My last months in the University of Sindh were filled with impatience, anxiety and a fierce desire to go through the formality of passing the final examination as early and as quickly as I could.
I had a mixed relationship with my teachers. I have already written about Mrs Khamisani. When I had joined the Department of English she had been its Head. Subsequently Professor Jameel Wasti had taken over as the Head. Then there was Miss Khalida Farooqui who had joined the University as Lecturer the same year I had been admitted.
I remember her often requesting me: “It will be a great favour Mr Akbar if you can skip my class. You ask very difficult questions; and I have to consult new books every day to find answers.”
She even once complained to Professor Wasti about my lack of readiness to be taught quietly.
Professor Wasti summoned me to his office and asked me not to test the abilities of my teachers.
“Miss Farooqui was not serious about her complaint but Professor Jalil is very angry at your behaviour, “Wasti Sahib said.
Professor Jalil was a bearded man of about fifty, and during his lecture used to remain glued to the girls in the class so dutifully that we the boys used to feel left out.
I once got up from the back benches and addressed him. “When you are not looking at us sir, we feel your voice too isn’t reaching our ears. We too are here to learn.”
This innocent plea of mine drew instant laughter not just from the boys about also the girls.
The furious look that Professor Jalil had given me is still printed on my mind.
“Why is Professor Jalil so annoyed with you?” Wasti Sahib asked me.
I reluctantly narrated the incident. Professor Wasti too gave a hearty laugh, but then said in a serious tone of voice.
“You have got yourself in trouble Akbar. He is going to be one of your examiners and he is not the forgiving type.”
“But sir what can he at the best do?” I said. “Be harsh in giving marks to me? I am prepared for it. But if I fail in his paper I will raise hell.”
“I will advise you to be a good boy which of course you are. “Professor Wasti gave me an affectionate look. “I know you are not serious about your studies. Why?”
There was a pause before I said: “Sir I seriously believe I had enough of these studies. Meaning no insult to this University I want to tell you sir, my goal is not to get a degree. I will not need any degree in my life. I will build my career on the basis of what I have within me rather than the degree I will get.”
Wasti Sahib looked at me intently; then smiled and said: “My best wishes and prayers will always be with you my boy….”.
He was among few persons whose impact on my thinking was of lasting nature.
He was a conservative down to the core.
I remember once there was a proposal to go for a long picnic which involved a night away from home. I opposed this proposal on the ground that it was not a particularly great idea that boys and girls should embark on such a venture together.
This argument of mine was quickly shot down by a girl as sheer backwardness.
“Who doesn’t know Mr Akbar has a sick mind,” she said scornfully.
The matter went to Professor Wasti the Head of the Department.
I remember his response distinctly. We were in the class, when suddenly he pointed his finger towards me and asked: “Have you a four-anna coin?”
It was a queer query, I rose up nervously and said “yes”.
“Go out of the classroom and drop that coin in the corridor,” said Wasti Sahib.
Everyone was perplexed.
As I made my move towards the door nervously Professor Wasti said: “Let us presume you have dropped the coin there. Now sit down and let me ask Miss Rasheeda Memon a simple question. When we go out of the class, will that coin be there?”
Miss Rasheeda was the girl who had dubbed my mind sick. She rose from her seat a bit unsettled and said: “Who knows? If someone happens to notice it he or she may pick up and pocket it.”
“Exactly Miss Memon,” Wasti Sahib said: “The society that we can’t trust with a four anna coin will act with absolute honesty in the case of the girls —will it? Remember the poor coin doesn’t put on the lipstick even.”
Everyone was dumbfounded at this cold and sarcastic remark.
I remember my shaking voice rise: “Thank you sir.”
I have narrated this incident to give my readers an idea of how permissive liberalism and orthox conservatism were already at war in the early 1960s. In America too a revolution of values was taking shaps at that time which was adequately depicted by Grace Metalius in her best-selling novel Peyton Place A Hollywood blockbuster too was produced based on this novel. Another great novel that came out in that era from America was Edna Ferber’s Giant in which racism of the conservative Americans was beautifully depicted. A movie was also made under the same title which starred Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. It was the era of the Civil Rights movement in America which was led by Martim Luther King who was to get assassinated in the same decade.
