Memories of Hamza Alavi, scholar par excellence
by Raza Naeem

[11 December 2003]

Dear Sir,

I am shocked and saddened to read of the death of Professor Hamza Alavi on
December 1. I was not directly related to him in any way, but I met him only
once, which was in Karachi last year in the sizzling summer of August.  I
had wanted to meet him in relation to my MA thesis at the University of
Leeds (where he incidentally taught in the 1970s) on 'State and Class in
Pakistan', something he has himself worked on and for which he is recognized
all over the world.

The meeting took place in strange circumstances; I knew Hamza was very old
and was not keeping well, and might not see me that day, but my father
pleaded with him on the phone, in his usual matter-of-fact former government
servant's tone, and Hamza immediately agreed to grant me an hour of his

I went to see Hamza at his colonial-style Gandhi Gardens residence that
afternoon. He looked frail, but very elegant in his white shalwar kameez.Had
I known this would be my first and last meeting with this great scholar, I
might have listened more carefully - the pearls of wisdom he was showering
on me. Blissfully, the contents of that interview are still with me in the
form of recorded tape, something I guess is now quite valuable, considering
how less frequently he spoke publicly, if at all, due to his poor health in
recent years.

Back in Leeds, I had the privilege of being taught by 2 of Hamza's students
- I added to their knowledge on Hamza by telling that he in fact was alive,
and not deceased as they had presumed!

Since then, I have repeatedly cherished this one lone encounter with
Hamza.How clear, if stuttering, he was that day, his knowledge of Pakistan's
class structure still intact, and ever ready to guide me on to new horizons
of research.Truly Hamza Alavi was an intellectual giant of Pakistan, and
noting that he was never awarded any indigenous medal or recognition for his
tremendous scholarship probably adds to his reputation.It in fact reflects
the plight of those in Pakistan, for whose cause Hamza Alavi fought
throughout his life, that they are still impoverished and hopeless in modern
Pakistan - what Karl Marx would call the proletariat.

In the end I would like to finish with what Hamza Alavi's intellectual
mentor Karl Marx once said should be the role of every thinking person, "The
philosophers have only understood the world, the point however is to change
it". Whatever the shape of modern day Pakistan, I know for a fact that Hamza
was one of those same thinking people who not only understood the world, but
sought to change it as well; and in doing so, he has joined many other
distinguished (and dissenting) Pakistanis like the late Eqbal Ahmad, Feroz
Ahmed, Dr Fazlur Rahman, Tariq Ali, Akhtar Hameed Khan, Dr Abdus Salam,
K.K.Aziz, Faiz and Saadat Hasan Manto, whom the world honored and applauded
while our ungrateful government ignored, discouraged, and persecuted.The
death of this scholar par excellence has left a void which will be very
difficult to fill, and the younger generation (including myself) grieves



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