Hailing from a family of poets, writers and actors, Zaheer Alam Kidvai was born in 1940 in Rasal Ganj, Aligarh. Ameer Minai, a popular poet, was a cousin of his great-grandfather, who was also a prolific writer of his time. His
Zaheer Alam Kidvai
Hailing from a family of poets, writers and actors, Zaheer Alam Kidvai was born in 1940 in Rasal Ganj, Aligarh. Ameer Minai, a popular poet, was a cousin of his great-grandfather, who was also a prolific writer of his time. His grandmother was an Urdu writer in an era when very few women wrote. She wrote a preface to Aalaam-e-Khayal, a lengthy Urdu poem that explores the theme of a woman’s love for her husband, which was considered taboo at the time.
Zaheer Alam believes that Kidvai is a Turkish name that comes from Qazi Kidva, who was the Chief of Court during the rule of first Mughal emperor Zaheeruddin Babar in the 16th century. His ancestors were originally followers of Judaism and converted to Islam several centuries ago.
Zaheer Alam’s grandfather was an engineer who lived in Lucknow, Bombay, and finally Kolkata where he built part of the Calcutta University library. He then moved to Dhaka after Partition. Both of Zaheer Alam’s parents came from towns outside of Lucknow, Jaggaur and Kakori. His father was a practicing doctor.
Zaheer Alam Kidvai lived at Rasal Ganj for six months after his birth in 1940, a year after the Second World War had begun, and then moved to Delhi where his father had a clinic and also worked for the army, and was frequently posted to places where the soldiers would return injured and in need of treatment. Zaheer moved with his parents to different places every third or fourth month. He never knew what home was, though we came back once in a while to Delhi.
In 1945, his father was posted in Iraq. At the time of Partition, Zaheer Alam’s father returned to Delhi, but found that their house and his clinic had been burned to the ground and decided to sail for Karachi. It was the beginning of October in 1947 when Zaheer Alam and his parents, uncle and aunt arrived in Karachi. He remembers seeing Jinnah and taking his picture while he was going into his house in Karachi. It was very strange people were waving at Jinnah who was waving back from his car, sitting in the back seat. It was an open car and there were no guards or policemen around it, just two motorcycles in the front.
In Karachi, Zaheer Alam’s father struggled to get a job at one of the hospitals. One day, while walking on the road, he was stopped by a man who turned out to be a friend from Edinburgh where they both used to be medical students. He was running the Rama-Krishna Mission Hospital in Karachi. He offered his father a job at his hospital. His father took the job on the condition that he may provide free medical treatment to the incoming refugees.
The family was able to live in their house even after it was sold to the nephew of the Nizam of Hyderabad. He agreed to let them live there as long as Zaheer’s father was alive. The Nizam’s nephew came to his father’s funeral, and just before he left he informed Zaheer Alam that the contract was over, and he had seven days to vacate the house. As such, Zaheer and his mother, uncle, and aunt moved to a house in Jamshed Town, Karachi, and stayed there for a few months while his uncle built a house for them at Iqbal Town with his pension and provident fund.
In 1964, Zaheer Alam joined the merchant navy. He became the youngest merchant navy captain in Pakistan and won a gold medal award for the best navigation paper in the country. He served for 25 years.
Zaheer Alam loves to read and enjoys classical music. Sharing earlier memories of his father, he says that apart from being a doctor, he also was a writer and a poet and would sing to him sometimes. Those memories became a part of him at sea. He married his cousin for love, and they sailed together in the merchant navy. She was a 3rd officer with a Panama Ticket, and they shared similar ideas. They sailed together for over a decade and were married in 1970. His wife is an advocate for women’s rights.
In 1984, Zaheer Alam returned home with his wife after his mother had an accident and needed immediate care. In 1989, his mother passed away and he left the merchant navy. Four years before bidding farewell to the ships, he was in the United States. One day he passed by a shop with a sign ‘Build Your Own Computer’. He went in and bought one kit. He built his very first computer with the kit and developed a deep affinity for hardware, software programming and programming languages. He managed to buy an Apple Macintosh and a BBC computer from loans and borrowed money, and joined a group in Hong Kong to observe teachers who were using computers at schools.
Inspired by what he saw, Zaheer Alam returned to Karachi and set up Pakistan’s first computer company to teach computer classes in schools as well as sell computers and software. He became the pioneer of new media in Pakistan. In the first year of establishing the company, he sold over 100 computers. His company went on to develop a multimedia CD for IBM, and produced several CD-ROMs and discs, including an art CD-ROM for ABN AMRO.
In the late 90s, he also co-founded and set up the New Media department at Hamdard University in Karachi. He has inspired and helped a number of students, technologists and entrepreneurs to abandon formal schooling systems and set up their own IT ventures in education and online businesses. Zaheer Alam is currently the CEO of ‘Beyond Information Technology Solutions’ (BITS), focused on improving e-learning in the modern economy. He currently lives in Karachi with his wife and visits New York frequently to stay with his daughter, who is a human rights lawyer.