Transitions: Qamar Apa, one of Karachi’s oldest Urdu teachers, passes away

Published: May 16, 2012
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Qamar Apa reciting a couplet at the 25th graduation ceremony of The Lyceum School held at Beach Luxury Hotel in April. She went on stage to present the Qamar Bano Hussain Displine award. PHOTO: FILE

Qamar Apa reciting a couplet at the 25th graduation ceremony of The Lyceum School held at Beach Luxury Hotel in April. She went on stage to present the Qamar Bano Hussain Displine award. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: 

On Tuesday, Karachi lost an irreplaceable Urdu teacher and disciplinarian. Qamar Bano Husain devoted 24 years to The Lyceum School, teaching students, parents and faculty about Allama Iqbal’s poety, literature and life.

The first time I met Qamar Apa was in 2006, she was almost four feet tall and wearing a pale blue cotton sari. It was at the orientation ceremony and as the school disciplinarian, she was welcoming parents and new students to The Lyceum School.

For the next two years, my friends and I used to make sure we avoided Qamar Apa in case she stopped us on our way to buy Bashir Bhai’s fries and told us off about how short our kameez was or how the sleeves of the kameez should not be rolled up despite the heat.

When the academic director of the school, Scheherazade Ahmed, sent out an email to inform students and parents that Qamar Apa was unwell, everyone was worried. After losing caretaker and seemingly permanent figure Faiz Baba at the school, no one wanted to let her go. She was 94 years old but was always ready to get her hands dirty and do her own work. You could always count on her to teach you a thing or two about discipline and Urdu. Yasin Bizenjo, better known as Yasin Bhai, remembers her fondly. He said that Qamar Apa was an amazing lady who, despite her frail health, always did her own work. It was rumoured that Qamar Apa followed a strict routine. She used to wake up with the sun, get ready for work and hop on to a bus that dropped her right outside school.

Before joining The Lyceum School in 1989 as an O-Level Urdu teacher, she had taught Urdu and Persian at St. Joseph’s Convent School for 11 years and held the post of the principal of PECHS Girls College where she also taught Urdu for six years.

After teaching O-Level Urdu at The Lyceum School for a few years she joined the administration department and later started to teach A-Level Urdu. She retired as a teacher a couple of years ago but was always at the school to help out any way she could.

Ushna Khan told The Express Tribune that she often saw Qamar Apa at school and in class because she had a habit of walking in to see what was being taught or if the students needed any help. “She helped me with the guidelines for my Urdu collage. She gave me good advice,” she said. “This one time I was late for my exam and was really panicked. I didn’t know what to do but Qamar Apa just squeezed my hand and took me to her office. She said it was going to be alright and let me finish my exam in her office.”

“Qamar Apa was immaculately dressed as if from another era,” recalled Amal Sarwar from the class of 2008. “She was timeless and irreplaceable.”

Although Qamar Apa never taught Amra Ghazanfar, she always greeted her every morning at school. “No matter how early I went, she was always there checking to see if we were abiding by the school rules,” she said. “She was an integral part of The Lyceum School and now knowing she has passed away, the school that I went to four years ago seems incomplete.”

Anza Saqib remembers her first year at The Lyceum School when Qamar Apa used to coach her during Readers Theatre recitals. “I often told her that Urdu as a language was basically a conglomerate of Persian and Sanskrit,” she said. “One time I said Qamar Apa, lagta hai ke Urdu se ziyada aala darje ki zubaanein hain to which she said beti, humari saqaft Urdu adb o adaab hum khud banatain hain, hum Urdu se hain aur Urdu humse, agar aap iski qadar nahi kareinge toh aap apni pehchan ki qadar nahi karengi.”

To honour Qamar Apa’s commitment to the school, they introduced the Qamar Bano Hussian award for discipline. Her untiring dedication to education and her steadfast beliefs in integrity, hard work and purpose define her.

Her funeral will be held after Zuhr prayers on Wednesday at Abu Bakr Masjid, Phase II, DHA.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (30)

  • May 16, 2012 - 4:23AM

    R.I.P Ma’am!!

