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Obituary: Dr. Waseem Akhtar

If I collect accounts from all his intimate friends, an extremely arresting plot of a true epic will be in your hands. But that would require a mettle to fathom an ocean of tears that his sudden departure has left us all in. His name is Dr. Waseem Akhtar-our beloved friend who expired while he was being escorted from the airport to his home on the 14th of October 2015 in a road accident near his hometown Chakwal Pakistan. He was in his mid thirties and was employed as a Postdoctoral fellow at The Netherlands Cancer Research Centre in Amsterdam. He did his MSc. From the University of the Punjab Lahore and PhD (in Molecular Biology) from Radbound University Nijmegen The Netherlands on Higher Education Commission of Pakistan's prestigious overseas fellowship. He was one of the pioneer HEC scholars in The Netherlands. I was a beneficiary of the same fellowship programme. For me, the worth of this fellowship was doubled when I met Waseem and a contingent of other PhD scholars in The Netherlands. This was partly because all of us had gathered in a foreign melting pot after passing through a rigorous selection process and partly because every one of us belonged to the so called cream of our national Universities-hence in possession of endless potential to surprise anyone with his/her talents and skills.

Waseem Akhtar certainly belonged to that minority group of the best of the best due to his unmatched intelligence, extremely abrupt and sophisticated sense of humor and a sober outlook towards life and the world at large. He was immune from the parochial biases and prejudices that cloak almost all third world citizens when they reach the Western hemisphere or think of the West wherever they are. He was a dervish who practiced science. Education purified his personality to its own envy. He rarely bothered to keep up appearances. He gave a first demonstration of his traits when he traveled with us to Paris, Leuven, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Andalusia etc. I can testify that he visited every new city with an eye of an astute itinerant and meanwhile he mastered many words, sentences and sometimes whole sentence structures of many European languages. One would often suspect that he met everyone to befriend.

In his company, a fool would know his foolishness immediately as he would hardly let illogical arguments escape him without a brush of his honeyed satire. His approach was equally methodical when he discussed serious notions. I can hardly forget how he once summed up the debate on the future of technology, proliferation of information and the challenge of acquiring knowledge in the new millennium. His quest for knowledge was unending. This is why, after his doctorate, he transgressed the conventional trajectory of accepting a faculty position in a Pakistani university and instead worked on Cancer Research in a high profile institute in Amsterdam. He had a fair idea of how to reconcile his ambition with the pace and the standards of global academic research.

Most of us live our lives as fatalists and accept death as an inevitable penance of life. And we mitigate our grief with clichés, condolences, resignation and various platitudes. But sudden deaths like this mortify their souls who are left with the treasure of the memories of the departed soul. Such abrupt exits of the most entertaining actors from the stage of life further dry our interest in the significance our own being. We are compelled to rethink our existence as a façade, as a shadow, as a mirage. This is as much human to be perturbed at the loss of someone so dear as it is to be happy upon owning him in the first place. With our souls so mercilessly bruised after this news, we are in a state of mourning and pray that there must be a day in the life hereafter when we meet him again and he greets us with his trademark humor and large-hearted embrace. Rest in peace Dr. Waseem Akhtar.

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