Professor R E Mirza was my father and it is because of him that I am who I am today. I loved him dearly and try to live by his teachings and the love and guidance he gave so freely to me and to others.
Professor Mirza was born on February 19, 1907 in Karachi, India in a poor priestly family. My grandfather Edulji was a priest and my grandmother Goolbai took care of all the household chores. They worked very hard to raise four boys and a girl. My father was the eldest followed by my uncles Shapurji, Behramji and Jehangirji. My Aunt Najamai was the youngest in the family. My uncle Behramji also known as Professor B E Mirza was the Vice Principal and Head of the Chemistry Department in the Adamjee Science College.
My father passed his Matriculation Examination from Bombay University in 1925. During this time, he was active in Scouting and in his Senior Year he was selected to the position of Head Prefect of the school. After finishing high school he went to the D. J. Sind Science College and in 1927 was accepted to the NED Government Engineering College from which he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering.
My father married my mother (nee Goolbanoo Burjorji Sidhwa) in 1936 and they spent 45 years very happily married. They were constantly together and never spent even a day apart. My mother was always there to help my father with his students and encouraged him to do whatever he could for them. She never discouraged them from coming to the house because she knew my father took great joy in their presence.
After graduation my father worked for the Karachi Municipal Corporation from 1931 to 1942. In 1942 he joined the NED Govt. Engineering College as a Lecturer in Civil Engineering, and pretty soon he discovered that he loved to teach and teaching became his passion. He was one of the pioneers of education in Pakistan and played a prominent role in the development of the College. Ultimately he became the fourth Principal of this famous institution which he loved so dearly. During his long career as a Professor, he taught thousands of students who are now spread out all over the world. He was born to teach and when he taught, students listened. The reason for this is that he had the unusual ability of making a boring subject so interesting that one could not help but listen. In 1950, he was promoted to the position of Vice-Principal and in 1957 he became the Principal of NED College.
Since Professor Mirza was not only my father but also my Professor, I was put in a rather unique situation. I did not know how to face him when I was his student. But he put me at ease, for in class I was just another student to him and he treated me as such. He always liked to have a question-answer session in every class and I never knew if I was going to have to answer some of his questions. But he was such a gentle soul that he always put me and everyone else at ease, guiding us to the correct responses.
My father was a very kind-hearted person. Never did I see him lose his temper. I remember when I was growing up, students used to come to my house sometimes till late at night to take his advice. First, they were treated to a cup of tea. Then the problems were put forward. The problems under discussion were not only engineering problems, but personal and/or financial problems as well. He was a very patient man and after hearing the problem would suggest some solution which would work out to the benefit of that student.
My father was also very generous and would not hesitate to help anyone in need of his help. In the late sixties when I was working as a Civil Engineer in Karachi, I remember having a conversation with a person who was an old student of my father. We were talking about Professor R.E.Mirza and his generosity when this gentleman told me, “Sohrab, did you know that your father helped me financially when I was a student…. and your mother did not even know about it.” That was my father.
On December 10, 1966 my father retired from the NED Government Engineering College. On that day, an address of farewell was presented to him on behalf of the staff of the college. But he could not stay away from the College – he continued to teach part-time because teaching gave him so much joy.
My parents were also very interested in Theosophy. My mother and he joined the Karachi Theosophical Society in the late forties, and became active members. He was the Society’s Treasurer, Vice-President and Office Secretary. He was also a member of the Poor Patients Relief Society, the Theosophical Order of Service and helped in the administration of the Jamshed Memorial Montessori School.
In 1974 I got accepted to the University of Oklahoma to study for a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering. Five years later, in August 1979 I returned to Karachi for vacation. My parents were very happy to see me.
The last time that I met my father was in October 1979 when he came to the Karachi Airport to see me off after my marriage to Yasmin Majaina. Our son Shaun was born in February 1981 and my mother and my father were planning to visit us in Oklahoma in May of that year. But my father fell ill so we decided to go to Karachi to visit him instead. But we were in transit when he passed away on June 16, 1981 and were unable to see him. Our second son Cyrus was born in March 1986, and my regret is that my father was not alive to know about him. I am sure he is always looking down on us and blessing us from wherever he is.
