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Monday, December 5, 2022

After the demise of my father – Prof. Dr. Mughees Uddin Sheikh

Amongst the very first things I realized after the demise of my father was that except for this pain all other sadness in my life was self-inflicted. This was the first real grief that Allah gave me and all others I gave myself. Suddenly everything scaled down to its original size. No doubt, there’s no grief, no loss bigger than of a father and that too of a person like him.

A lot is left to be said after the demise of my father Prof. Dr. Mughees Uddin Sheikh.

One of my earliest memories is, me standing elbow high to my father. He was holding my hand and was trying to convince a group of friends that he will go back to Pakistan no matter what. We were in the US. And this was Mughees sb’s farewell party after he completed his Ph.D. It was happening at the Islamic Centre of Iowa City, and these were influential Muslims living in the US.

Mughees sb didn’t flinch for a second, kept firm, kept smiling. “This scholarship was given to me because I’m a Pakistani, this is a debt I need to return to the students of Pakistan,” Mughees sb said. They kept telling him ways of staying back in the US, Mughees sb kept smiling. He became one of the very few scholars of Pakistan who left Pakistan for further studies and made it back.

Later this man ended up reforming the entire scope of journalism to Mass Communication in Pakistan. Introducing 4-year program, new courses, updating the entire curriculum, and revitalizing Ph.D. He went up to the extent of making 4 institutes, at  4 different universities, one by one in his short-lived life of 69 years.

Mughees sb graduating.

He surely knew how to keep his promises. But this wasn’t the only one.

Mughees sb was born in Dharampura, Lahore. For the people who know Lahore, know that it was one of the earliest urban centres out of the walled city along the majestic Lahore canal. A low socioeconomic area with a thick population.

Mughees sb was youngest of three brothers, Qamar Uddin, Rais Uddin, and Mughees Uddin. He was raised an orphan. My Taya (Paternal Uncle) used to tell us that when his father (my grandfather) passed away, he was 12, younger Taya (Paternal Uncle) was 7 and Mughees was 3 years old only. My elder Taya used to tell us that at his father’s funeral people would come home and would show less grief of the death but more concern for children while pointing towards Mughees saying ‘don’t know what will happen to these kids now’.

L to R Qamar Uddin, Mughees Uddin, and Rais Uddin.

My Taya who passed away two years before Mughees sb had this image imprinted in his memory forever. People picking Mughees hugging him and putting him down with regret. Qamar Taya said that day he had promised himself that he would do whatever it took to make their family’s life better. He started working at a very young age, side kicking with his mother (my grandmother), Begum Akhtar Jahan.

Just like Mughees sb, my grandmother Akhtar Jahan was a high-spirited, well disciplined, and very strong person. This widow was given charge of feeding, raising, and looking over 3 young boys without a father. She was a strict mother, perhaps circumstances brought her to this verge, but what an inning she played as well.

My grandmother Begum Akhtar Jehan with my mother Samina Mughees, just days after Mughees sb’s marriage.

The same people pitying this family on the death of the father after 20 years would take pride in pointing towards this corner house in Dharampura, saying this is the only house in the area who’s all children are going to universities.

To us, Begum Akhtar Jahan was a jolly playful grandmother, someone who we loved hanging around with.

My grandfather, Zaheer Uddin, was an employee in the railways before the partition. Zaheer Uddin and Begum Akhatar Jahan migrated from India. And my parents were the first generation Urdu Speaking ‘Punjabi’ Pakistanis as both of their parents were immigrants but they were born and raised in Lahore.

Begum Akhtar Jahan was born in Bareli, UP, India, and my grandfather was from District Badayou, UP. Both my grandparents from both sides, maternal and paternal, migrated to Pakistan on the call of Quaid-e-Azam in 1947 leaving most of their belongings and family behind.

Begum Akhtar Jahan sew Shalwar Qameez and taught Quran to kids to run the household. I personally believe that it is this generation that was politically active and very surgical ideologically even without formal education.

Begum Akhtar Jahan took a keen interest in politics even in her last days. It was this activism and life-long hard work that was translated further into her sons. As her sons grew older her house became offices of 2 student union parties. One with each of the two younger sons.

Mughees sb’s childhood friend Qari Mohsineen from Dharampura when came for condolences told me things I never knew about Mughees sb.
He said Mughees was the most active kid on the block – ‘Main Bazaar  Dharampura.’ A very vibrant lane of Dharampura. It was never a dead neighbourhood and I assume to compete to be an activist in that area would not be easy.

Prof sb used to play cricket, was a national level debater, had formal education of Qirat and calligraphy and loved conducting events since a very young age.

Mughees sb with legendary poet Munir Niazi.

