Prof Dr Syed Wadal Shah: A Name of Untiring Struggle
Prof Dr. Syed Wadal Shah’s short but remarkable life very well justifies the quote by Johann Wolfgang Von Geothe, “Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it”. Born in 1939, a time when resources and facilities in a third world country like Pakistan were very few, no one knew that this little child born to a poor family in a village of Amin Lakho, Pakistan would blossom into a pioneer of Science. Let alone education, the financial conditions made it very difficult for the family to even eat three times a day. Sometimes he and his siblings slept hungry. In these conditions of his early life, one could have never imagined about little Wadal Shah, he would be a renowned professor and will be remembered by thousands of people. Even though, he bore the loss of his father at an early age of five, he grew up to be a man of wisdom, blended with sincerity, passion, and strong determination to serve his nation. Much credit goes to his uncle and family guardian Syed Khan Muhammad; a pious and wise man, (inspired by religious Rashidi family of nearby Pir Jhando village and had established close acquaintance,) who gave utmost importance to education and therefore encouraged the youth especially his nephews to acquire education. Syed Muhammad Saleh Shah (Dr.Wadal Shah’s eldest brother who later completed doctorate in his mother tongue; Sindhi and authored various textbooks and literature book in Sindhi) and Syed Lal Shah ( who later got married to Dr. Wadal Shah’s sister and became his brother in law) were first to complete eight classes (than Final Pass) and were appointed as primary teachers. This was the beginning of a new journey of Syed family of Amin Lakho. The goat shepherd child, Wadal Shah was admitted in primary school Amin Lakho, where Syed Lal Shah was his primary teacher.
If personality is upright, only a tiny spark can be a candle in the dark. In his early age, Wadal Shah was determined to achieve the true objective of life. As a student he was intelligent and hardworking. He never gave up and continued for what he wanted to achieve even with meager financial resources. With intelligence and the right attitude towards his work, he earned respect among teachers and students. His charismatic personality made him a leader in high school. Even students older than him used to seek help from him in different subjects. His academic career was full of achievements. He secured gold and silver medals. Dr. Shah got into a medical college but was harshly disqualified due to his hearing problem nevertheless that incident never discouraged him and resolved to work even harder. Dr Muhammad Ismail Ursani a famous educationist and author, writes in an article about Dr Wadal Shah, “He was very intelligent student and during his university education, one of his examiners wrote on his answer copy, ‘student is more knowledgeable than examiner’”. His academic achievements are all attributed to his hard work, determination and God gifted abilities. He never used cot and pillow while reading books as his friends famously quote him saying, “The comfort of cot and pillow would hamper my studies”.
Syed Wadal Shah started his professional career as a junior lecturer in University of Sindh after the completion of masters with gold medal. In a few years, he secured PhD scholarship from Imperial College, University of London. Securing a scholarship to one of the world’s best university at that time was an achievement of its own. In sixties there were hardly any people in the country who went to further their education in foreign especially in the field of chemistry. With his efforts, he produced great work and completed his PhD before scheduled time.
Dr. Wadal Shah, on his return, was appointed as a lecturer in Engineering College, University of Sindh. Engineering College was in its infancy in those days with acute shortage of qualified teachers. His joining in College was blissful and supportive. He was highly motivated to gain knowledge and transfer it back to his student. With his visionary approach and administration’s confidence in him, he successfully established the first chemistry laboratory in College. His thirst for knowledge secured him another one year research scholarship from University of Tokyo, Japan. He was married just a week before his scheduled departure to Japan but with the consent of his newly married wife and other family members he left for Japan. This showed his commitment with profession and desire to do something for University of Sindh in particular and for the nation’s education system in general. After successful completion of research work in chemical engineering he returned to motherland. This was not the end of his journey for knowledge and education. He secured funding for one year post doctorate research from government of Norway which he successfully completed.
Now it was time to pay back to his nation. With his untiring efforts he encouraged and enrolled 5 students for PhD research. For the first time in history of the University, 5 students completed their PhD research within 3 years stipulated time. He worked day and night in supervising the research and thesis writing of the students. He prepared research proposals and succeeded in seeking funds from Pakistan Science Foundation and National Science foundation of America. He enrolled another 11 students for PhD research. Simultaneously, he wrote and published 6 research papers, six books on science in Sindhi language, composed English to Sindhi scientific dictionary (unpublished), published various articles in magazines and newspapers, delivered radio talks on Radio Pakistan, organized international science conferences particularly Nawabshah conference, worked as editor of first Monthly Science Magazine in Sindhi and rendered services for Sindh University employees colony. Despite his commitment to his work, he proved to be an obedient son, loving husband, caring father, reliable brother, ideal teacher, companion of friends and a social developer.
Prof Dr Syed Wadal Shah, while supervising 11 PhD students felt necessary to analyze the natural product samples in advanced chemistry lab for which he requested the Norwegian university to provide the research facilities and was allowed. He worked day and night to complete his research on samples within 3 months’ time. He succeeded in completing research and was ready to return back but unfortunately was found lying dead on the floor in his room on 16 December 1975. Alas, he lived a short life and his mission was incomplete. He was buried by thousands of mourning eyes in this native village Amin Lakho.
His friends and student regard him as legendary son of Sindh. In his short life he did remarkable work. His mission was selfless service for progress of science in motherland and dreamed to see University of Sindh as internationally renowned center for academic excellence and advanced research. He never thought and worked for money, luxury and authority. The gap after his death is not yet fulfilled. People like Prof Dr Syaed Wadal Shah born once in a while in history and shed long term impacts. It is our responsibility to value such people and set them as an example for generations to come. No doubt, Dr Wadal Shah was one such exceptional person who is still present in the hearts of many even after 38 years of his death. His commitment with profession, passion for science & research and determination to see University of Sindh as world leading institute is the deed which makes him alive and was recently refreshed in the minds of many when his service to his nation was renowned on national level when he was awarded Pakistan’s second highest national award; Hilal-e-Imtiaz.