I think I should mention here three books that had great impact on me at that time. One was Napoleon Bonaparte by Abbot that was virtually an eye witness account of the life of the great man. The book had remained out of print for several decades because of the British ban on it. Uncle Nasim Hijazi gave a copy of it to me in Abbottabad where I read all the 1800 pages of it in a kind of hypnotic spell. I was practically mesmerized by the towering personality of the Little Corporal. Here was a man who had virtually shaped his destiny from nothing. After his military academy days he had fallen into deep depression because of the gap between his ‘insignificant reality’ and his towering dreams. He had decided to commit suicide. The night he was roaming along the River Seine, determined to jump into its waters and get drowned, he came across an old friend who had come for a walk there alongwith his wife.
“Hello Bonaparte, where have you been? How come you are roaming here and not commanding an army? “Napoleon’s friend had asked good- humouredly.
Napoleon stared at his friend’s face for a while, then said: “I had come here to drown myself buddy. But you have reminded me that I was born to command armies. Thank you for pulling me back from the brink.”
After that night Napoleon never looked back.
I believe that Napoleon is the most distorted figure in history. British propagandists have distorted his character so extensively that many thrilling and fascinating aspects of this French Wizard are not known.
I was lucky to have laid my hands on that book.
The other book was Alexander Dumas’ novel The Count Of Monte Cristo which too was lent to me by Mamoon Jaan. It too was spread over 1800 pages. The story of Edmined Dantes who had been betrayed by his childhood sweetheart and had been sent to prison on a mid-sea island on a false charge was so absorbing that I read the novel virtually non-stop for two days and nights. From the escape of Edmund Dantes from the jail in possession of a map that led to a fabulous buried treasure, to his emergence in Paris as Count of Monte Cristo, Dumas had put his heart and soul in his novel.
In my opinion it is the greatest story ever written about the power of the human will, and of the indomitable passion that the spirit of revenge creates in man.
The third book was the Rise & Fall of the Third Reich, by Shirer.
Though the book was a savage denunciation of the character of Hitler, it had quite the opposite impact on me. I interpreted the Founder of the Nazi Party and the Builder of the Third Reich in a different way. Without any doubt Hitler was the greatest ever common man of the West who rose from virtually the ashes to transform a fallen and defeated Nation into a Force about which Churchill was to write: “For each German Soldier that we killed, they killed five allied soldiers.”
As the examinations came closer in 1961, I grew aware of a strange desire of one of my class fellows— Habib ur Rahman. He was a very good student, and I liked him a lot. I came to know from a common friend that he had vowed to beat me in the exams and secure the top position. Precisely why he was burning the midnight oil with incredible passion.
I told our common friend:
“He can take it easy. I have no desire to excel in the exams. Infact I will not come back to get my degree after the exams are over.”
So it was to be.
I remember spending just one hour in the examination hall for my last paper. It was on Additional English. Meaning thereby that I had attempted only half the paper, leaving the rest unanswered so that my friend could fulfill his dream.
It was not to be. He still fell short by 9 marks to beat me. And this was despite the fact that Professor Jalil had virtually massacred me in the Poetry paper. On July 27 1961, my 22nd birth day anniversary. I entered the premises of Daily Kohistan to report on duty to the late Mr Aali Rizvi. Enayatullah Sahib was in England at that time controlling the launch of Weekly Akhbar-e-Watan from London.
My first assignment in journalism was that of a proof reader. Aali Rizvi the Editor made me his assistant on the Editorial page. For a whole month I read the proofs of the contents of that page. Then one morning I learnt that Enayatullah Sahib had arrived from London the previous night.
At about 11 o’clock that morning I was summoned by Enayatuallah Sahib to his room.
My Oddessey in Journalism was to begin the same day.