Muhsinheen Uncle who was a few years older than Mughees sb told me that Mughees would be in class 8 and be arranging events like cricket tournaments, debating competitions, 14 August, 23 March, Eid Milaads, Iqbal day and Quaid-e-Azam day in the lane they lived in.

Decades later, while the PU was just raising funds for the Kashmir 2005 earthquake, that same young spirit residing inside Mughees sb was leading his Institute of Communication Studies on the mountains of Muzaffarabad to set up a make-shift radio station for directionless people hit with the deadliest earthquake in Pakistan’s history. This project went on to win the UN award for the institution.

Institute of Communication Studies getting ready to put up radio station for earthquake affectees, with VC of that time, Gen Arshad.

Mughees sb was very young when he lost his father, so he did not in actuality meet the grief of losing a father ever in his life (he left that for me). So, in that dark compartment of his heart, he kept the pain of Dhaka Fall safe with him, all his life. This was the extent of the scar that Dhaka Fall had on Mughees sb.

He would often quote an incident in which he asked his teacher why she was crying, she would say to him that Dhaka has fallen, ‘would there be any other day to cry?’ I always used to think that my generation would be a different generation had we witnessed any part of Pakistan detaching in our lifetime. Maybe it was this reason he was very emotional when it came to Pakistan.

Mughees sb with a delegation of international professors at Wagha Border.

I along with my sister Ayesha were very young when we moved to the US when Mughees sb was doing his Ph.D. We were so young that we don’t remember when we got there. In the US we were raised in a very different manner, now I realise. It was because of Mughees sb and constant support of his wife, our lion heart mother Samina Mughees. (it takes a mad woman to run alongside a mad man)

We were proud Pakistani Muslims. We liked showing off our culture. We were proud of everything about Pakistan. To us, going back to Pakistan was our biggest dream. To others, staying back in the US was theirs. I remember, I along with my siblings could not sleep the night before we were coming back to Pakistan. Such was the excitement.

Mughees sb with his youngest. Aqsa Mughees.

All because of the way we were raised, all because of Mr and Mrs Mughees.

Mughees sb rejected all citizenship offers and brought us back. He also got offers from Europe and Malaysia, but we came back to Pakistan. This was a big deal back in the 90s, because any scholar who went to study had never come back, what a son of soil he was.

After we came back, we moved to PU warden house hall no 17. We spent around 20 years in that house. During this period, Mughees sb became the Chairman of the Mass comm department, then Chairman Hall Council, then Director Institute of Communication studies, and then the Dean of Human Social Behavioural Sciences.

During this span of around 25 years, I could count on my fingers the times I went to any of Mughees sb’s offices. Far from using his office for a personal favour, I was not allowed to enter there. I was discouraged.

Mughees sb did not allow me to go to any of PU events either, although children of other colleagues would accompany their fathers. I was not allowed. With all these responsibilities came free telephones, and vehicles by government. Mughees sb didn’t allow any official phone at his house saying what will we do when we no longer have this facility. We just had one number and it was a private number.

Mughees sb when was announced as a Dean, he was provided with another official vehicle (cultus). It was brand new. The driver which came along with the car brought Mithai and was distributing them in our garage when I came out. I was in class 8-9. The drivers gave me some sweets too. I was eating the Mithai when Mughees sb came out to go to work. He looked at me and asked me what was in my mouth I told him Mithai, he asked me why, I just pointed towards the new car. He said, “all this is temporary, this car, this house, these people all will be gone one day.” He said this in front of his entire admin staff. He went to work on the same car while I was left there with my mouth open and filled with mithai and other drivers consoling me.

Mughees sb would pay for petrol per kilometre of his unofficial travelling. The admin staff would be baffled. Breaking all old traditions, he paid double the rent after retirement from the same house he lived in for around 20 years. He paid rent for two years and was proud of it.

Mughees sb with VC PU Prof. Dr. Munirud  Din Chughtai (April 1989)

He had never applied for any extension at any posts despite being the best on all assignments by far (I had never spoken up for Mughees sb, because he never let us, but he is not here to stop me now). As I was saying, he was the best by far and by far, I mean lightyears away.

The brown boards with names of all heads of depts. is echoing evidence. The dates on the brown boards can be coordinated with development work done, you will find Mughees sb everywhere. Its very safe to say that his predecessors and successors of the mass communication dept PU, combined couldn’t produce as much as Mughees sb did.

He was very professional, and very resolute. But being professional and dedicated in a third world country comes with a price.

Imagine receiving ‘kafan’ (cloth used to wrap dead bodies) with names of your children on them. Imagine your own child bringing the package to you. Imagine you receiving death threats getting targeted with smear campaigns and litigations only after leaving so many opportunities. A person who tries to instill balance, or tries to advance the system is met with attacks from both sides, right and left.

