Transitions: Engineer Abul Kalam passes away at 90

Published: May 10, 2013
Engineer Abul Kalam.

Engineer Abul Kalam.

KARACHI: Engineer Abul Kalam, the country’s longest serving vice-chancellor among the public sector universities is no more. He died at the age of 90 at the South City Hospital on Thursday after a brief illness and a long life full of achievements.

“I won’t think of it now, I’ll think of it later,” said 90-year-old Engineer Kalam with a wistful smile in his last interview with The Express Tribune when asked about his life to come. “After all, tomorrow is another day.” The interview took place a couple of weeks before his last day at the university on March 18, 2013 when Engineer Kalam presided over the 21st convocation of the NED University of Engineering and Technology – the last of his impressive 16-year feat.

Engineer Kalam was born on November 25, 1923 in the South Indian city, Vijayawada. At the age of 17, he received an acceptance letter from the University of Cambridge but circumstances did not permit him to leave India in the wake of World War II. The same year he completed his graduation in Mathematics from the prestigious Loyola College, established under the University of Madras, in Chennai. Later in 1941, Engineer Kalam obtained his post graduation from the same institution.

NED’s tenure

After working as a private consultant for 13 years, he was appointed as the NED University vice chancellor by the then-governor Kamal Azfar on December 10, 1996.

Although he never went for a PhD – a prerequisite for the vice-chancellor’s office as laid down by the Higher Education Commission – the institution came a long way under his administration. “When I joined the office, the university used to offer four-year bachelor programmes in only four engineering disciplines but now there are 22 disciplines,” he had said.

Admirable personality

He was known among journalists for his punctuality – from convocations to meetings to other appointments, Engineer Kalam gave value to every single minute. He would arrive every morning at the university at 8:25am – five minutes before the official time – and was known not to leave his office before 4:25pm when the university point buses begun to take the students back home.

Even at convocations, if the chief guest failed to arrive on time, Engineer Kalam would go ahead with the event. “At such occasions, I felt that it was my responsibility towards the hundreds of invited guests,” he had said. The university registrar, Engineer Javed Aziz Khan, recalled that Engineer Kalam as the vice chancellor did not like to sit idle, though he had to because of his quality of taking decision within seconds. “He never stalled matters for days, no matter how important the decision was or its consequences.”

When the official files failed to reach at his table for some time, he used to call Javed Khan. “Javed, I feel as if I am unemployed. It has been an hour and I haven’t received any file from you or any other official,” Javed Khan told The Express Tribune, quoting the late vice chancellor.

The registrar recalled that during those uneasy hours of ‘unemployment,’ Kalam used to read literature, especially classics and newspapers.

The funeral for the renowned educationalist was held after Asar prayers at the Abu Bakr Mosque in the Defence Housing Authority, after which he was laid to rest at the DHA graveyard. He left behind a wife, two sons – Faisal Shamsi and Jamal Shamsi – and a daughter.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • ashar
    May 10, 2013 - 6:24AM

    Thank you Dr. Sahab for doing everything for us especially for NED. May Allah bless your soul in peace.


  • Sharjeel Jawaid
    May 10, 2013 - 9:09AM

    Engr. Abul Kalam was an icon which we do not produce these days. He secured his MSc in Mathematics; not many were produced even in his days. Subsequently entered Railway in highly competitive position of ‘Engineer Apprentice’. The position led him securing a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He bears distinction for introducing Diesel Electric Traction in Pakistan. During the assignment he secured a degree in Electrical Engineering. He authored a book / Life of a Railway Man.
    He had the distinction of setting up Pakistan Machine Tool Factory which he headed for six years. PMTF happens to be an Engineering Jewel in the Crown in context to local Engineering. He also turned around Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works. His contribution to NED is recent and common knowledge. May Allah bestow His Mercy on his soul.


