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.