Friday, 12 September 2014

Dr.Khan Sahib remembered

Originally published by the Frontier Post, May 27, 2004

By Syed Afzaal Hussain Zaidi

Forty-six years ago on May 9, 1958, an assassin's dagger pierced through Dr. Khan Sahib's heart and snuffed a life of devotion to the service of down trodden and deprived people. Sir Olaf Caroe author of the famous book "The Pathans" recorded that once when he asked the Doctor who was his role model instantly he replied Sher Shah Suri whose name shines in history for building roads, Sarais and wells for welfare of common people.

President Iskander Mirza, his life long friend, paying homage to Dr. Khan Sahib described him as "the greatest Pathan of his times, a great leader and a gallant gentleman whose life-long fight in the cause of freedom, his sufferings and sacrifices for the sake of his convictions and his passion to do good to the common man were the attributes of a really great man." In my official position as Information Officer, I came into contact with Dr. Khan Sahib on December 2, 1954, the very day he was sworn in as Minister for Communication and Railways in Muhammad Ali Bogra's Cabinet. Thus began a relationship of utmost devotion from me and trust and affection by him as long as he lived. His most endearing quality, which stuck me, was his total commitment to the service of the common people of Pakistan. Addressing the officers of the Ministry of Communications and Railways immediately after assuming charge of the Ministry he said ""I have no desire but the service of the people and this is what I expect from all whom God has placed in positions of power. We should endeavour to translate political freedom into ways and means for social and economic uplift of our people". He said he was a member of an interim government and for a short period with them wants to accomplish one or two things which should really alleviate the sufferings of the people. In the discussion, that followed there was consensus that people of Karachi faced great hardship due to inadequate transport facilities in the fast expanding metropolis. Dr. Khan Sahib commissioned a senior officer of Pakistan Railways to prepare a plan for transport for Karachi. As a result of Dr. Khan Sahib's personal interest in the project, the Karachi Road Transport Corporation came into being.

Dr. Khan Sahib was meticulous in attending his office in the Tughlaq House. He would first examine the chart of the arrivals and departures of the trains at and from Karachi. He believed that the punctuality of the trains was an indicator of the efficiency of the Railways. An incident comes to mind. The Karachi Mirpukhas train was usually running late. Dr. Khan Sahib issued several warnings to the divisional superintendent of Railways but to no avail. Dr. Khan Sahib ordered transfer of the officer, who was brother-in-law of the Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Bogra, to East Pakistan Railways. The Prime Minister interceded on behalf of his brother-in-law but Dr. Khan Sahib refused to withdraw his orders.

Dr. Khan Sahib himself would draw schedule of his engagements. Every month he would travel by train to Peshawar would look into the amenities in the lower class compartments, and state of cleanliness at the Railway Stations. Every week he would visit the Karachi Port to see the progress of construction of new jetties. Every third month he would visit East Pakistan, to inspect progress of expansion of Chittagong Port and Railway, and post and telecommunications projects. He would discuss his observations with the Heads of the Departments. He was averse to file work and rarely wrote notes on the files. He believed in direct approach to the subject.

Dr. Khan Sahib developed close trust in Syed Mufidul Hasan, Director General of Railways, Col. S.A Siddiqui, Director General of Postal Services and Mr. Muhammad Hussain, Chief Engineer of Telecommunications. I heard him saying a number of times that Pakistan should be proud of these officers. One incident comes to memory. The Ministry of Finance had proposed to increase the price of post card by one paisa in order to recover cost of production. Dr. Khan Sahib put his foot down. He said post card was poor man's mode of communication and he should not be burdened. He used to say postman was the most deprived official and deserved substantial increase in salary. He spoke to Chaudhri Muhammad Ali, Finance Minister Chaudhri Sahib regretted that the budget was already stretched to the utmost limit. Dr. Khan Sahib conveying finance minister's response to Col.. Siddiqui said, "What can you expect from a babu."

met Dr. Khan Sahib last time in April 1958. He came from Lahore to stay with President Iskander Mirza. I went to pay my respects. While I was with him, the President walked into the room. They talked for a couple of minutes in Pushto. Suddenly Dr. Khan Sahib addressing the President said "Malik Sahib (Malik Feroze Khan Noon) has told me you have forced him to grant another extension to that man (General Ayub Khan). You take it from me he will stab you as his brother (Sardar Bahadur Khan) has stabbed me." Iskander Mirza laughed. Then he seized Dr. Khan Sahib 's arms saying "come, Khanum is waiting for us at lunch table", led him out of the room.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

H.M Close: They don’t make teachers like him anymore

this article was originally published by The News on Sunday August 24, 2014
Aziz Ahmad

If you ask an old student of 1950s and 60s who he remembers most among his teachers at the Islamia College Peshawar, he will invariably name an Englishman, among others.
His name was Hubert Michael Close or H.M. Close or simply Close for his students and colleagues.
After graduating from Cambridge, Close went to teach English at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi in 1937. However, his teaching career was interrupted when he joined the army during World War II, and he ended up in Cyprus and other Mediterranean islands commanding a Pathan Company.
At the end of the war, Close went back to St. Stephen’s, and then, after the Partition, migrated to Pakistan to take up teaching English at Islamia College Peshawar.