My father is no longer with us, but I think of him and remember him every day. He indeed was a noble man who never thought about himself but always thought about others. He was never interested in monetary gains but followed the motto of ‘Service before Self”. Soon after his demise, a Souvenir was published by the Publication Society of the NED University, Karachi in the memory of Prof. R. E. Mirza. I take this opportunity to thank the members of the Publication Society for their contribution.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.
My eyes watered up when I read the write-up by Sohrab Mirza about his father, Prof R E Mirza. Prof Mirza was my mentor and wrote such a beautiful recommendation to University of Liverpool in July 1971 that I got late admission immediately and started my master's program end of September. I still remember like yesterday he hugged me bye and wish me all happiness the day before I was flying, your mother also hugged and kissed me I never thought I will never see their loving face again, may God give them paradise. Amen.
During the reign of Prof R E Mirza as principal of NED, he opened the door of higher technical education to female students in 1962. This was a giant step as none of the colleges or universities in Pakistan at that time allowed girls to even step inside ‘all boys’ institutes, Mr Mirza had great insight into the future he knew and understood that a time will come when both girls and boys will be working side by side in this area. At present (2016) there are more girls studying in NED Engineering University than boys but not many know that Prof Mirza by his far sightedness made this possible. We girls are greatly indebted to him. Thank you Prof Mirza.
This was 1966, We got the result for first year engineering, I got supplementary, failed by very few marks in Physics Practical and Engineering Drawing. I had to pay Rs. 20.00 as examination fee and remarking fee.
My father was very upset, that I failed and was very reluctant to pay this fee. My father was working with the federal govt. with a fixed income, very difficult for him to pay for these extras. Any ways my mother somehow managed and gave me Rs. 20.00 in a white envelope. I took this with me in a notebook. I went straight to the office to pay my fee, but I had probably lost the envelope in the public bus.
Girls Common room was upstairs next to Vice Principle room. I was in tears went to the common room, thinking that this is the end of my studies. R E Mirza our VP, walked outside the common room, and called me. He asked me to sit down relax and share my problem with him. I did not tell him any thing, but, R E Mirza, guessed it, he took out crisp note of Rs, 20.00 and said go and deposit your fee. I did that and told my mother, she was very angry and said you need to return 10.00 per month to your teacher, from next month. When I took Rs.10.00 to return to R E Mirza as the first installment, he refused to take it, I thought he wanted the total amount of Rs. 20.00, so I shamefully requested him: 'Sir, I cannot give you Rs. 20.00 in one go'. Guess what he said these golden words that changed my life. He said "Naheed, God wants to help all of us especially when we are in need. Of course God has to send His help through some one, when you help some one remember you are chosen by God Almighty, this is a blessing, I was chosen to help you, now you use this money to help some other people in need and keep this chain of helping others till you die."
His golden words have always been with me and I have been acting on that. I am so grateful to you Prof. Mirza, you were a great person, a humanist, a very helping and pious man. I remember you almost every day.
God Bless you Rest in Peace. Prof. R E Mirza, you are great I owe every bit of my professional earning and my position to you. >
Prof R E Mirza taught us Engineering Materials in our second year. The classes were held in an upstairs classroom in the building with the chimney. One day a student caused a mischievous disturbance and Prof Mirza saw who it was. In a very gentle way he admonished: "Look, I do not take attendance. If you do not come I will not hold that against you. If you come, do so because you want to learn."
At the end of the second year I saw him when he conducted our viva. He was seated on a table in the main boiler area in the building with the chimney. His questions were not difficult. Close to the end of the viva, he pointed to the drain valve of the nearby boiler and asked: "What tool would you need to open the valve?". I had to think for a second but came up with the right answer: "Spanner" (also known as wrench). He smiled, and then asked in Urdu: 'Spanner ko Urdu meiN kiya bolay ga?' ('How would you call spanner in Urdu?'). That threw me a curve, but I came up with: "Paana". He was satisfied, smiled, and said: "Wonderful. Off you go". That was my last conversation with him.
Prof Mirza was a gentle soul and treated everyone with respect and kindness regardless of their station in society. In 2015, a YouTube production "Karachi Mentary Episode #15" was made on the old NED campus. On the right is a segment of interview of Chaman Deerji who was born on the NED campus to parents and grandparents who were part of the cleaning crew and lived in a quarter in the corner of the campus. Listen to him talk about his days on our old campus and how Prof Mirza, then NED Principal, treated the cleaning crew. The interview was conducted with Chaman sitting on the porch where the Principal's office was located.