Sadat Kazi: Grandfather. Husband. Professor. Activist. Born March 1, 1935, in Moukhoron (Bangladesh); died Oct. 18, 2020, in Montreal, from Parkinson’s disease; aged 85.
“You will never go far,” his stern father had told him, growing up in East Pakistan.
“I have come this far,” was the telegram 18-year-old Sadat sent him from London, on his way to Montreal to begin a new life, in the early 1950s.
Sadat Kazi’s favourite poem was Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. More than anything else, those words expressed his view of life – Sadat was not one to follow a predestined path, to stay on the side of the fence that fate might have assigned him. He grew up a Muslim but considered the wife of his Sanskrit teacher to be his “Hindu mother.” A feminist before he knew the word existed, he was never afraid as a young boy to defend his loving mother and challenge his dad to “cook his own food” if he complained about a meal he didn’t like.
Coming from Moukhoron, a remote village in the Patuakhali district of what was then East Pakistan, he managed to cross the ocean and, scholarship in hand, study economics at McGill University. Upon arriving in Montreal in 1953, following his own impeccable logic, Sadat said that coming from a former British colony, he could relate to the French-Canadian struggle for language rights and immediately learned French. Mixed marriages were rare at the time, but he had the good fortune to meet Yolande, a French-Canadian. They were happily married, and their two children, Ania and Jamal, never heard them speak anything but French together.
Feeding and teaching was Sadat’s two-pronged approach to fatherhood: his lovingly prepared meals freely mixed garden herbs and Indian spices, and so many moments were seen by him as educational opportunities, be it how to properly tend to the garden, understand geopolitics or learn Bengali songs. Well into his children’s adulthood, he still loved to bounce them on his knees and tell them he loved them.
He had a knack for organizing fundraisers and human-rights demonstrations. He had friends among federalists and nationalists alike, being interested in ideas and social issues above all. As an economics teacher at Vanier College, he proposed to set up a course on the Quebec economy and became co-ordinator of the provincial committee in charge of developing its content. This was enough to put some preconceived notions about immigration in their place.
Teaching was his passion. Gardening was not far behind. Every fall, dead leaves were bagged, and while the practice of the time was to send them to the dump, Sadat filled a corner of the backyard as fertilizer-to-be. His family was embarrassed for the eyesore at the time, but it paid off: The result was dark, rich soil. It would have yielded an incredible harvest, but after looking after his ailing wife, withering away with multiple systems atrophy for nearly 10 years, he had only a few years himself before Parkinson’s moved in.
He had seen himself growing old in his solarium and garden but neurological disorders are cruel retirement planners.
Even when the disease took its toll, Sadat never saw himself as sick, always wanting to learn and read and write and be the best version of himself for his grandchildren, Elsa, Mia and Milo, his “amigos.” When taken on strolls in his wheelchair, he never ceased to marvel at a beautiful flower or the sun dancing on the river.
Although his children broke with the family tradition of teaching, he never let his unfulfilled wishes in this respect turn into disappointment. He always ended up supporting their decisions, aware that it was their turn to take the road less travelled by.
Ania Kazi and Jamal Kazi are Sadat’s children.
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