A Gem Too Rare
A Tribute to Bilal Jamaee
My friend Tehmina broke the news to me. Her message, ‘Bilal Jamaee was in the plane that crashed in Islamabad’, arrived at around 11:30 am. In the next half an hour I got messages from almost everybody I know in the department. The moment I read Temmy’s message, my mind went numb. I instantly reeled back to recall the moment I saw Bilal for the last time. I don’t remember the exact moment: it could be a friendly nod I exchanged with him while climbing the stairs near Abdul Bhai’s canteen; it could be in front of the sink in men’s washroom while daubing my hair with water, looking in the mirror, that I said ‘hello’ to him; or it could be on one of those ‘loitering periods’ nosing around aimlessly in our Colosseum-esque department that I stole a glance of him for the last time. I don’t remember. And there is a reason why.
Unlike Ahsan Bhai or Hina Baji, Bilal Jamaee was not a regular face in the department. He was seldom present but he was no less popular. His forays into various extra-circular activities, notably his association with the prestigious Youth Parliament of Pakistan, always kept him afloat in the news. The department’s notice board often exhibited news clippings about him and most of his juniors like me knew him only through those pictures and the news bites about his triumph-spree.
Like everybody else who knew Bilal, the news of his death knocked me out. In my head, I struggled to gather the numerous brief encounters I had with him.
I remember the first time I saw him was in one of our magazine meetings. It was in the Magroom. We were about twelve people sitting casually all over the small place, having a chatty brainstorming session about our upcoming issue, loudly throwing and responding to ideas. I noticed a vaguely familiar young man sitting at a corner with his hands clasped, eyes gazing at the floor, indifferent to the noise around him. He was dressed modestly to the extent of being unfashionable, his I.D card drooping at chest level. He looked poised- untroubled yet concerned. Since he was not a regular participant in our meetings, he acquired a guest-like stature, when he spoke, the room went silent.
The moment he spoke, I was struck by his utter eloquence. Everybody in the room was speaking in Urdu, or at least that’s what we liked to believe, but when Bilal began, all our voices cowed down. I was taken in by his command over language and the firm, scholarly grace with which he delivered his words. He had the air of a veritable philosopher who was lost deep in the realm of ideas. But he was never like the worn-out, unwashed-type pseudo-intellectuals we often find these days. On the contrary, his innocent face belies the head it carries. Whenever he accustomed people he would present himself with a humble smile that never gave them the faintest idea that he is one of the best debaters the country has, or he’s someone who’s been critically acknowledged as a literary prodigy and served as the general secretary of ‘Bazm-i-Adab’ of Karachi University.
Bilal’s premature death has doubtless shattered his immediate family and friends, but I dare say we didn’t fully realize the enormity of the loss. A glance at his roster of achievements at a young age of twenty-three amply tells us what he could have done for this country. He was gifted. He possesed all the qualities a society expects from a future leader. Unlike most of us, he was one of those who had the will and certainly the ability to ‘payback’ to his country. A poet and thinker, always in the thick of ideas, Bilal was living in the shadows of obscurity as this ‘budding’ stage of his student life demanded. He was waiting to burst into the national scene and take on the real world after completing his education. But his promising story ended too early. Bilal’s sudden departure is nothing but another painful testimony to Pakistan’s present spell of hard luck.

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  1. >i never talked to him much. when i did it was mostly regarding the magazine, but his humility always left me smiling. he talked sense when he did. an intellectual of the true sort. rest in peace:)

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