really no money in the house. Ummi was amazing at how she managed to make the loveliest dishes with what little we had - and kept not us but every visitor asking for more. She knew how to make the food we loved out of everything she could get. I used to always tease her about how she managed to put water into everything and make it expand into a lovely, large, edible dish.
Abi's love of books never died. On days when he did go to the clinic and made some money, he'd give most of it to Ummi … but he always bought another book. For himself; for Ummi; and for my birthday gifts. He said to me that if I were really hungry I could tighten my belt and survive another day when food would somehow arrive. But a book was a book. "It gives you pleasure whether your stomach is full or empty …".
One of his loves was Dictionaries. We had many of them. Farsi, Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish. Old and new. He loved words. … and that, too, came to me.
Which is why I really should have been an Etymologist.
From the Merchant Navy, after 25 years of service, I came back to Karachi (Ummi's illness and the birth of my daughter, Ragni Marea, after 14 years of marriage) and set-up an educational computing company, Interface, the first of its kind in Pakistan. This arrangement, bad as it was, moved me (with a lot of difficulty) into opening Solutions Unlimited - a consultancy that now runs with my wife heading it. I founded Enabling Technologies, which produced the best Multimedia Software including CD-ROMs in Pakistan. As an Apple-only company we even produced our first CD-ROM for IBM! (That's going to be one of my blogpost, I promise.)
In the meanwhile I also joined Hamdard University and taught for three years until the first Masters came out. Jehan Ara and Sabeen assisted me at some lectures, too. My best student was Syed Ali Hasan, who is now one of our great animators and now also runs a 3D Printing company.
While this was on, I began drawing cartoons for The Friday Times. You can see them here. Do see the first few, anyway. I'll add more as soon as they become available.
My companies — when they started — had my wife Nuzhat, Sabeen, Jehan Ara, and myself … and none of us had taken Computer Studies in our lives, except Sabeen at school. And she had come to my company for further studies. Her KGS Computer Teacher hated her. From Sabeen's exam papers some pages removed when they were sent to UK … so she failed the subject. Efforts by her father, Tallat, proved that this had happened. An act on his part (probably bashing up the Principal!) was probably stopped by Sabeen's mother, Mahenaz, who was teaching at KGS Kindergarten.
The remaining three of us learnt computers on our own, using a BBC computer and then moving on to a 9" Mac. Nothing comes even close to these two systems.
Later on, Sabeen — who'd joined us when she was 14+ as a student and stayed on until she formed PeaceNiche-T2F — and I decided to open Beyond Information Technology Solutions (BITS), partly in association with the Kasuris. They soon left, dedicated as they were to Education, and I owned the company.
Jehan Ara - who had joined us when she had come back from Hong Kong - said she'd rather not be part of this. So we split half of the company: She continued Enabling Technologies and is now the head of Nest I/O and P@SHA.
Sabeen soon became a Director at BITS (as a gift for her years of service with me) and continued with me as a Consultant to some ventures that we occasionally took online (including our work at Tehelka/India and a leading paper in Afghanistan), despite running her new organisation extremely well. In fact T2F is now considered a standard here and elsewhere.
Like me, Sabeen was never afraid of death.
I am sorry I have bored you with this rather long drawn-out preamble. I promise I will move on to Etymology - 2 as soon as I have the time. If you like what I write, you'll find it enjoyable.