Syed Wajid Ali belonged to the rich progeny of Syed Maratib Ali, and one of old Lahore’s most revered families. Wajid Ali was a brother of Syed Amjad Ali, former Finance Minister of Pakistan, and of Syed Babar Ali, founder of the Packages Group of Companies and of many institutions including the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Like his brothers, Syed Wajid Ali was a captain of several industries including Ali Automobiles and Treet Corporation. He famously led the Pakistan Olympic Association and the Lahore Race Club for decades.
I am privileged to have been close as a lawyer, friend and, in many cases, a confidante, to the Ali Family through the last over half a century. This relationship has seamlessly flowed to the second generation and, happily, I am the recipient of family sends of epicurean delights including alloo gosht (Snooky), shab degh (Henna) and, of course, the coveted zarda from SBA.
My relationship with Lala Wajid, as I called him, was destined to be special. Doing the legal work of Packages and joining in the philanthropic work of Syed Babar Ali in organizations including WWF and IUCN, it was inevitable that I interacted with Lala Wajid. When he first turned to me for legal advice, I was warned that he is different from SBA and does not like to take no for an answer.
I recall Lala’s first visit to my office when my preliminary (though considered) reaction was that the matter he brought for my advice was not a good case. He seemed shocked and reacted that I probably did not understand his query and that perhaps he needed to explain the matter in greater detail. His explanation followed but I held firm to my opinion to the surprise of the Packages team accompanying him. Lala Wajid gave me a smile, one almost mischievous and grudgingly admiring, of a client who never thought he could have a bad case.
The Packages team felt that the relationship would not progress beyond that meeting but it is a measure of my good fortune that I think that I had the trust of Lala Wajid from then on. It grew into a unique relationship – I would call it a warm friendship when he would turn to me for matters that I felt were important to him in life. The relationship was unique in my suggestion that I, and not he, visit me for professional consultations. I have followed a practice of always meeting clients in my office as it is more time and work-efficient but I made an exception (almost sole) for Lala Wajid. The understanding soon developed, at my initiative, that if he needed to see me the day he called, I would find time later in the day to see him in my office but if the matter could wait, I would meet him at his home (a few minutes from mine) at 8 a.m. the next morning for breakfast. This developed into warm and pleasant breakfast meetings that I began to look forward to. Lala Wajid would also invite the relevant team from Packages to discuss professional matters. There were some times 3-4 breakfast meetings a year. These, and my other interactions with him, have left me with fond memories of Lala Wajid, his grace, his encouragement and his advice on my career and life as they progressed before his patrician eyes.
Of these memorable breakfast meetings, one stands out, still resonating with all the uniqueness of Lala Wajid’s life and mannerisms. I had just lost a case that I was handling for Lala Wajid. At the breakfast meeting following it, I walked into his living room to the full attendance that included the Packages leadership team. The mood was grim, nearing one of mourning. On my entry, everybody got up and Lala Wajid tried to do the same, one hand behind his back, and half-risen, he exclaimed, “Dr. Sahib, utthan joga ta tusan rakhia koi na” (a translation that will not appropriately convey the anguish expressed, “Dr. Sahib, alas, you have not left me fit enough to get up!”). So there was the sight of this grand brave man reacting to the first result of a litigation that had appeals and possibilities of ultimate success in the future! Of course, the meeting cheered up when I told them all of a likely success on appeal.
I recall when my son, Omar, got married in Karachi in 1997, the visiting “barat” stayed at two houses in Karachi, the SBA house, on 18 Victoria Road, and the State Bank of Pakistan House. It was a wedding to which we only invited those friends who were close to Omar. Lala Wajid was then in Karachi in his house next to SBA’s house where we were staying. Before the departure of the barat, Lala Wajid came to greet us, dressed in his resplendent attire, with his best wishes, prayers and presents for the couple – a very warm and touching gesture. But his comment was cute: he asked me, in untranslatable Punjabi, “Dr. Sahib, half the barat is here and the other half at the house of Dr. Muhammad Yaqub (Governor, State Bank). I was wondering if you have also excluded Dr. Yaqub from your guest list as you have done us!” I told him that Dr. Yaqub, a close personal friend for decades, was in Karachi but has not been invited for the same reason that Omar did not know him or any of his children well. In Pakistan, it is very unusual to do what we did in limiting the guests to Omar’s friends (he and Fatima had met at NCA Lahore and many of their NCA friends joined the wedding). I think Lala Wajid, perhaps with appreciation, endorsed this effort to keep weddings “small” in Pakistan. But, in an elegant manner, he had tested the rules, if any, of the “smallness”. Over decades, I have repeatedly heard that big and extravagant weddings are a social evil but I have seen very few in Pakistan combatting this social evil.
My last meeting with Lala Wajid was at the Liaqat National Hospital in Karachi where he had amputation surgery. This was a moment for courage, conviction and faith. I saw all of them in abundance and I am glad for this meeting where, for an extended period, in his hospital suite, I ran through most of my memories, shared here, with him to his amusement, joy and, I like to feel, his affection and respect for our friendship. This will remain a major blessing of my life.
Thank you, Lala Wajid, for your affection, wisdom, good wishes and happy memories. You touched my life both personally and professionally. I am the better for these. May Allah grant your soul eternal rest and peace, Ameen.
(Syed Wajid Ali was born in Lahore to Mubarak Begum & Syed Maratab Ali on December 20, 1911. He died in Lahore on June 14, 2008 – Ed.)