Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Firoze Salim Ibrahim 1948-2009: A Man for All Reasons

Firoze Salim Ibrahim - 1948-2009

Sitting quietly, reading a book, on a warm Thursday (Aug 13, 2009) evening, in my home in Riyadh, I was simply thrown of my feet and shattered when my mobile phone rang and I received the sad news of the passing away of Firoze Salim Ibrahim, who had suffered a heart attack while on duty at the Reverse Osmosis Water Plant, at the Prince Sultan Air Base in Dhahran where he had been employed as an expatriate contract worker for almost 7 years.

I met Firoze, for the very first time, way back in 1965, when I was preparing to sit for my A Levels in Colombo. We came together as members of the Students Section of the Ceylon Moor Youth League, a local community service and social club that was recently established in our town. Our friendship blossomed into a very close and strong bond through which many significant events evolved, later on, with time. Many were the wondrous days that followed where we, together with the rest of the members of the club, shared and worked together carrying out various social service and community based activities in the bustling town of Wellawatte in Colombo. The first and most significant project that we undertook, in those wondrous and peaceful times, was the screening of a benefit showing of the very first James Bond movie, “Dr No”, at the Savoy as a fundraiser for the activities of the club. Nine years later I was married to his sister, Shirani, and he became my brother in law.

Born at No 15, Mary’s Road, Bambalapitiya, in their ancestral WM Saleem home in 1948, Firoze attended Isipathana College, Colombo 5. Subsequent to the premature death of his beloved father, Husain Ibrahim in 1963, the family moved to Chitra Lane at Havelock Town from their posh rented home at St. Peters’ Place, Wellawatte. Later on they settled in their own home which their mother purchased at Vihara Lane, also, in Wellawatte.

Firoze’s many talents in music, art and drawing attracted him to Architecture which he pursued very diligently at M/s Thurairajah Associates in Colombo in search of a professional career. He then moved into building construction and civil engineering, successfully winning one of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation bids as a sub contractor for the maintenance of their many distribution facilities throughout the island. Magic was also a great hobby that he loved and excelled in very much, inherited from his father, who was an active member of the Sri Lanka Magic Circle, together with other famous magic personalities like Mudaliyar ACGS Amarasekera, Mihilar the Mystic, & friends. He reached the pinnacle of runner up at one of the Sri Lanka Magic Circle Magician of the Year Contest, competing with many seasoned and mature magicians of that time.

We spent many a time, together, with the rest of the boys in the neighborhood, actively engaging in cycling, cricket, TT, carrom, scrabble, music, movies, swimming at Kinross, lending a hand to uplift the local community infrastructure, and even many enjoyable excursions out of town, during the early days of our youth. Those who knew him will vouch for this without batting an eyelid. Books were also a great passion of his and he read profusely gathering knowledge about every possible topic under the sun. He didn’t stop here. He even went out of his way to collect and send books to others for their reading pleasure. Just a week prior to his death he had filled a whole box with books on Islam, including copies of the English translation of the Quran for free distribution, and sent them to Colombo through a colleague, Sebastian from Negombo, who was leaving Saudi Arabia on final exit after completion of his employment contract. The breaking daily news of politics, on print as well as on TV, also captured much of his interest, discussions, and time.

One of his greatest qualities, that very few people posses these days, was the ability to smile with everyone, irrespective of their ethnicity, position or social hierarchy, and win the hearts of whoever he met and communicated with. Everyone, always, had a very good word for him, be it family, friends, colleagues, or neighbors.

His marriage to Bisreeya Zaharana Ahamed, daughter of SLMH Ahamed and OLMALM Sithy Raliya, in the late seventies brought forth his only child, daughter, and joy, Fathima Fawaza, for whom he dedicated all his energy, exerting every effort, skill and time in raising her to be a successful woman of this world.

