Z.H. Zaidi has passed away

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

Barely a few months after he was forcibly evicted (only to be restored) from his official residence,  Z H Zaidi, the renowned researcher and the curator of Jinnah Papers has passed away.

In a country where people are left unconnected to their heritage,  the loss of great men like Ahmed Hassan Dani,  Khalid Hasan and now Zawar Hussain Zaidi is accutely felt.  Z H Zaidi, as he was known,  was a lone crusader who spent last decade and a half liberating Quaid-e-Azam Mahomed Ali Jinnah’s Papers from government’s stranglehold.  His is a profound loss though the work he has done shall remain easy reference for generations to come and one day when Pakistan will relive the legacy of Mr. Jinnah as a progressive and modern republic,   we shall honor Zaidi and many like him for the great the work that they undertook on behalf of a nation that was till then in deep slumber.

This is what Eqbal Ahmad (late) wrote about Z H Zaidi when he first started his effort:

Pakistan’s Endangered History
[Dawn, 4 June 1995]

It is a great privilege for me to be speaking on this very unique occasion. It is rare among us Pakistanis to honour the Quaid-i-Azam beyond rhetoric, and in a substantive way. Professor Zaidi deserves our gratitude for compiling two volumes of the Jinnah Papers. These are but the tip of Mr. Jinnah’s fragmented archieves, for these 3,000-plus pages cover only four months and ten days of his eventful life, from Feb 20, 1947, to June 30. A total of 50 volumes are projected in this series to be published by the Quaid-i-Azam Papers Project.

I know Professor Zaidi to be a driven man who has devoted more than three decades of his life to gathering, restoring, compiling, and editing this national treasure. I am sure that you will join me in wishing him the good health he needs to complete this truly noble mission. I know that his spirit and dedication will not wilt as long as his body holds out. So may you live long, and remain immersed for years to come in the life and times of Pakistan’s founding father.

Professor Sahib, as a historian and archivist you have reached the fulfillment of a life-long dream. You have rescued from dire neglect and the dungeons of dictatorship the private papers of Mr. Jinnah. You have been persistent in getting them preserved, catalogued, and published. And today you have the unique pleasure of seeing two of your former students – one at the helm of the state and the other a humble teacher – speak at the launching of the volumes you have compiled. Few historians and fewer teachers can hope to achieve more in lifetime. Our heartiest thanks and congratulations to you.

But before I make a final bow to a man’s remarkable accomplishment, I should underline that it is shared with a woman. During the months that became years Parveen Zaidi patiently bore the burnt of professor Zaidi’s highly articulated frustrations with Pakistan’s versatile foot draggers. And she actually helped with the difficult task of restoring and preserving the decayed archives. In the process, she became Pakistan’s first and so far only internationally recognised restorer of manuscripts. Her services have since been sought by international organisations such as UNESCO and governments as far apart as Turkey, Iran, and Malaysia. During the decades of toil with these papers she nursed the good professor through – two heart operations, and shared with him the very tragic loss of the younger of their two sons. I hope you all join me in offering them both our heartfelt thanks and deepest sympathies.

I should say a word about the quest for excellence and our people’s response to it. Sadly, there is paucity of excellence in this country. It was not always so in the land of Mohammed Iqbal, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Saadat Hasan Manto, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Professor Abdus Salam whom we have all but formally banished from our midst. Hence ordinary citizens are wistfully engaged when they notice someone striving for excellence with a sense of purpose other than getting rich. And they support the endeavour with an enthusiasm that defies expectation. Men like Abdul Sattar Edhi and Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan will testify to this gratifying phenomenon of civil society in Pakistan.

I recall how anxious professor Zaidi had been about finding the people who could help him in organising, collating, and editing the enormous piles of the Quaid-i-Azam’s papers. “This is back-breaking work Eqbal, and it requires perseverance and skill”, I recall Professor Zaidi worrying aloud soon after he had returned to Pakistan three years ago, “I can teach the skill but where shall I find the people with discipline of work and the will to persist? “Well, they appeared, men and women, young and old, determined to help, eager to learn. Learn they did, and help they gave with dogged determination. In the end the Jinnah Papers is as much their achievement as it is Professor and Mrs. Zaidi’s. They are here in this hall deserving of our warmest hand of appreciation.

