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Remembering Professor Adi Lovji Spencer


A gentle family


By Ardeshir Cowasjee


LIVING amidst the uncouth yahoos and rowdies who greatly outnumber us,it is somewhat of a rarity to have a chance to write about a cultured,educated and erudite gentleman and a fine human being of prodigiousmemory. Professor Adi Lovji Spencer, as were his ancestors, was anupstanding gentleman of learning and of great humanity.

Adi was born on December 22 1939, three months after the outbreak ofWorld War II in September of that year. He died this past April 10. Hisloss to those of us who knew him is great.

In the centenary volume printed by the Bai Virbaiji Soparivala Parsi High School (BVS) on May 23, 1959, one page is dedicated to ‘The Spencers.’ It carries the photographs of Seth Nanabhoy Framji Spencer,the founder-secretary of the school (1859-1862), his grandson Minocher K Spencer, a long serving managing committee member, and Minocher’s young nephew Adi Lovji Spencer described as ‘an outstanding scholar.’

Nanabhoy provided the driving force in the Spencer family. Over a century and a half ago he realised and appreciated the value ofeducation and he saw to it that no Zoroastrian (as a Parsi should rightly be known) man or woman, living in and around Karachi, remained illiterate and uneducated. His son Kaikhushrow (1860-1927) studied medicine, graduated from the Grant Medical College in Bombay, and returned to Karachi to serve its people. The lesser endowed who could not afford his fees were treated for free. He went off to join the volunteer corps when World War 1 broke out in 1914, returned to join the Sindh medical services. Later, through donations from the municipality and the citizens of the city in his memory an eye hospital was established for the poor.

The foundation stone of the Doctor Kaikhushrow Nanabhoy Spencer Eye Hospital was laid on November 28, 1938, in the impoverished area of Lyari (even more impoverished 70 years later) by our still remembered good mayor, Hatim Alvi. On March 14, 1940, it was inaugurated by Mayor Rustom Khurshedji Sidhwa. Thanks to its original donors and continued supporters, it is still functional. And to give credit where credit is due, it has just been spruced up by Nazim Mustapha Kamal.

Kaikhushrow married Nalibai, a daughter of Edulji Dinshaw, by whom hehad three sons – Minoo, Homi and Lovji – and two daughters –Khurshed bano and Bachamai. Homi died young, crushed by a falling building in the 1935 Quetta earthquake. Minoo, a theosophist and a lover of all creatures great and small died in 1958. Lovji was a schoolmate and contemporary of my father Rustom at the BVS.

Minoo spent his life helping the sick and the poor, and was a great supporter of the leper asylum at Manghopir which he visited once a week to provide the lepers with food and with the medication and treatment needed. One day, in 1940, in the days of wartime petrol rationing, Minoo bicycled over to our house (then 52, he was learning once again to ride a cycle) to seek my father’s help. His petrol ration was not sufficient to support his weekly trips to Manghopir. The lepers had to be fed and treated and it was most difficult to carry the supplies required on a bicycle, even with his driver riding a second cycle.Could my father help?

At that time, our firm was involved in the handling of sea transport vessels and we did have an extra allotment, but permission to allot it would have to be sought from Captain Wyebert, the stern Sea Transport Officer of the Royal Naval Veterans’ Reserves who had been pressed into service. My father went off to plead with him and Wyebert consulted his manuals to see how the lepers could be helped. He could find no way. He closed his books, then he closed his eyes, and said, “Rustom, Nelson had one eye, I have one ear. I have not heard what you said. Do what you think is right, war or no war, the lepers have to be cared for.” He did so, and the lepers were the gainers.

Brother Lovji produced two sons, the elder Keki who became a doctor, and my good friend Adi, who did so well at the BVS before joining the D. J. Sindh College where he did his BA and in 1961 his masters in public administration. He then apprenticed himself in the family firm of general merchants, Spencer & Co, and after a year or so was given a job by the First National City Bank.

In 1968 he changed professions, and joined the Institute of BusinessAdministration as a lecturer of economics for MBA classes. Generally, the IBA only hires lecturers who have had foreign training up to a master’s degree, but an exception was made in Adi’s case because of his excellent grades and his sound knowledge of economics.

The present director of the Institute, Mr Danishmand, sent me a few paragraph on Adi after he died, which I reproduce :

“He had a stern look but actually was one of the most caring teachersthe IBA has ever had. He was an outstanding teacher and the faculty and students loved and respected him. They remember him fondly and still miss him. He was at the IBA when I was a student. He came into the library one day whilst I was there and just started talking to me. Later on we were on the faculty together. He was very strict and very concerned about the difference between right and wrong. A genuine scholar, the truth was all important to him.

“His students found him to be very fair and most interested in their welfare and development. Our present prime minister, Mr Shaukat Aziz, told us that Spencer encouraged him to join Citibank and actually took him to the bank so that he could appear for his interview.”Sadly, Shaukat found no time to visit Spencer on one of his frequent visits to Karachi during the seven and a half years he has been in government. A pity. Spencer was very proud of his erstwhile student.

Adi was well for almost a decade, firstly a hermit in his own house next to the Press Club, and later, until his death last week at the Parsi General Hospital. His knowledge of literature, of all nationalities, and his knowledge of the world’s religions was astounding as was his ability to quote at length from many works. His memory remained fresh and full right up to the end. He was a veritable source of information and I, for one, shall sorely miss him and his sayings.

He was a realist. He maintained unequivocally that the leaders of Pakistan, barring Jinnah, have all been selfish, greedy and self-perpetuating. The people reproduce like rabbits and no government has had the will or the ability to educate the vast illiterates. Bigotry continues to breed ignorance, and for all times to come, however short or long, it will be argued ad infinitum what exactly it was that Jinnah wished his country to be. This, despite the fact tha the distinctly said that the first thing Pakistan’s government must impose is law and order, that religion is not the business of the state, and that under no circumstances is the country to be a theocracy ruled by priests with a divine mission. How many are capable of accepting all this?

Thanks to the current mania for processions and demos by our politicos and the legal fraternity, many of those who wished to attend his post-funeral prayers last Thursday were unable to get to his house thanks to the traffic jams and disorder that prevails in this city (and apparently in the rest of the country).

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