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  • Naeem Siddiqui
    May 16, 2012 - 5:35AM

    May Allah rest her soul in peace and highest place in JannahRecommend

  • Sharjeel Jawaid, Karachi, Pakistan
    May 16, 2012 - 8:29AM

    May God shower His Mercy on her.

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  • arooj
    May 16, 2012 - 10:00AM

    I wish there were fighting for urdu language like this..rest in peace qamar apa..u will be missed!!Recommend

  • Anam
    May 16, 2012 - 12:39PM

    its sad to hear that news…although its ironical that all those who are talking about her teaching Urdu ever took her class. Lyceum has always had a very small Urdu class size….and despite Qamar Apa giving 24 years of service, its a shame that the national language still doesnt get its deserved recognition in elite schools of Karachi.

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  • Anam
    May 16, 2012 - 12:44PM

    Being a lyceumite myself, I dont think 24 years of service is as remarkable..there a dozens, literally dozens of teachers in St Josephs, St Pauls, and St Patricks who have served for over 30 or 35 years…there are even golden jubilarians, who hardly ever get recognized on a newspaper. Just because the writer is Lyceumite, doesnt mean that almost every other news story she writes is about Lyceum; or maybe she ‘Lyceum’ is one of her beats. In that case, what a shame it is for the editorial at tribune..

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  • Muniba
    May 16, 2012 - 2:58PM

    rest in peace,qamar apa.you were a true asset for our school and we’ll always remember you for the truly awe-inspiring person you were.

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  • Kinza
    May 16, 2012 - 4:11PM

    One should know that this article is for one of the oldest Urdu teachers in ‘Karachi’. Her services in other schools of Karachi have been recognised. Just because she diversified her range of schools doesn’t mean that her time given to each school individually isn’t ‘remarkable’. She died at the age of 94, as a teacher till her last breath and an inspiration to students and teachers alike, not only in Lyceum but in KARACHI. Her service is commendable and deserves every bit of respect that she gets. May Allah grant her soul peace.

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  • Navin Baig
    May 16, 2012 - 5:11PM

    Dear Anam,

    This is in reference to your comments on this lovely article written by someone whose heart Qamar Appa (My Grand Mother) must have touched.

    You know they say, one must have their facts straight before jumping the gun. She was an educationist who lived almost all her life serving others. 24 years with The Lyceum was just one of the many places she touched peoples hearts. She had been in service for over 50 years if not more. And rightly said, there are numerous people who have served 30-35 years teaching who did not get recognition and a few exist in my very own family. BUT Qamar Appa is a league above them all. She was a Legend.

    Please have respect for the departed.

    Best Regards,
    Navin Baig

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  • Rabiya
    May 16, 2012 - 5:47PM

    Qamar Apa, you were a legend. May your soul rest in peace

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  • May 16, 2012 - 6:39PM

    Its amazing that you found a negative aspect of services of life time in education in three schools This is the first time I read about her but appears to me she was 94 years multifaceted individual, hard working and made a difference in many ways in peoples life .She should not remain as unsung hero. No doubt there are other people who served longer but it does not diminish her contribution

    @Anam:

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  • Mariyam Khan Baloch
    May 16, 2012 - 7:18PM

    Qamar Apa was an amazing person, a true source of inspiration, she was always so warm yet so independent. Lyceum will not be the same without her. May she rest in peace.

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  • SM
    May 16, 2012 - 8:09PM

    @ Anam: Sounds like you are one of those who actually got ‘disciplined’ by Qamar Apa. Going to a good institution you clearly didnt learn any manners and respect for the departed. It’s a rather sad situation if such is the case….

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  • May 16, 2012 - 8:44PM

    May Almighty rest her soul in peace ( Ameen ).

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  • Anam
    May 16, 2012 - 8:52PM

    @SM: Kindly re-read what Ive posted, I am not criticising Qamar Apa, nor am I talking ill of the departed. My criticism is targeted towards all those intellectuals who, in their efforts to keep up with the Joneses, just know how to talk, and talk and do absolutely nothing.

    All those who talk to about her, her contribution and her good deeds hardly ever took her class. Those who are saying they’ll miss her, probably never even me ther. Lyceum had an Urdu class of merely 25 students out of 400 A level students, in one year. Her contributions would’ve been more fruitful had students actually given Urdu the same kind of respect they gave to other subjects.

