Prof. Shakeel Samdani–why were you in such a hurry?

Mohammed Wajihuddin
Mohammed Wajihuddin

The meeting was at the common room which we used mostly to watch the weekly Chitrahar on the Television set and occasionally to host important guests. But that evening the VC wanted to address the hostel residents to quell a rumour about a change in admission policy. A few agitated students tried to heckle the VC. Before the bedlam could turn into a serious law and order problem, a tall, healthy, young man, in jeans and black T-shirt, his thick hair bouncing, stood up and began pacifying the agitated students. The cacophony turned into silence and the VC removed all the doubts, explaining that there was no change in the admission policy and that students should not get misled by rumours.

The well-built boy who had taken the lead to pacify students was Shakeel Samdani. He later went on to do law, become a professor and Dean, Faculty of Law, at AMU. Alas, he too succumbed to Covid complications on Saturday.

Shakeel bhai, as I would call him, was a forceful speaker, a raconteur of stories and an activist–scholar committed to community cause. He crisscrossed the country, speaking at jalsas, massive meets or even small gatherings. Without throwing his weight around or pretending to be very busy, he was accessible to everyone who sought him. The last time I met him at Prof Shafey Kidwai’s son’s wedding reception at Aligarh in February this year, he was at his usual charming mood. Cracking jokes, laughing loudly, he would not bore you. “Why didn’t you inform me that you were coming to Aligarh? I would have invited you to my department,” he complained. I apologized, promising to inform him in advance next time I was there. That meeting with him has been permanently postponed.

Once I put him in a little trouble. He was in Mumbai at the invitation of a Muslim organization. The meeting was held at Alma Latifi Hall of Saboo Siddiq Engineering College near Nagpada. Salman Rushdie was in town and some Muslims were protesting his presence in the city. Senior advocate Yusuf Muchchalla, in his address at the meeting, suggested Muslims hold dialogue with Salman Rushdie instead of holding protests against him. Shakeel Samdani didn’t mention Rushdie in his speech but told me later that he agreed a dialogue with Rushdie was not a bad idea.

In the report that I filed for the paper the impression went that as if Shakeel Samdani too had said that he wanted dialogue with Rushdie. The organisers of the meeting were livid and spoke to the editor, alleging fabrication. The only thing wrong in the report was that Shakeel Samdani had not used the words which went as part of his quote in his speech but he had said it in a conversation with me. Some members of the Muslim Personal Law Board called up senior advocate Muchchalla sahab too. But, being an honest and honourable man, he didn’t deny that he had made that statement. He didn’t complain.

Next day we carried a small clarification, saying Shakeel Samdani didn’t use the statement in his speech but had said it after the speech. The issue was settled and we remained good friends.

Once he visited my building complex in Mira Road, a far off Mumbai suburb, to meet a relative. I had accompanied him from Churchgate to Mira Road in the local train. Since it was Sunday, the first class compartment was almost empty. He was not happy that I bought the expensive first class ticket for him. I already had my monthly pass for the train journey. Since he was not used to travel in Mumbai’s locals, I didn’t want him to get crushed in the second class compartment at the rush hour. And it would have also spoiled his expensive suits that he wore for the evening.

Maulana Obaidullah Qasmi, then imam of a local mosque, saw him in the area later in the evening and invited him to his mosque. Without hesitating, he went to the mosque and met and chatted with a group of people waiting for him. Even Maulana Qasmi is shocked and devastated at Shakeel Bhai’s death.

The other day I spoke to his son Abdullah who told me Shakeel bhai had recovered from Covid but was critical due to the damage to other organs Covid had done. He lost the battle. My condolences to Abdullah, his siblings and their mother. My heart sinks when I think of the enormity of the tragedy that has struck them. Why were you in such a hurry, Shakeel bhai?

Such is life. Transient, ephemeral, unpredictable. Love your dear ones. Learn to love humanity. Don’t make enemies. Make friends. Your virtues will go with you. The arrogance that you show to fellow human beings is your weakness. No human is a “termite” on this earth. We all are children of one God. Your so-called power is a veneer for the fragile entity that you are. Your ego gets burst as you go down under tons of soil or the hungry flames at the pyre consume you.

Zameen kha gaee Aasmaan kaise kaise (The earth has swallowed many giants)

Mohammed Wajihuddin, a senior journalist, is associated with The Times of India, Mumbai. This piece has been picked up from his blog