Mughees sb’s story is no different from any determined Pakistani giving up so many things only to face the wrath of the system. But during all this time he was so fearlessly honest that politically correct people would not like it. He lived like a legend.

COVID lockdown and his last days

For the ones who knew Mughees sb, know that it was not easy to stop him from going anywhere, he was a free soul. He was a very social person. He used to eat out at least thrice a week on his good days. With his family and friends. He lived a very vibrant life. Usually, when we used to travel back from the north, he would have a good lunch on the motorway and ask me to drop him straight to work. This had always boggled my mind. 
Saiful Malook 2001.

Like other people his age, the lockdown squeezed all the colours from his life. More than the economic crunch, it was this social disconnection that withered most of our loved ones in that time.

I remember asking mom about the funny noise in Mughees sb’s cough when it appeared for the first time. Something inside me said that this was not good. Mughees sb, was hard to contain at home. He had gone to work just a day ago. Though whenever Mughees sb went out, he was profoundly serious about social distancing, masks, and all the SOPs.

I took Mughees sb to the Shaukat Khanam COVID testing drive-through. And I remember receiving the result two days later which was positive. I called Ammi and my two sisters from their rooms and showed them the result. They were shocked. Mughees sb was the one who was following strict SOPs. To be honest I was worried more about our bedridden Naani (Maternal grandmother) who was at that time living with us. She was in her 90s.

When everyone went to his room, he knew that he was positive. But showed no concern. In fact, he sat up and became more active. He continued to take his classes with COVID-19 and was roaming free in his room.

Hijazi sb, Mughees sb and Ahsan Akhtar Naz sb. All have been heads of the media dept. PU at their times.

Mughees sb was at home for the first week after he got positive. I moved to his room and stayed with him for a week. Without masking, eating with him, sleeping with him. I got myself evaluated too, I was negative, and I stayed negative throughout. It was like a design, Allah choosing him out of so many of us in the house.

Mughees sb was taking his classes, doing meetings, and running his office from his room while he was COVID positive. He was getting better at virtual classrooms and meetings. I was incredibly positive by Mughees sb’s spirit that he would make it. There was just one thing. His oxygen usage was constantly increasing. First, we brought one small cylinder. It worked perfectly. But just in two days, we brought another cylinder, this was a bigger one. There came days when Mughees sb would exhaust both.

Mughees sb’s friend who was a professor at KE, and who we were in contact with throughout, suggested we start looking for a bed in a hospital because there was a grave shortage and that Mughees sb would soon need more oxygen per day. I called a few places, he was right. All were full.  This is where I trembled for the first time. I sat down with a phone line, and I remember dialling around fifty clinics, there were no beds anywhere. This was June 2020, and we did not know but we were looking straight in the eye of the massive first wave of COVID which would take so many of our gems.

After making few phone calls I managed to book a bed at Doctor’s Hospital. In fact, they called me at 2 am in the morning saying that there was a bed available and if we wanted to move our patient there. I talked to Ammi and sisters and decided to move Mughees sb there. I could never forget Mughees sb getting ready to go to the hospital that night.

I went to Mughees sb and asked him to get ready, told him that we found a bed just across the canal. Mughees sb said okay, he did the same drill he used to do when he went out, but who knew this would be the last time. He was so graceful even when he knew Ammi and others were secretly crying outside.

He sat up, took his pocket hair comb, brushed his hair from behind and then top like he used to. Adjusted his spectacles like he used to, stood up and went to the bathroom. He came back in a fresh pair of shalwar kameez, cladded his favourite informal coat and walked to his full-length mirror, put some cologne on. Sat at his place, put his shoes on, turned to me and said let’s go? I said yes.

This would be the last time my sisters and Ammi would see Mughees sb. Mughees sb was so sophisticatedly put together even at this moment too. He met everyone, Ammi, my sisters whose faces were telling they had been crying and my brother-in-law. This was such an intense moment. But Mughees sb kept it so elegant, so smooth. He met everyone with a smile and walked on like a knight returning to his lord after a long, long battle but with immense pride. I would never forget that walk, his perfume, and the clothes he wore that night. This was Mughees sb leaving his house for the final time.

The first two days at the hospital were really good. Mughees sb showed a lot of improvement. He was also getting oxygen as much as he wanted. He was in quarantine, I could not meet him, but I could see him through a camera and talked to him on the phone. After one day, we hired a personal male nurse for Mughees sb to take care of him inside. After his third night in the hospital his COVID suddenly spread more than usual, this is where things took a turn.