Therein lies an insight which I should underline for the benefit of this and the future leadership of Pakistan: The heart of this country, its people, is clean like spring water, solid as rock, and poetic in its yearning for goodness, justice and enlightenment. Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s greatness lay in sensing this simple truth. He led them with unassailable integrity along a path that promised economic justice, liberation from a constricting past, and an enlightened future. They followed with enthusiasm and dedication, without fear or misgiving, and conferred upon this unlikely barrister the historic honour of becoming the founder of an important state. It is a tragic fact that since his passing this great people, like the Quaid’s material legacies, has suffered from negligence and breach of faith.

One price, and by no means the greatest, of this neglect is that neither Mr. Jinnah, nor the movement he led has been accorded serious scholarly attention. Of the four biographies so far published on him, only one, by Stanley Wolpert has scholarly merit and views its subject in the larger context of colonial and nationalist politics. And apart from Dr. Saleem Ahmed’s book which covers the years 1906-1921, no serious work has been done on the Muslim League and the Pakistan movement.

Archives are the memory bank of a nation; and works of history articulate that memory in organised, meaningful ways. It is truly tragic that our archives suffer from neglect and fragmentation, and historians are nearly extinct in Pakistan. To make matters worse, we are bringing up ill-informed generations who are being taught in schools poisonous and ideologically loaded distortions as history. An early exposure to this phenomenon was provided in a pioneering essay entitled “Rewriting the History of Pakistan” by Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy and Abdul Hameed Nayyar which appears in ‘Islam, Politics and the State’, edited by Air Marshal Asghar Khan. A greater service was rendered later by Professor K.K. Aziz’s ‘ The Murder of History in Pakistan.’

The process of polluting the sources of knowledge in this country had begun earlier; it climaxed in the dictatorship of Ziaul Haq who obviously perceived educational institutions as an important instrument of consolidating his tyranny in the name of Islam and an invention labeled the “Ideology of Pakistan”. The General declared as compulsory the teaching of Pakistan Studies in degree colleges, including engineering and medical institutions. The rewriting of history proceeded then on a grand scale. The University Grants Commission issued a directive informing prospective textbook writers that the aim of the new course is to “induce pride for the nation’s past, enthusiasm for the present (sic), and unshakable faith in the stability and longevity of Pakistan”. Lest this leaves some ambiguity, therefore room for accommodating some canons of historiography, authors were given the following guidelines:

“To demonstrate that the basis of Pakistan is not to be found in racial, linguistic or geographical factors, but, rather, in the shared experience of a common religion. To get students to know and appreciate the Ideology of Pakistan, and to popularise it with slogans. To guide students towards the ultimate goal of Pakistan – the creation of a complete Islamised state.”

I do not know of any country’s educational system that so explicitly subordinates knowledge to politics. Teaching and writing of history, always in jeopardy in Pakistan, has now passed from historians to hacks. They have invented a history that historians, of whom only a handful are left in Pakistan, shall not recognise. The Quaid-i-Azam was among their first victims: he underwent a metamorphosis becoming a man of orthodox religious views who sought the creation of a theocratic state and the Ulema, who with rare exceptions had opposed Jinnah and the Pakistan movement, emerged as heroes and founding fathers of Pakistan. The Jinnah Papers are rebuke and reminder of the distortions to which our history has been subjected. They also ensure that future historians shall have easy access to the real Jinnah and the movement he led.

Professor Zaidi has ideas on how to preserve and consolidate our sorely neglected and fragmented archives. I beg for a national effort to review and revise the curricula and textbooks of history and Pakistan Studies in our schools. To no do so is to condemn future Pakistani generations to ignorance and obscurantism.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Z.H. Zaidi has passed away

  1. Monkey

    One by one, we are losing all our mentors.

