By Dr Syed Amir
Bethesda , MD
He was one of the foremost bankers and economists in Pakistan, but it was difficult to tell from his unpretentious ways and unassuming demeanor. Syed Iradat Husain died almost a year ago in Karachi, having followed a spectacular career path which saw him rise from an ordinary government servant to President of the Muslim Commercial Bank, Chairman of the Bank of Oman, Dubai, and the founding member of the Modarba Association of Pakistan.
His life story is significant since it mirrors the trials and tribulations of that pioneering generation that came to Pakistan in the wake of Partition, with little or nothing, except an indomitable spirit and singular devotion to help ensure the survival of the fledgling country.
Besides his professional activities, Iradat Husain was involved in a variety of social and charitable organizations, serving as the president of the Karachi Boat Club, and a member of the Karachi Rotary Club. Many social and charitable organizations in Pakistan approached him to serve in some honorary capacity on their governing bodies. He mostly obliged, as he knew that even his symbolic association would promote social welfare causes in Pakistan. For the mere appearance of his name on an organizational brochure would lend legitimacy to it.
Iradat Husain was my first cousin, but I always regarded him as my older brother. He came from a small, obscure town, Sahaswan, in Uttar Pradesh. All his successes in life came by virtue of his personal integrity, professional skill and an uncommon ability to exude warmth and sincerity. Otherwise, he had inherited no family fortune, political influence or any other similar advantages; just the opposite. His father, a police officer, died when he was still a child and some years later, his mother also passed away, leaving him and his younger sister orphans.
After graduation and before independence, Iradat Bhai secured a job as a tobacco inspector. It was not a high-paying position, but very much sought after as it had potential for generating high income. The inspectors had the sole authority to assess the quantum of taxes on tobacco crops. However, in exchange for making inordinately low tax assessments, they could receive large sums of money from farmers. Most routinely did that. However, Iradat Bhai never made any money besides his meager Government salary. It never occurred to him that accepting money as bribery was an option. He was a religious man, but his religious devotion did not end at offering prayers and fasting, it found sublime expression in a personal conduct grounded in honesty and a compulsive desire to help others.
In a few years, as the independence arrived, life was soon to take a turn for the better for him. When asked to make a choice, he opted for service in Pakistan. He was posted in a small town in Jacobabad, Sindh. The summer heat was unbearable, the town dusty, living conditions harsh and, worse yet, there was nothing to do as the region did not grow tobacco. Frustrated, he resigned and headed for Karachi where his family and friends had settled. Government and business offices had not yet been established and Karachi, although peaceful, was largely in a state of disarray.
In his quest for a new job, one day he stumbled into the office of the National Bank of India, a Scottish bank that later changed its name to National and Grindlay's Bank. There, fortuitously, he saw the British manager, a high-ranking position in those days. The manager was apologetic that they did not have any openings suitable for him. However, the meeting ended on a note of optimism. They were waiting for permission from their London office, the manager remarked, to select a few young Pakistanis for higher training in England. He advised Iradat Bhai to leave his application behind, just in case. On the face of it, there was only a slim chance that the proposition would ever materialize, but, miraculously, it did, and Iradat Bhai was selected and sent for training.
Some six decades later, it is hard to visualize how prestigious it was in those days to be sent to England for education or training. Only few from the subcontinent ever traveled aboard and the wave of mass emigration was still a long way in the future. It is paradoxical that at the height of the Raj, while the conduct of the British in India was often egregious, Indian visitors to England were generally treated well. Especially, students from the subcontinent were considered an elite, privileged group. Iradat Bhai spent three years in London in the early fifties, receiving training in banking, and financial management.
On his return, he was posted as a senior officer at the bank's Chittagong branch in the former East Pakistan. He returned to Karachi as the manager of the National and Grindlay's Bank in the mid-sixties. From then on his professional success was rapid and impressive; he rose to become the Executive Vice President of United Bank and, soon thereafter, the President of the Muslim Commercial Bank, following the Bank's nationalization by the Bhutto Government. A few years later, he was approached by the Middle East Bank, and moved to Dubai to head their operations.
Finally, after a decade-and-half stay in Dubai, he returned to Karachi to settle in the house he and his wife had designed and built with much love. Although technically retired, his life in Karachi opened up a whole vista of new opportunities. He got involved in a range of cultural, religious and charitable activities.
All his life, even when he was heading major financial institutions, Iradat Bhai had unfailingly stayed in close touch with his family and friends scattered around the world. Often, he was the only source of family news to those of us living abroad. Perhaps, the noblest facet of his personality unfolded when his wife, Khalida Hasan - a cousin of his and mine and a highly educated and cultivated lady- whom he had loved all his life, progressively became disabled through botched surgeries and strokes.
For several years, although paid help was at hand, he insisted on personally taking care of her needs, administrating her medicines and ensuring that she fully participated in all family functions. On my last visit to Karachi, some two-and-a-half years ago, Khalida Apa, was hospitalized with what turned out to be her final illness. Every time, I went to visit her, he was sitting outside her room on an ordinary wooden bench in order to be close to her during her final days.
Iradat Bhai was in his eighties at the time of his death in 2009, and had for some years suffered from a constellation of degenerative diseases associated with the aging process. As long as Khalida Apa lived, he felt a strong motivation to fight and overcome his infirmities. However, after her departure, he seemed to have lost much zest to live, as if his mission in this world was over. In little over a year, he was gone as well. (To God we belong, and to Him we shall return, The Qur’an; 2:156)