The last time I met Dr Hafiz GA Siddiqi was at a seminar or a conference. VC Sir, as many of us still refer to him, was surrounded by crowds of his former students, ranging between the ages of 27 and 50. Everyone was trying to shake hands with him, take selfies or simply talk to him—it was like trying to reach out to a super star! He remembered all his students. “Do you still take photographs?” he asked a gentleman in his 40s, who was probably seen around campus carrying a camera with lenses of all sizes and shapes. “I saw you sing on TV the other day!” he told me excitedly. “But please never stop writing. I like reading your articles.”
Soft-spoken, always smiling, and a lot of fun—this is how many of us still remember Dr Siddiqi. A passionate educator, a powerful mentor and immensely popular amongst students, Dr Siddiqi breathed his last on May 22 at 3:30pm, at the United Hospital in Gulshan 2. He was admitted to the hospital two weeks ago for complications related to old age. He is now resting at the Banani graveyard.
Born in the 1930s in Hazaribagh, Dr Siddiqi earned the title of Hafiz because he memorised the Holy Quran, and that too at a very young age. He would tell us the story of how he had decided to memorise the Quran when he was a mere student of class 4. He used to be an excellent student and would always win government scholarships at school. After finishing class 4, he decided that he would memorise the Holy Quran, which meant dropping out from regular school. It was four years before Dr Siddiqi went back to regular school.
Dr Siddiqi's contribution to education in Bangladesh has been immense. He was a professor at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA). After teaching in the US for a while, he returned to Bangladesh to join North South University, the first private university to be established in the country, in the early 90s. As a pro-VC and VC, Dr Siddiqi contributed immensely to NSU, thus establishing it as one of the leading private universities in Bangladesh. The professor had also joined Brac University as Professor Emeritus.
Dr Siddiqi would often talk to us about practising tolerance. We should be able to accept the different, respect all religions, try out new food, and learn new cultures and languages, he would say, while mentioning how his family was a multi-cultural one and he had so much to learn every day.
VC Sir would always make an effort to keep in touch with his students, no matter where they would be. “Send me an email,” he would say. As I think about him and say a small prayer, I can't help going through the last few email exchanges that we had. In the last email conversation that we had a year back, he wrote to me about how happy he was to be in touch. He asked about the group from my batch at North South University, who were popular because of the events they would organise and also the performances they would showcase. A contributing columnist for the paper, he had also written about how he was too weak to write for The Daily Star. “I could not write for DS. In a sense, I am out of circulation!” was what he wrote. “However, I have completed a book which has been published just today. The title of the book is Private Universities in Bangladesh: The Dynamics of Higher Education. Today I am very happy.”
In a nutshell, Dr Hafiz GA Siddiqi was a father figure to many of us. He would often joke about his age and how he was actually older on paper but looked way younger! VC Sir had a way of winning over the hearts of young people and was very proud of his students.
In an interview with The Daily Star, he had said, “Most of my students are doing very well—in finance, education, even in writing. As I always say, half of this country is run by my students! What do I have to worry about?”
Farewell to a mentor. Here's to the end of an era.
Elita Karim is Editor, Arts & Entertainment and Star Youth. She tweets @elitakarim.