    Allah Zaidi sahib ko jawahar-e-rehmat main jagah de. Aameen.

  2. A Abdi

    Not only was uncle Zaidi I great scholar and an intellect he had a heart of gold. He was a dear friend to my parents and an inspiration to us and the younger generation. He will be sorely missed.
    Inallah wah inalaha raghaun.

  3. Naseem Zaidi

    He was not ony the great scholor and historion, but he was also my beloved uncle. He always trying to help the people.

    I will always miss you Ammu Jan.
    May Allah gives you the highest reward in heaven.

  4. Masroor Zaidi

    He was my beloved uncle and a great person.

    I love you & miss you Ammu Jaan.

    Allah Ammu Jan ko jawahar-e-rehmat main jagah atta fremay . Aameen

  5. yasserlatifhamdani

    Relatives of the departed: please share with us your memories of Mr. Zaidi.

  6. Arif Khattak

    God Bless You Dr. Zaidi

    It was precisely 18 years ago—1st April 1991—that I first met Dr. Z. H. Zaidi, the Editor-in-Chief of the Quaid-i-Azam Papers. His personality had an awe inspiring impression on me which survives his sad demise. The grey haired, tall, sublime, elegantly dressed, a voiceful scholar, intellectual, and professor remains one of those who are not in the power of death to cease. They never cease to be. The tenor of his tone was a true embodiment of Sigmund Freud’s voice of the intellect, which is “soft one, but it does not rest till it has gained a hearing.”
    There was an aura of Aristotle to him. He had been a teacher to thousands. His students included two future presidents of Pakistan—Farooq Leghari and Pervaiz Musharaf—though I am not sure if the two have anything in common with Aristotle’s Alexander. Dr. Zaidi was a born teacher, an accomplished scholar, an acknowledged intellectual, and a great friend. He used to say, that his students are the only and greatest asset of his life. A true devotee of the Quaid-i-Azam, he often used to quote Begum Zaidi, saying that he eats with Jinnah, speaks with Jinnah, sits with Jinnah, and sleeps with Jinnah.
    Born in 1928, Dr. Zaidi was educated at the Aligarh Muslim University. He obtained his MA and LLB degrees from the AMU. He remained actively involved in the struggle for Pakistan. He, as a student leader, had the honour of waiting upon Jinnah, during the latter’s visits to Aligarh. The Quaid-i-Azam’s personality and leadership had a lasting impression on young Zaidi’s mind.
    Dr. Zaidi taught at the FC College, Lahore for 14 odd years. He then proceeded to the School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS, University of London, where he completed his PhD thesis on the Partition of Bengal. In the mid 1960’s he joined the same University as a Lecturer. He soon emerged, in the words of Stanely Wolpert, as “one of the greatest authorities on South Asia”. If my memory does not fail me, I once heard Wolpert referring to him as “THE” greatest authority. He remained on the faculty of SOAS for three and a half decades. During this period he was more of an indispensible fatherly figure for Pakistani students at London. Apart from his research and teaching services, he successfully supervised dozens of PhD scholars.
    His lifelong ambition always remained the collection, restoration, preservation, compilation, editing, and publishing of the Jinnah Papers. During his sabbaticals and other academic vacations he would come to Pakistan. He would take up the matter of this vast collection, comprising around 150,000 documents. Starting from Ayub Khan, he urged all the heads of state and government to attend to this important task of leaving for posterity the rich traditions of Pakistan’s founding fathers. His insistent correspondence with authorities reflects his motivation, his concern, and willingness.
    In 1990, he was finally able to convince the government to undertake this gigantic project. He volunteered his services for the work without accepting any remuneration or financial compensation. He sacrificed his job at the University of London, for this project of “stupendous national importance”, as he would often refer to it. He brought out dozens of books on Jinnah during the following years. His obsession with the work was so great that he used to work for 18 hours in those days, despite his ill-health and advanced age. He was awarded Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 1993, in recognition of his contributions as a scholar of international standing. He was a man of principles. I am a witness to his telephonic conversation with a sitting minister. The Minister was trying to persuade him for a relative’s appointment. The request was against the norms of merit, which Dr. Zaidi cherished so much. Dr. Zaidi told him off in his ringing tone: “Don’t ever poke your bloody nose in my affairs.” After having the receiver “comfortably” settled on the cradle, he remarked: “But for Jinnah such men would have been carriers of water and heavers of wood”.
    He took early retirement from the SOAS faculty in 1992. Interestingly, rather ironically, the University, upon his retirement, titled him as Senior Research Fellow, and continued their association with him by retaining his office in the SOAS building as long as he lived. I found it especially ironic when in his last days he and his family were forcibly evicted from his official residence upon his retirement—amazing isn’t it in a country where the mediocrities—some Dr. Zaidi’s former students—continue to unlawfully occupy state houses for years after their retirements, while the great—Faraz and Zaidi—find their luggage thrown out in the streets. They wander around to find themselves shelter from the cruelties of the unkind and cold national winds. How impolite must have it been to a man, who would often recite the verse: Tamam umr isi ehtiat men guzri–Keh aashiyan kisi shakh e shajar pe bar na ho (All my life I saw to it that my nest may not burden a tree). We can make it more apt if we replace “Austria” with “Pakistan” in Felix Schwarzenberg’s saying “[Pakistan] will astound the world with the magnitude of her ingratitude.” Habib Jalib, Faiz, Faraz, Dr. A. Q. Khan, and many of the tribe of devotees were treated so unceremoniously by us. Dr. Zaidi, with all his glory could not escape the verdict of an ungrateful nation.
    When the great master Aristotle was disgraced and evicted from Athens, leading to his death in 322 BC, it was said that Greece followed him to the grave. We have lost so many of our Aristotles. We have never cared to do them reverence in their lifetimes. It is high time, that we learn to render our deepest respect and heartiest care unto those who lived all their lives to make our posterity enviable. We need to learn from the American proverb that “Great men must be obliged,” if we wish to continue to have the fortune of having them anymore, for a better tomorrow. Strange though it may sound, they do keep coming. It is for us to recognise them and “oblige” them.