  • Saad Haris
    May 10, 2013 - 10:06AM

    Thank you our beloved late VC. You polished millions of life and we, the NEDians would never ever forget your efforts for putting up NED among the top ranked public sector engg unis of Pakistan… May Allah rest your sould in heavens…ameenRecommend

  • Abdul Saboor Khan
    May 10, 2013 - 11:02AM

    I remember him saying, while handing over an award, ‘Which department?…. Oh Petroleum… gentleman carry on the good work”- with a voice as steady as ever.
    Sir you had the determination of a Quaid. You have been a mentor for many.. May you achieve the highest place in the hereafter.


  • Beenish
    May 10, 2013 - 11:27AM

    His speeches used to remind me of Quaid e Azam.. what an awesome personality… his management took NED to heights… May Allah grant him place in Jannat ul Firdous.


  • zehra
    May 10, 2013 - 11:49AM

    May you be granted the highest place in paradise! i cant forget how you managed to control the polictical storm and established peace in the uni,no danga fasaads while you were there. Seeing you we would automatically stand up and greet such was the respect you commanded from our hearts!

    thankyou is a small word but comes from the depth of the heart for all that you did for our NED


  • Gulam Rasool "Kuldeep sharma"
    May 10, 2013 - 2:36PM

    @Sharjeel Jawaid
    Its Er. not Engr.


  • Ravish Fatima
    May 10, 2013 - 3:45PM

    A great loss for our nation. He had a graceful, inspiring personality which reflected his educated & literate mindset. He was a hardworking man who showed how to live a successful life. With unexceptional managerial skills, he was indeed an institution in himself. May Allah rest his soul in peace.


  • UMSyed
    May 10, 2013 - 3:46PM

    Inna lilla he wa inna ilay he rajion.
    As an ex NEDian I am saddened by his demise. May Allah shower His blessings on him.
    Abul Kalam saab took NED to great heights.


  • Khalid Mirza
    May 10, 2013 - 4:01PM

    I had privilege of closely working with Engr Abul Kalam when he was working as Consulting Engineer 2-3 years prior to joining NED as the Vice Chancellor. He was one of the finest human beings with an ability to inspire anyone meeting him for the first time. A highly disciplined individuals thoroughly believing in his values and principles. For me, and for innumerable other friends and colleagues, he remained as an inspiring role model to emulate for highest degree of professionalism, integrity, honesty and discipline. His career represent pure professionalism whether a bureaucrat, a consultant or an academician or an administrator. His biography “The Railwayman” is an interesting book, which he authored in the 90’s sharing his experiences with others. He will be missed dearly and profoundly remembered. May the Almighty bless the departed soul and give strength to his family and friends to bear this loss (Aamen).


  • Naveed Ansari
    May 11, 2013 - 2:38AM

    @Gulam Rasool “Kuldeep sharma”:
    I think people are trying to pay tribute to a legend here. I dont see the point of you trying to pick out others mistakes and making people believe you are a bigger maestro of English than Mr Sharjeel Jawaid, which you are not. But this is what we are we try to build our stature on the death and grave of our great fellow coutry men. Dont bother to reply as I am not going to waste my time getting in debate with you.


  • Muhammad Adnan Ahmed
    May 11, 2013 - 3:09AM

    Sir, I will always miss you, your signature on my degree will not let me forget you…Allah aapko jannatul firdos men buland drja ata fermaey aaameeen


  • NC
    May 11, 2013 - 10:23AM

    May Allah bless his soul. He was the best thing that happened to engineering education for the young people of Karachi.


  • May 18, 2013 - 10:30AM

    He Was A Pride For NED,The University Got The Deserving Name During His Days,We Salute Him,May Allah Give Him The Place In Jannat-ul-Firdous,Ameen..


  • S M Komail Hyder
    Jun 28, 2013 - 11:46AM

    May his departed soul rest in eternal peace !! and ALLAH bestow his family and nedian’s all to bear this irreparable loss with patience and forebearance.


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