    My criticism is also targeted towards the writer and the editorial team of tribune. Just because the Editor of the City Desk used to teach in Lyceum and the writer is an alumni of the school, it is absolutely disgusting to see a newspaper give blatant coverage (http://tribune.com.pk/story/371508/blaze-of-glory-lyceum-honours-students-as-they-say-goodbye/) to an elite A Level institution that promotes brain-drain. For God’s sake give your newsprint pages some value, there are far more important things going on in this city that need your attention.

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  • Manal
    May 16, 2012 - 9:11PM

    I honestly don’t understand what the big deal is. The express tribune is famous for being one of the only newspapers that cover a large variety of news from all over the city. Qamar aapa contributed not just to the Lyceum but to Karachi in general. She deserves some space in a huge newspaper that’s filled with news about all ‘important’ aka dreadful things happening in the city. It’s alright to pay respects to an important woman for a change. Also, i feel that Anam has some personal vendetta against the writer. The other article about lyceum students mentions an achievement “They were the only school in the entire country to make it to Best Delegate, the premier Model UN website’s Best International Delegation list” Why do people only want to read about bloodshed and corruption in the newspapers? that’s not the ONLY thing happening in Pakistan right now.

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  • Navin Baig
    May 16, 2012 - 9:20PM

    Anum,

    Not only did she teach Urdu, she was a disciplinarian and that is what is being recognized by all. Also, as you mentioned that you were at The Lyceum, you must also know that she only started teaching Urdu towards the last 10 years of her time there, after Jiya had passed away. There must be something to her that people say they’ll miss her even though they did not take Urdu, if that is what your emphasis is on.
    Let me add here, while she was hospitalized for a few days before she moved on, I had the opportunity to meet people who were visiting other patients, but came to see her (solely, knowing she was Qamar Appa) wished her well and were all praises only ’cause they had crossed paths with her at some point in their life and had the opportunity to learn something from her. And a few of these people must be one of the many who have served several years towards education.
    As said earlier, she was not just an educationalist but a legend, many younger educationalist learnt from.

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  • Tooba Masood
    May 16, 2012 - 9:41PM

    Dear Anam,
    You obviously do not understand the concept of the city section in a newspaper. It is about what is happening IN the city. It’s not just about the killings, bombings, court cases and routine events – but the people too. Qamar apa may not have taught me or many other people who commented on the story but she was always at school. Everyone loved her, the same way everyone adored Faiz baba – he didn’t teach anyone, just sat by the gate till everyone came in or left. Qamar apa was a pillar of the school.
    Also so what if the city editor taught at the school or if I am an alumni? We regularly cover St. Josephs, St. Pats, St. Pauls, City School and other schools too. We write about the O/A-Levels exams and inter exams – if you ever bothered reading the paper, you’d see know.

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  • Citizen
    May 16, 2012 - 10:36PM

    Wow, Can we please stop fighting for once.
    There in one side of the city, the people are fighting over religious sections, political affiliations and provinces, and in this side of the city we’re fighting over a newspaper article. Can’t we unite for once? You are the educated class of the city, if you aren’t united, then who will be united. I’m sorry i’m going off track right now.
    And No doubt that Qamar Apa was an amazing person(Though I never met her) but still a newspaper heading won’t really change her respect and who she was.

    A Normal Citizen

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  • May 16, 2012 - 11:21PM

    Qamar Apa was legendary. I didn’t get to take Urdu at Lyceum because I got into my first choice which was Literature, but I knew her family well. Every time I was over at their place and even when she had spare time at school, she would counsel me on all kinds of topics ranging from short tempers and how to control them to living a more full life. My mother who is a renowned, published poetess in the South Asian sub-continent also sent her book to Qamar Apa for editing which she did with utter dedication and without any expectation. I knew her in a different way and I am glad she is up there with the shining stars, lighting up our dark skies. My condolences to the Baigs and may they have the strength to cope with their loss.

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  • Jawaid
    May 17, 2012 - 4:48AM

    @Anam:
    She served 24 years at the lyceum alone, those 24 years do not count her contribution towards other schools. She was definitely one of the oldest urdu teachers in karachi.

