In memory of Oskar Wörz

The day Julia informed me that Ossi (nickname of Dr. Oskar Wörz) is no more with us, I felt as if an elderly member of my family had passed away. I was very sad for many days. Although Julia sent me an invitation to attend Ossi’s funeral, I could not be present personally to share in the grief of my ‘Austrian family.’ However, with teary eyes, I thought that one day I would write in the memory of Ossi and publish at “HumSub” to let my compatriots know that love is not bound by any border, color, race, religion or nationality. Yes, love is just love.

Ossi, PhD in Physics from the United States, was a retired professor from the University of Innsbruck, Austria. He was the father of Julia (my PhD supervisor), Karin’s husband and a benefactor and guide to me. He died of cancer at the age of 84. Karin is alive, well and safe from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Two years ago, Julia revealed that Ossi had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. I was amazed at how, at the age of 82, he was not only ready for chemo but also survived a full treatment. It was a testament to his strong will and confidence in medical science.

When Ossi, a resident of the valley of Innsbruck(surrounded by mountains(, first came to know that a Pakistani PhD scholar was working under Julia’s supervision in Vienna, he wanted to see me because he was not only impressed by the mighty mountains of Pakistan but also, many of his memories were associated with the northern region of Pakistan. In our very first meeting he told me how his friend (a doctor by profession) got into an emergency while descending from Nanga Parbat, and Pakistan Army helicopters rescued him for a small fee and first transferred him to Skardu and then to PIMS Islamabad to save his life. During this trip and stay, Ossi’s stomach also got upset due to overeating delicious Pakistani mangoes. Ossi had also visited Lahore in 1974. He also showed me many black and white pictures of his visits to Pakistan.

Since I was enrolled in a joint PhD Program at two Austrian universities, I had to go to Innsbruck every month during course work and stay in expensive hotels. When Ossi found out, he offered to allow me stay in his house. At first, I was hesitant, but then Julia insisted and I accepted the offer. My fear then was that my supervisor’s parents might feel bad about me and that my PhD might be endangered. But to my amazement, Ossi invited me to come home on Christmas Day. I had already heard that Austrians celebrate Christmas Day with their family only at home and on this day they do not visit or invite anyone to their house. I told this to a friend of mine and he said, “Dude, you are lucky that they are considering you as their family.” So, I spent the rest of the day with Ossi and Karin. They gave me presents on the way back and subsequently I started living in their house for course work which brought a new turning point of great learning in my life. I was happy to stay in the room which was Julia’s room since childhood.

Karin, Ossi, and I used to discuss a variety of ideas and situations. Both of them had a lot of information about Pakistan. Karin’s topics of interest were different from those of Ossi’s. So to make conversation, I limited myself to what I felt was different between an average Pakistani elder and Ossi. Needless to say, this blog has very little space to mention Karin.

At first, Ossi didn’t say much but he was very firm in his principles. In addition to being a scientist, he was also a good athlete with a routine that included climbing mountains and exercising daily. I watched him follow a special routine from the breakfast table to bed at night. He used to read daily newspapers and quality books. He also read Malala’s book in the German language and discussed it in detail with me. It was then that for the first time Ossi explained to me that people are not important as individuals, but ideology or mindset is more vital. Therefore, ideology should always be given more significance than individuals.

Ossi often said that water is a very precious and scarce resource and that it should be utilized properly. That’s why he didn’t let me or Karin wash the dishes. He thought we were using too much water. He also took great care of the paper. He used to neatly arrange empty milk cans, and keep waste material separately in the kitchen that can be processed and reused. To support and benefit the local and small-scale farmers the most, he usually bought groceries from the local market.

I witnessed Ossi taking good care of his wife, Karin. Tourism was a common interest for both. Karin had hip surgery, so she could not sit down and tie the laces of her shoes herself, so he did this for her everywhere, inside and outside the house. The two shared the kitchen and all the household chores. Karen did all the work that required standing except washing the dishes, and the rest was taken care of by Ossi.

Karin’s health was not very good, but despite their retirement, Ossi would take her on vacation somewhere each season. I found Ossi regretted not being able to take Karin on a tour of Iceland. He had to leave alone because it was a dream come true. He came back and talked to us about Iceland for many days.

Ossi loved his children, Julia and Ulrich who live in Vienna and Innsbruck respectively, very much. Since Ulrich used to live nearby, he visited his parents quite often. I witnessed him talking to Ossi for a long time, and Karin would read a book or watch television. They also talked to Julia on the telephone almost daily. Interesting to mention, Ossi watched the video of Julia’s talk at a conference in Poland several times and complimented her, saying, “I am very proud of Julia. You are lucky to be Julia’s student.” Time has indeed proved this to be true.

After my marriage, Ossi invited my wife and me to Innsbruck for the holidays. During that time, many refugees from Syria also came to Austria and Ossi and Karin were working with an organization that helps refugees. The day the four of us were about to leave for a tour, there was an empty seat in the car. Karin suggested to Ossi (in German) that we should take a refugee girl from the camp with us on the tour. But Ossi replied that this is possible only if our guests do not mind. Ossi then asked me and Ayesha separately if we would allow them take the Syrian girl, Lana, with us. We had no objection at all, so Lana and Ulrich’s dog, Fin, accompanied us on that tour. Of course, we all enjoyed it together. Ossi had asked us only because we had arranged the tour with them many days ago and not to have any privacy issues in Lana’s presence. You can better compare and analyze this situation with Pakistani elders.

He could talk in detail about almost every aspect of life. He was very interested in history, current affairs, politics, information technology, weather and physical fitness and health. Unlike Pakistani elders, he had a great deal of listening and endurance. He did not answer until the other person had finished. Despite doing a PhD from the United States and spending many years there, he did not hesitate to criticize the negative aspects of the policies and culture of the US. As a tourist, he enjoyed almost all kinds of food. I also cooked ‘Qorma’ and ‘Biryani’ from Pakistani cuisine many times for them, which they liked very much. He and Karin also cooked and served me various Austrian dishes and shared recipes with me that I quickly forgot. They also expected me to analyze Pakistani food recipes in a similar detailed way that I could not. That’s why I used to say that there are many indigenous herbs in biryani, which are added by the company by grinding them in sachets of ‘Shan’ or ‘National’.

I saw Ossi very sad the day he heard the news on television that in a court in Lahore, Pakistan, the brothers had beaten their real sister to death with bricks in the name of honor. He expressed shock many times and wondered how a brother could be so cruel. When I came back from the university that day, we could talk very little.

After completing my coursework, my visits to Innsbruck were reduced, but Ossi often asked Julia about my progress in studies, and sometimes we talked on the phone. I also received postcards from him on special days. But in a long six-year relationship, he never criticized or objected to my caste, country, religion or culture. He was a great man with a very open heart and mind. He wanted to see this planet as a peaceful place for human beings to live with self-esteem and dignity. He said that this is possible with the help of science because it is very interesting and fascinating. With the death of Ossi, I will always miss a sophisticated and principled person in my life.

Published at HumSub, dated June 4, 2021. https://en.humsub.com.pk/2639/in-memory-of-oskar-worz/

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