  7. This is very hot info. I think I’ll share it on Twitter.

  8. Qasim Mansoor

    Dr. Zaidi was a great man who did a great job by compiling Jinnah papers.He was a teacher and a very good friend of my father.He and his wife visited our house many times.

    May Allah bless him!

  9. Indian Ink

    I haven’t read Dr.Zaidi but i know something about the other person mentioned in the post-Khalid Hassan .I really liked his column in Daily Times and found his translation of Sadat Manto ‘s short stories unparalled.With his death ,we have ost a great journalist who tried to build bridges between my two nations-India and Pakistan.May he get Moksha.
    Postscript: Just a week ago, a great Urdu -Hindi playwright Habib Tanveer (writer of such brilliant plays such as Jinne Lahore ni vekheya oh jammiya hi nai).I mourn his death and celebrate his Life

  10. Jahan Latif

    I have just found out that my dear Dr Zaidi, has passed away…
    May Allah grant him peace.
    He was one the kindest person I had the luck to meet, always smiling and giving advice to do well.
    I am deeply saddened.
    He was a father figure to so many at SOAS.

  11. Imran

    I express my heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and students of Dr. Zawar Hussain Zaidi.
    He who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present than the living man.

  12. Rahul Sarnaik

    I studied under Dr. Zaidi at London University’s School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) in the late 1980s. He was a warm, supportive, engaging and immensely learned tutor. And for someone like me, a Hindu born in India, he was a fascinating and generous-spirited guide to the history and culture of Pakistan. His dead is a sad loss for his family, his friends, his country and for anyone who worked with him or studied under him. Pakistan badly needs more people with his compassionate spirit and intellectual strength.