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  • Saara
    May 17, 2012 - 5:47AM

    Qamar Apa, Yasin Bhai and Faiz Baba – such good souls. Fond memories. We will miss you.

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  • May 17, 2012 - 6:18AM

    As i said I came to know about her through this newspaper.It appears to me she was an ordinary person of remarkable career in her own right.These ordinary people are superior than those who are not consistent worker.these people make the difference.we should be grateful and thankful for departed soul. Let us not diminish her@Anam: Here is something which I wrote as a Tribute,may be you will understand

    Today I met a human being, whose beautiful countenance was perfect,
    No wrinkles were evident, the high forehead seemed luminescent
    The eyes sparkled and projected an aura of serenity and peace
    The melodious voice, was like the sound of distant flute music

    Like the softness of dew, the sweetness of honey and the coolness of dawn
    Resident in this world, their credo is the service of humanity
    Luxury is accepted, not flaunted, materialism is a fact of life
    The pursuit is non-acquisitive, greed and possessiveness is shunned

    Selfless service, honesty,lack of greed and pointless wealth acquisition
    Followed by a zest for life,avoidance of stress and love of humanity
    Respectful service and travel with a clear finite destination
    Anonymity or being a small cog in a big wheel is more than acceptable

    Hard labor through the sweat of one’s brow, no desire for fame or fortune
    As a singer, minstrel, showman, dancer-performances sans audience
    No praise or applause, no circle of supportive comrades or admirers
    This should be the beautiful face of humanity!

    No wrinkles or furrows on this illuminated forehead
    Reflecting the waxing and waning of the full moon
    Time and tide follow the routine set by nature
    Illumination, not destructive heat marks the serenity of this face

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  • Augustus
    May 17, 2012 - 6:42PM

    @Anam:
    Dear Anam,

    Your anger is misdirected. This is The Tribune, not the New York Times. The journos here are underpaid students who think investigative journalism entails a trench coat and a magnifying glass. At least they’re not burning ants with it, right?

    Sincerely,

    Augustus

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  • Lazarus
    May 17, 2012 - 8:45PM

    Everything Anam said is correct and appropriate whilst people who come here in emotion to read this article usually start pointing their daggers on Anam.

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  • Augustus
    May 17, 2012 - 9:00PM

    @Lazarus:
    Here’s the truth:

    Anam is making it out to be a zero sum game, which is in fact not the case. An article about the demise of an Urdu teacher, however unimportant, does not necessitate as Anam suggests, that more news worthy items are being left out of publication. And seeing as how this particular article is a digital publication, it’s clearly not taking over physical space that would otherwise have to be omitted. Tribune can publish as many articles as they want on this site.

    There is a distinct difference between Editorialized News and Blog News, this article clearly being part of the latter of the two. Anam’s rant is only relevant to editorialized news.

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  • Faisal Qadri
    May 18, 2012 - 5:22PM

    I am really saddened to hear about Qamar Apa. I was one of the lucky ones who was taught Urdu by her. She has really left a great impact on my life. She surely was a gem who will be missed. @ Anam. “I dont think I want to take away the spot light from Qamar Apa and comment on other stuff which is totally irrelevant and uncalled for and a waste of time.”

    May Allah rest her soul in peace and give her the highest rank in Jannat. Ameen.

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  • CITIZEN
    May 18, 2012 - 11:38PM

    Stop fighting!

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  • Usman
    May 21, 2012 - 3:58PM

    It is a shame that even when its related to someones death, when a remarkable teacher passes away… when people wish to honor her.. people come in and post comments that defeats the whole purpose. This is not something to fight over. If you dont want to remember her dont bother commenting as what you are doing here is arrogant and wrong. This is no competition where we see who worked harder than the other. We wish to remember her time here and her remarkable personality and that’s why we are here. To honor her memory.

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  • marium lodhi
    Jun 5, 2012 - 10:46PM

    Anam your points about the decline of our language our valid. If you have something to say please write an article and get it published . Do not disregard something that is obviously an obituary to someone who touched many people’s life . For the future , do abide by the saying that there is a time and place for everything. This clearly is not the forum.

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