In his book, A Pathan Company, published in 1993, Close warmly describes his “boys” in B Company that he commanded, admiring their sturdiness, simplicity of habits, sincerity and loyalty to their commander. It was probably his affection for the young Pathan soldiers of his Company that motivated him to move to Peshawar.

I first saw Close when I entered college and was allotted a room in Hardinge hostel, Room 52, to share with three other students — Ayub Kundi from D.I. Khan, Sahibzada Ayaz from Mansehra and Mian Jameel from Peshawar. Close also lived in Hardinge hostel, in a one-bedroom apartment immediately above our room.

Because of our proximity to his apartment, we often saw him coming from or going to his apartment and, in the process, developed more than a nodding acquaintance with him.
I remember him as a lean man of medium height, probably in his 40s, with a ruddy complexion, thinning brown hair, small penetrating eyes and a rather shy demeanour.
Other than social work, Close’s pursuit of happiness included smoking a pipe and listening to western classical music.

In the early years of Pakistan, elementary military training, called Compulsory Military Training or CMT for short, was introduced in the college. All first-year students had to undergo CMT for three months. Close, with his army background, was a natural choice to head the CMT, and he immersed himself into the task with passion.

At daybreak, he would blow a whistle to pull the students out of their beds, literally sometimes when necessary, make them change into the prescribed uniform — shorts, shirt and PT shoes — and, after a few drills, take them on a run-and-crawl routine all the way to Jamrud, some four miles, and back.
CMT became synonymous with Close, and students jokingly called it Close Military Training. He demanded and instilled a discipline to which the students, mostly coming from the rural areas of the province, were not used to. Not many relished it, but every one of the old students you talk to remembers the rigours of CMT fondly.

Donating blood was another of Close’s passions. He not only donated blood himself, repeatedly, but also encouraged students to donate blood to Lady Reading Hospital, the only public hospital in the city at the time. He would go around the campus looking for potential donors, talk to them, befriend them, cajole them — almost compel them — and ultimately lead them to Lady Reading Hospital. Without Close’s efforts, the blood bank of Lady Reading Hospital probably could not have sustained.

During summer vacations, Close would lead teams of students on anti-malaria campaigns (another of his passions) in the remote villages of Hazara, where they would go from village to village, spraying houses, cowsheds and ponds of stagnant water with insecticides. Those campaigns not only helped save villagers from the ravages of malaria, they also helped the students gain an insight into the life of ordinary village folk, and inspired some to explore the surrounding mountains at the end of their social work projects.

I remember a hiking trip when, at the end of an anti-malaria campaign in Balakot and the surrounding villages, a group of five of us climbed Musa ka Musalla, a 14,000 feet high peak in the Himalayas. It was the greatest adventure of our lives!

The quickest way to get into Close’s good books was to either donate blood or join his summer social work campaigns, or even better, both.

A lifelong bachelor, Close lived a Spartan life. He was usually seen in a white shirt and khaki trousers and, in winters, a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches.

Close was also a biking buff. I don’t ever remember seeing him travel by the college bus or a car. He always rode his Raleigh bicycle, his khaki trousers clamped at the ankles, going around the campus, whistling a tune and taking in the sweet fragrance of bitter-orange blossoms that filled the campus air in the months of March and April.

During the month of Ramzan, Close would get up at sehri along with everyone else and would fast until iftar, because of which students jokingly referred to him as Hafiz or Haji M. Close, playing on his initials. On Sundays, he would ride his bicycle to the city to attend church service, a five-mile ride either way. He was a deeply religious man.

Other than social work, Close’s pursuit of happiness included smoking a pipe and listening to western classical music. In fact, we could trace his movements to and from his apartment by the fragrant trail of the pipe smoke he left behind him. Occasionally, when we went upstairs to his apartment to ask something and found the door to his living room open, we would see him humming along his gramophone and vigorously chopping the air with his hand as if he were actually conducting the symphony being played. This was our introduction to the western classical music.

Close is remembered today by his students not for what he taught in the classroom but mostly for what he taught outside it: Discipline, compassion, social work and adventure, and, to us four roommates in Room 52, a little bit of Beethoven and Mozart.

Close remained at Islamia College until his retirement and then moved to Edwardes College and remained there until his death, in 1999.

- The writer Aziz Ahmad is a human resource consultant.