In the Memory of My Teacher–Professor Saba Dashtyari—Part 1- Kamber Ali Baloch

Blog Cross Post : Baloch Hal

On the 1st of June 2011 at 23.58 EST, my mobile phone beeped while I was reading an online article. When I clicked to see the message from my cousin in Karachi, the screen displayed: BAD NEWS : PROFESSOR SABA DASHTYARI HAS BEEN KILLED BY UNKNOWN TARGET KILLERS AN HOUR AGO IN QUETTA. Shocked! Disbelieve! Anger! Deeply hurt and saddened – I lost my Teacher!

I’m writing this article in the memories I shared with this great teacher, philosopher, poet, writer, linguist, activist, socialist, nationalist and above all a great human being – Professor Saba Dashtyari Shaheed.

As a young boy, I’ve heard fascinating stories from my cousins and friends about a Lyari-born Baloch Professor who was an atheist but, ironically, thought Islamic studies and theology at University of Balochistan. Another thing that took my attention was his love and deviation for Balochi language, literature, culture, history and the desire to build and institutionalise Balochi language and culture for research purpose which eventually laid the foundation of first Balochi Library, Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi Reference Library in Karachi.

It was the mild winter of 2002 when my cousin Aamir and friend Alam introduced me to one of the greatest man I have ever met and shook hands with Professor Saba Dashtyari.

There was this tiny cafeteria located in Lyari where I first interacted with the Professor. As I entered the cafeteria, my friend pointed at a man facing the wall, saying, Ustaad auda neshta (The “Teacher” is sitting there). He was having a cup of tea and a newspaper beside him along with his brown threaded bag; hooked on the edge of the chair. I walked closer to him facing his back, looking at his curled whorl hair with specs visible from behind. As I stood in front of him, I had a feeling of meeting a clean shaven Saint sitting with a pen in his fist. I shook his hand and introduce myself:

Salaam Waja (Hello Sir), mani naam Kambar’e (My name is Kambar). He replied spontaneously: ‘’O bezaa’n tae naam Kambar’ee…  Meer Kambar’e shayra zanee ? (Oh so your name is Kambar, do you know the couplets on Mir Kambar?). Kambar is a famous heroic figure in western Baluchistan (Iranian Baluchistan) which dates back from 18th century. Many poets and singers have written and sung verses for Mr Kambar.

I humbly replied ‘’Ji waja (Yes, Sir) Man Zana (I know it) and I started to recite the verses just to show off that I know it:

Meer kambar o sabze sagaar.. Zahma beja naama bedaar! (Great Kambar of an astonishing gesture… Swing the sword and prints its name in history)

He used to be very happy when his students recited Balochi poems and proverbs in a situation where Balochistan’s borders are occupied and both the “superior states”, Iran and Pakistan, have imposed Farsi and Urdu languages on the native Balochs in all spheres of life.

Professor Saba Dashtyari, mostly known for his contribution to progressive Balochi language and literature, was born as Ghulam Hussain in 1953 in Lyari district of Karachi and attained his education in the slums. He was highly influenced by Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi, another late Baloch intellectual and linguist. He obtained a Masters degree in Philosophy and Islamic studies from Karachi University.  He was fluent in many languages including English, Farsi and Arabic. The Professor always believed in freedom of speech and expression.

His literary contributions include more than 24 books on Balochi literature, history, poetry and translations. He also established the Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi Reference Library, Pakistan’s largest library on Balochi literature, in Malir area of Karachi. From 1996-2002, the Professor went on a charity mission and travelled to Gulf countries, Europe, and America requesting Baloch masses to join the cause in order to preserve our Balochi language and literature in a shape of library.

One day, he told me in a lighter humour ‘”I spend six years travelling in four different continents to collect nearly four to five hundred thousand rupees in order to start the library work and construction but I could only collect Rs 250,000!”. Then he continued, “If a mullah (priest) had travelled for charity in the name of a Masjid (mosque) he would have received a bigger amount of money in few months from your nation and else where’’. But Waja Dashtyari was very much optimistic and continued until finally he laid the foundation of first Balochi reference library. He funded the library with his own salary and spent money on its development untill his death.

Currently, the library houses more than 150,000 books in various languages on Balochi literature, culture and civilisation. Furthermore, he also compiled an index and bibliography of Balochi literature published in the past 50 years.

I remember once I went to visit him in at the University of Balochistan, along with my cousin and a friend, back in 2003, he was lecturing a class on Islamic Philosophy. Three of us quietly entered his classroom and sat down. He was explaining the characteristic of Islamic states in the Khalifa era, the concept charity and zakat system, the actual phenomena of masjid, the rights of women and care of ageing people as mandatory duties in Islam etc. which took me to immense surprise to see the level of passion with which he performed his job, keeping aside his own believes. As the class ended, we walked toward his apartment. Being sceptical to what I saw, I impatiently raised a stupid question;

“Waja (Sir), shoma Islamiyat baaz shariye sara dar borta” (You really have a good knowledge in Islamic studies). I say it was a stupid question because I knew that he had remained a lecturer of Islamic studies and philosophy for past 30 years.

The Professor very charmingly said “Aday bechaa Elm’e Zaanag dege gapp’e O Elm’e Mannag dege chiss ze ‘’ (Acquiring knowledge on a particular thing doesn’t necessary means you have to believe in it as a sole truth). I just loved the way Saba spoke Balochi. The tone, the style and variant he had while speaking sounded like a hymn to my ears.  Then we sat at his apartments for an hour where you could see medium size posters of Gandhi and Syed Hashmi next to each other on the wall, numerous numbers of audio cassettes in his cupboard, mostly those of leading Indian singer Mohd Rafi Saab’s and when I expressed my favouritism to Rafi, he smiled and said:

’Achaa guda to haa choo borzee surr’ey goshdaaroke haa (So you also prefer the high pitch singers ha) I smiled and replied ‘’Jii Waja’’ (Yes Sir).

Saba was astonishingly brave with a charismatic personality.  He was an ardent reader and one who purely understanded the philosophy of democracy, liberalism and nationalism. He drew more of his respect as being one of the most versatile teachers who had mastered in many field of life. If he speaks on history it means he had mastered the science of it. If he spoke on politics or philosophy then he would cite several books to support his arguments.

One of Balochistan University student-turned-journalist, Malik Siraj Akbar, has rightly argued in his article The Martyred Professor that ‘’Saba ran kind of a (liberal) university within the (strictly controlled) university’’.

I completely endorse what Malik wrote. Often, students would sit beside him and hear him for hours. He was in all sense a Balochi Encyclopaedia; he carried an Academic account in himself. He could speak and debate on any topic be it religion, politics, philosophy, history, linguistic, science. As a keen learner I’ve always listened to and admired what he said about literate balochi words, adjectives and the style. He’d always increased my interest and knowledge for the language. He was the gravity of attention among the students and activists wherever he went. (To Be Continued)



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