Pictures of the ignominious defeat and surrender of the Pakistan Army on 16th December, 1971 in Dacca is something I would like to erase from my memory.
Yaade maazi azaab he yarab
Chhin le mujh se haafiza mera.
However, one memory I would never like to forget is that of my school days. These are such pleasant memories and still so fresh, so joyful, as if they happened only yesterday. Whenever I am alone, I sit in my chair, close my eyes and relax and go back 65 years to the time I was a student at Ginnori Primary School in Bhopal. My father was head master/superintendant of high schools in the Central Provinces (CP) in British India before his retirement.
First a few words about Bhopal. Bhopal was a Muslim State in the heart of the Indian sub-continent. It had a population of about 700,000 and an area of about 7,000 square kilometres. It could quite rightly be called the Switzerland of India. There were dense forests, rivers, high mountains and an abundance of wildlife like tigers, leopards, bears, crocodiles, deer, sambhar, nilgae, wild dogs, peacocks and many different kind of birds. It is situated at the crossing of the main Delhi-Bombay and Amritsar-Calcutta railway lines – hence a very important railway junction. There were seven man-made lakes in Bhopal State, one of them being the largest in undivided India. All the lakes were full of fish and shrimps. In my young days, it was not uncommon for tigers, leopards and bears to be sighted hardly five to six kilometres from the city centre. Bhopal city was built on hilly terrain and cyclists often had to get off their bicycles because the slopes were so steep. It was also famous for its beautiful mosques (there being at least one every 200 yards) and the number of huffaz (who used to travel throughout Central India to lead tarawih prayers during Ramazan). Last but not least, Bhopal had the best hockey team in undivided India. Who has not heard of Anwar, Habib, Aziz and Latif, all famous Olympians.
Out of the total population, hardly 25% were Muslim, the remainder being Hindus and local Gonds and Bheels. Muslims were in the majority in the cities of Bhopal and Sehore. The police force and small local army were also mainly Muslims. Businessmen and government officials were of mixed religion/descent. There was complete harmony between all segments of the population. It was a relatively well-to-do state – there was no unemployment and there were no beggars. The Muslim rulers and Muslim population were of Pathan descent. After the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, his empire disintegrated and the governor (Qiledar) of the large mughal fort at Raisen, about 20 km. from Bhopal city, declared his independence. After some time Rani Kamlapati gave him Bhopal State in gratitude for his help in avenging the murder of her beloved husband by a neighbour. Dost Muhammad Khan, the first ruler, was from Tirah in NWFP and this brought about the influx of Pathans. All this happened early in the 18th century. My mother’s family came from Tirah while my father’s family came from Ghore with Sultan Shahabuddin Ghori.
Now here is something for those who are burning girls’ schools and colleges to think about! After Sardar Dost Muhammad Khan’s death in 1740, five ladies ruled Bhopal. Maji Mamola, wife of Nawab Yar Muhammad Khan, successor to Sardar Dost M. Khan, ruled as regent for their daughter, Qudsia Begum. After Qudsia Begum came Sikander Begum, Shah Jehan Begum and Sultan Jehan Begum. These enlightened (lady) rulers turned Bhopal State into a modern, prosperous, welfare state. They all spoke fluent Persian and Urdu and had learnt some English as well. They established a large number of schools, both for boys and girls, and provided free education. Nawab Sultan Jehan Begum made generous donations to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan for the establishment of Aligarh Muslim University and had the distinction of being its first Chancellor. After her death her son, Nawab Hameedullah Khan, who had graduated from Aligarh, was chosen as the Chancellor. Had those ladies not been educated, had they not encouraged education, both for boys and girls, I would probably have been no more than a kharkar, a cobbler or stone breaker.
There were separate schools for boys and girls. My mother taught us at home. My wife helped our daughters with their homework and now our daughters are helping our granddaughters. If you don’t educate your girls, you leave out half your population, you prevent them from becoming better wives and mothers, from being able to cope in case of the death of a parent or husband, from learning about Islam, health, nutrition, etc, from contributing to society and much more. Without the encouragement mothers can give, many children, even boys, would drop out of school, leading to an even higher rate of illiteracy. How then could we possibly progress as a nation? You are not only holding back women, you are holding back the nation.
About education today, I am aware of the large number of reports, articles, suggestions, recommendations, etc. by various committees about the type of education we are supposed to have in our schools. I won’t go into numbers, statistics, literacy rate, etc. There are already hundreds of such papers collecting dust in many cupboards. My view is that, first and foremost it is imperative to enforce a uniform school system throughout the country. Each province should have its provincial language as a compulsory subject. I would like to look back at my own schooling as I believe it was successful in the formation of my career and life and is still applicable and useful for our children today. In the first two years of primary school we were taught the basics of Urdu, elementary arithmetic, Quran, Islamiat and writing. From class III on serious studies began in Urdu, arithmetic, Islamiat and English. As we progressed depth was added to the existing subjects and others were added – history of the Indian sub-continent, British history, European history, geography of the Indian sub-continent, world geography, English grammar and composition, etc.
In middle school, Persian or Arabic, and algebra and geometry were added. In classes IX and X we were taught anatomy and physiology and given a choice between physics and chemistry or botany and zoology. By this time we were reading selections in prose and poetry covering the works of Shakespeare, Byron, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Tagore, Bertrand Russell and so on. By the time we passed high school, we were quite well versed in all the subjects covered. We were able to write both Urdu and English quite well. 8 years of studying English left us free from any inferiority complex on that score. The best thing about this system was that we were not estranged from our own cultural heritage. In Urdu we read all the famous poets like Mir, Minai, Sauda, Momin, Dabir, Anis, Dard, Insha, Daagh, Ghalib, Zouq, Iqbal, Josh, Jigar, etc. with their biographies and selected works. It is that grooming that still gives me so much pleasure when reading poetry. High school examinations in Bhopal state were under the control of the Rajputana Board, one of the toughest in undivided India.
I don’t see why a somewhat similar system, adapted to modern requirements, like computer studies, etc. can’t work today. The main requirement of any good, credible system is honesty, discipline and dedication, both on the part of teachers and students. On the one hand we are shouting ourselves hoarse over the destruction of schools in Swat and the Tribal Areas (which is despicable, abhorrent and unforgivable) but at the same time we totally ignore the presence of thousands of ghost schools or schools without proper teachers and/or facilities in Sindh and Punjab. The condition of most of the government schools is atrocious. If our leaders and others responsible do not look into this serious problem and take remedial measures, the Pakistani nation will soon be reduced to a few educated elite and a majority of illiterate, ignorant and incompetent people. What I am trying to stress is that, while a top-class education at university is important, our rich cultural heritage should be inculcated at school level. If one does not know one’s own cultural heritage, one loses one’s identity. In order to achieve this aim, the government must enforce a uniform school syllabus for the whole of Pakistan in which our cultural heritage is an integral part.