It was sometime in the nineteen eighties that Firoze decided to step out into the oil Sheikhdoms of the Middle East and seek his pasture in the booming markets there, where construction was a significant contributor to the development that was enfolding, which also provided an ideal opportunity for people with his technical set of skills. Moving to Dhahran, in Saudi Arabia, Firoze spent many long years with an Aramco subcontractor providing operations and maintenance services to the largest oil producer in the world. By this time I had also chosen to move to the Middle East as an expatriate worker, with my family, and was located in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, and, his arrival made all our lives even more pleasant by having a close family member so near to us, so far away from home. Our two girls always enjoyed his company, storytelling, magic tricks, and were also very thankful for the many books and magazines he used to bring them whenever he visited. He sure had a way with kids with his ever smiling and pleasant demeanor. There was never a dull moment when Firoze was visiting.

His work took him to various locations in the Eastern region from Dhahran to Juaymah Camp, and even to Jubail City, in the north eastern corner of the Kingdom where massive road construction, power, and other infrastructure projects were under way. We had the wonderful opportunity to visit him at all these sites and enjoy the many luxuries that the well stocked facilities of that oil giant, Aramco, was providing for all its staff and visitors.

Later on, Firoze also spent many years with the King Khalid Military City Base at Hafar Al Batin, located on the Kuwaiti border with Saudi Arabia, where he moved his career, seriously, into the management and maintenance of the Reverse Osmosis Water Plant that was used across the desert Kingdom for water purification. Eventually, on completion of that contract, he returned home and returned to the magical calling of the desert sands to do his final stint with the Prince Sultan Air Base Project, once again managing the RO Water Plant, from which facility God decided to take Home.

Talking to his immediate superior, Engineer Qahtan, at the Dhahran Air Base during his funeral, it was most heartening to hear the gentleman say that he would remember Firoze for just three things, his gentlemanly manners (Ahlaaq in Arabic), his ever presence in the Mosque at all prayer times (Imaan in Arabic), and the exceptional quality of his work. All the expatriate workers within the Air Base, belonging to various different asian and African nationalities, had a very praiseworthy word to say about him and his relationship with them. Silva, a hardened Sri Lankan laborer, who hailed from Maradana, told me with tears in his eyes, “He used to call me Mr. Silva whenever he spoke to me”. Another batch of young workers stated that he would knock on their doors after his shift to inquire whether they had had their dinner. Most of the young workers treated him, more or less, like a Godfather on account of his age, maturity, patience, wisdom, knowledge and ever willingness to discuss and resolve other their personal problems and disputes at any time of day or night.

Another interesting feature about Firoze, that will surely reveal his humanitarian personality is his great love for animals and their welfare, a character that all the members of his family possess to date, and, which has even filtered down to my own two girls and two grandkids, through his genes. During my visit to the camp after his death, the next day, the boys told me that he used to feed three stray cats and one stray dog, diligently, every single day by collecting all the scraps, chicken bones, and left over food from the military mess. When I walked over to his mobile Portacabin accommodation inside the airbase there were three cats and one dog curled up in a huddle snoozing patiently at his doorstep. They were waiting for their master to bring them their dinner. Little did they realize that their master had received his final call and was on his way up to meet his Makerfor his final supper and receive his rewards for the magnificent contribution he had made during his short tenure of 61 years and 6 months on planet Earth. All I could do was hold back my eyes from watering and request the boys to carry on feeding the poor animals for as long as they could, ensuring that his kindness would be carried on, and also that the poor animals would not starve since their expectations were that their sustenance would always be served to them on time y Firoze at his doorstep.

Washing his body and dressing him up in the Islamic funeral garb (Kafan) of three non stitched pieces of cotton cloth, 6’ by 3’ clasped together by 4 strips of cotton cloth ties, in preparation for his burial, it was hard for me to take my eyes away from his sweet smiling face in death, each time I poured the water across his body. He looked as if he was simply smiling at me in his own special way.

Sadly, Firoze lost his wife, Bisreeya, in 2008, after she had been ill for a few years. His daughter, Fathima Fawaza, married in 2008, an occasion which he cherished very much and was proud of, and since moved to live and work in Bermuda where her husband, Rifath Nawaz, is currently employed as a Microsoft Certified Specialist Consultant.

Just take a look around and you will notice that is is pretty obvious, today, that They don’t make people like Firoze, anymore. Firoze, you have moved on. We will surely follow. May God Have Mercy on his Soul.

Fazli Sameer
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia