Despite becoming cult in his class, an ace engineer from a family of administrators Syed Shuja Hussain Shah maintained integrity throughout his career, especially during the recent treacherous times of Kashmir history. His demise as one of the honest engineers of the valley has made it a personal loss to many.
TAKING turns to recall the legend of the departed engineer, a multitude of masked mourners are endlessly detailing their own encounters with Syed Shuja Hussain who would always wear his dapper looks and diligence on his sleeves.
The solemn footfall is gathering mass and momentum inside a heritage house shadowed by a nearby paramilitary barrack in one of the peaceful pockets of plush Rajbagh locality of Srinagar.
A pitched tent in the middle of a manicured lawn is housing the mourners — who call the departed ‘a longtime friend’ and ‘the gentleman they don’t make anymore’.
“Engineer Shuja Hussain was a landmark man,” says an elder inside the tent.
“His expert touches are visible in the major city and countryside signposts. The man’s service is a shining example of a legacy one should leave behind as a professional.”
While there seems no dispute on the departed engineer’s robust legacy, his own tribe members are idolizing his methods and mentorship as part of their farewell speech.
“An engineer of his own repute,” says Er Manzoor Nawchoo. “A great human being who helped everyone,” says Gazi Ahmad, a government official. “A life so beautifully lived deserves to be beautifully remembered,” says Nisar Gilani. “A great personality, very charming and always dapper,” says Muzzafar Shah of ANC.
Amid this torrent of tributes, Er Shuja Hussain’s lawyer son, Syed Zulfikar Hussain, is swarmed by black coats in the lawn.
After his grandfather Syed Nisar Hussain—the erstwhile Wazir-e-Wazarat—retired as Financial Commissioner, Zulfikar says his father sustained the family’s service culture as an engineer.
“Growing up, we had this impression that the Hazratbal shrine was constructed by our father only,” Zulfikar says.
“We learned it much later that he had only finished the project. But such was his sway that his name became synonymous with the shrine project.”
Today, that shimmering white marvel on the banks of Dal Lake remains one of the major engineering feats of his career.
However, the celebrated civil engineer, Zulfikar says, was equally adept in bridges and buildings.
“During his lifetime only, his workmanship never went unnoticed,” the son says.
“I remember during his posting in Anantnag, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said that my father was his favourite engineer. Even during the Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s tenure, my father was a much-sought after engineer around.”
Born on 25 November 1935, Shuja Hussain was one of the first students of Srinagar’s then co-Ed Presentation Convent School, who later did his graduation in engineering from Aligarh Muslim University.
This son of a Punjabi-origin family married a medic, a diligent daughter of an illustrious man of his times, Hakim Ali.
After his first posting in Baramulla, Zulfikar says, Shuja Hussain flew to US for pursuing Masters from the Iowa University. “He later left his comfortable and promising life in US, only to be with his parents back home.”
Er Shuja Hussain’s foreign education, experience and style of working soon translated on the ground in the valley.
“Back in America those days, he had seen those roadblock signs: ‘Men At Work’,” Zulfikar continues. “He later introduced them in Kashmir. Those small interventions uplifted the spirit of the profession when not many engineers would be around in the valley.”
Summarizing the elegant engineer’s service conduct, KAS officer, Mushtaq Ahmad Shah, says Shuja Hussain was magnanimous professional who helped without any barriers of caste, colour or creed.
“His contributions in various capacities in the government are shining example presently, and very difficult to forget for a long time,” Khan says.
“He laid down certain project reports in the development of Fruit, Health, Engineering sectors of the State of Jammu and Kashmir which can never be ruled out or forgotten and the advises and directions remained always purposeful and result-oriented/torch-bearers for us.”
The late engineer, Khan continues, was having brotherly behaviour with his subordinates and would address their service problems on the spot without delay. “His smiling face and approach with everybody remained unparalleled.”
Shuja Hussain’s Samaritan nature, says his son, stemmed from his spiritual leanings. “As a god-fearing person,” he adds, “my father was a well-wisher and helper to all.”
Late Shuja Hussain with his son, daughter and grand daughter
At this point, Zulfikar’s sister joins the conversation and starts detailing some unknown aspects of her late father’s life.
Trained as a media professional, Yasmin Hussain is currently taking care of her hospitality business in the valley.
“My father was a remarkable gentleman,” says Yasmin, recounting her father’s personality.
“He was cultured, soft-spoken and extremely knowledgeable. People used to call him the walking-talking encyclopedia. More than engineering, my father was known for his intellectual pursuits in his circles.”
Being a diligent son of his parents, the daughter says, the departed outshone his tribe and became a cult due to his insightful nature and people-friendly conduct.
Till his last days, says Yasmin, Shuja Hussain was connected with the world—texting his friends and family—through his I-Pad.
“He had a great sense of humour and would make light of every situation, no matter how grave it was,” she recalls.
“Now when I look at his photo, I feel he would just say something funny and make me laugh.”
It was after a brief illness that the veteran passed away on 25 March 2021, at the age of 85.
“Due to his great spirit and positive outlook, he was younger at heart,” the daughter says. “He lived by the philosophy: ‘Be grateful to God in every situation’. My father was an unshaken person in challenging situations. He truly lived by his name—Shuja—meaning courageous.”
Such recollections are equally coming from who’s who in town, who lately turned up for his funeral, as the engineer was laid to rest at Noor Masjid, Rajbagh graveyard.
“He was an honest engineer, who played a great role in the completion of the Hazratbal project,” reiterates Saleem Beg, INTACH convener.
The demise, said Syed Altaf Bukhari of Apni Party, has created a big void not only in his family, but among his vast social circle, “wherein Shuja Hussain was known for his humility and philanthropic nature”.
Back in the lawn, Zulfikar says his father never retired despite attaining his superannuation as a chief engineer in 1993.
“He was never in a retirement mode,” the son says. “He always wanted to play his part positively and went to serve in different positions and handled many projects, including the one by the World Bank.”
But while homages are endlessly pouring in for the departed soul—whose “larger than life” personality touched many lives and landmarks in Kashmir—veteran newsman Mohammad Sayeed Malik is making it short and succinct for those oblivious of the engineer’s legend: “A perfect gentleman passes away. God bless his soul.”
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