As soon as the news of Mughees sb being moved to the ventilator hit the internet, my phone was flushed with calls. Calls from country dial codes that I had never seen before, by people who I had never heard of, trying to explain to me how they knew Mughees sb, asking how he was. And It was the other way around. They were the ones crying and I was the one consoling them. I had never seen so many men cry. Their reaction got me thinking that they were in contact with the hospital admin and knew something I did not know. Sarwar Munir Rao sb ex-director PTV Islamabad, went up to the extent of making me recite Darud and other verses of Holy Quran over the phone a night before Mughees sb passed away.

I had never lost a shred of hope during these days at the hospital, but these calls had started shaking me now.

The way these people were cross questioning me, Mughees sb had a personal relation with all these people. Like I was incharge of their property. Just in a few hours I had received so many calls that something inside of me started saying that I would not be able to give all these messages to Mughees sb now.

And then that day came. 24th of June 2020. It was 7 in the morning when we received the call from the hospital office about a heart problem and then after 15 minutes they confirmed his passing away. 
STC in 1980’s.

During the first waves the lockdown and restrictions were detailed and very fierce. There were restrictions on gatherings, funerals, and funeral prayers, on taking the body home and so many other things. With all this in mind I and my brother-in-law Zaryab Farooqi were running up and down the stairs of Doctors Hospital going through the clearance process.

One of my cousins had updated his Facebook with news of Mughees sb’s passing away. After that, I started receiving calls from reporters who were trying to confirm it. I was avoiding confirming because of so many things. But I did confirm it to Channel 24 who broke the news at around 9 am in the morning.

‘A Man before His Time’ – PU pays tribute to Prof Dr Mughees uddin Sheikh on first death anniversary

Salman Ghani was amongst the first ones to have called me after the news was aired. He was in disbelief. He gathered himself and told me that Punjab Govt had just relaxed restrictions of funerals a day before. And wanted to know what our plan was, I said we would like to conduct the funeral if it has been allowed.

Mughees sb, often talked to me about his death. He used to tell me what to do, who to call and told me where he wanted to be buried. He used to talk about his death when he was at his prime when he was at the PU. He used to say death is an undeniable truth when I used to stop him from saying such things. He liked keeping it honest.

L to R Prof. Dr Niaz Akhtar, Mughees sb, Gen Asrhad (VCPU), Col Masud(1999)

He told me to first call and inform the Institute of Communication Studies, a place to which he dedicated most of his life. He told me to call his neighbours and friends of Dharampura, from where this man took off. He told me to bury him in the PU graveyard. I tried doing everything I was told.

Mughees sb’s janaza was conducted on the new campus University of Punjab which was led by the VC himself Prof. Dr Niaz. Here I would like to thank Mughees sb’s colleagues, friends and students who stood with Mughees sb in death of a difficult circumstance.
Aqsa Mughees, my sister and my brother-in-law Zaryab Farooqi, Salman Ghani, Irshad Arif, Dr Aslam Dogar, Dr Nadeem Gilani, Taseer Mustafa, Sami Uzair, Liaqat Baloch, Sajjad Mir, Mujeebur Rehman Shaami, his relatives and countless students, were there for him. It was during this time that families were not letting seniors out of the house, despite this, so many people made it to the funeral.

Professor sb was a promise, a pledge, an oath guarded sacredly. He was a true soul and took pride in everything he did. 

He enjoyed a status of a mythical character in the lives of many. I wondered why. His demise unveiled why. His family never knew he was financially supporting so many of his students to this extent. We read about this in columns published after his death. This was something far away from public eye, not even his family knew.

Maybe Mughees sb saw himself in every potential student roaming around in that department of the PU. He used to say that money should not come in the way of a potential student, the family just didn’t know how serious he was.

The family was so moved that we have opened a fund in his name to help students achieve their goals just like Mughees sb wanted.

What’s the difference between a teacher and an Ustaad? A teacher prepares you for an exam. An Ustaad prepares you for life.

Being a 3rd generation teacher, I know that an Ustaad is a dying concept in today’s corporate world. In today’s world neither the students like teachers preparing them for life nor the teachers prefer going out of the way for their students.

Prof sb was an internationally acclaimed ‘Ustaad’ or ‘Ustaadon kay Ustaad’ – as the media called him. Indeed, to Allah we belong and to Allah we shall return.


Ali TM
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Ali TM
Ali TM
Ali TM is a Pakistani journalist, writer and an academician. He has reported and edited for various English print media organizations. Currently he is the Editor in Chief of www.othernews.pk.
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  1. Mashallah. What a man ! What a contribution ! What a sacrifise ! What a nationalist ! I am left speechless. Indeed Pakistan inherited people like Honorable Mughis Sb and many other silent mujahids who actually contributed towards nation building.
    May Allah bless his soul and grant him the choicest of His blessings. Indeed the ones who live for the people never die in sequestration the nation stands with them.


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