To London, Paris And Beyond: Documenting Pakistan’s Language Politics, Without Funding

To London, Paris And Beyond: Documenting Pakistan’s Language Politics, Without Funding
Note: This extract is from the author’s coming autobiography titled Not The Whole Truth: My Life and Times.
Click here for part V


In 1999 my surveying became more intense. I went to Peshawar where my friend Col. Iftikhar Hassan entertained me. He too had retired from the army and his ex-batman, Dilbur Khan, cooked excellent meals for him. Here too I went to madrasas and schools helped by an ex-major and a QAU student Rahman, who really went out of his way to help me out. By the middle of 1999 the surveying was going on quite satisfactorily but I knew I would have to go to London to get material in the India office Library. How was I to manage it this time when there was no Dr Kazi at the UGC to give me a return ticket? As it happened, however, we had some savings because of my work at the SDPI and, instead of spending it on other things, I and Hana decided that it would go to my research. So, when Manzar’s marriage ended (in July 1999) and our guests from Lahore went away, I was set to go to England.

Next morning, I took off for London. The idea was to study at the British Library, then stop in Paris for a lecture, and go on to the University of Aarhus in Denmark where I had been invited as a guest professor. My colleague and friend, Anjum Saleemi, who was now working at Aarhus had been instrumental in getting me the invitation. I was supposed to teach a course of one month duration on political themes in post-colonial South Asian literature in English – something I had not touched with a forty-foot long pole since a long time. But research extracts a price from researchers of countries like ours—call them the global South, developing or Third World as you prefer-- and this was the price I was going to pay. As for Paris, I had been invited by Professor Christophe Jaffrelot who wanted me to contribute a chapter to his forthcoming book on Pakistan. I was supposed to give a lecture on language policy and politics in Pakistan. The real purpose of the visit, of course, was to complete my research in the Oriental Collections of the British Library (as the India Office Library was known now) – such are the subterfuges of unsupported researchers!

When I came through the immigration, I found the usual crowd in the lounge but no Razi Sahib who was my wife’s colleague in a school in Pindi and now lived in London. He was to be my host in London and for some time I thought he had not arrived. I thought I should ring his house when I saw him waving at me. We met and he and his friend set off to his house. There was a warm meal, cooked by Razi Sahib and his wife, and warmed up by their little child who was most intrigued at seeing a stranger, I felt good. As I slept in the child’s room, I thought of all the years I had spent in Britain. And now here I was again.

Next morning, I travelled by bus and tube to the British Library. Just before I turned into it who should greet me but Dr. Riaz Ahmad, the incumbent of the Chair on Quaid-e-Azam and Freedom movement at NIPS in QAU. We were very happy to see each other. I remembered how I had met Dushka when I was doing research on Language and Politics in Pakistan and this time another colleague from QAU was there. We used to meet at lunch and walked back when the library closed at 5 p.m. The work went well and I got as much material as one can in a limited time. Of course, by now I was something of an old hand at the India Office so I knew my limits. It was September and I had a full month to study before moving on to Paris and then to Aarhus. During this month the best time I had was when Chandramohan, a lecturer at Luton University now, took me to see quaint old places, such as John Bunyan’s birthplace near Luton. His son Shamyaka was a nice little boy, rather shy and reticent now, and there was a little girl, Ramini, also who obviously liked pretty dolls better than elderly uncles.

After as much work as time and money would allow, I flew to Paris. Here the quest for Professor Jaffrelot proved rather like a wild goose chase but eventually I landed the goose in a relatively modern building in what seemed to be medieval Paris. Jaffrelot turned out to be a friendly man and a good host. The trains of Paris had, however, degenerated from the last time I was there. There seemed to be more poverty, more shabbiness, more poor people playing musical instruments to beg for money. But Jaffrelot told me something which caused me pain. He said that Shala, my childhood friend, was in a crisis. Her marriage with Denis Matringue was either breaking or had already come to an end. She had met me in Pakistan but had never given me a hint of this. Her brother Shaheen had, however, hinted at this but it struck me only now. I knew she would not tell me so I did not even try to meet her.

The next day was the lecture in which I spoke well about language politics in Pakistan. The ambassador of Pakistan, Shahryar Khan, was there with his staff and I knew that some of my views went against the official policy of the government of Pakistan. As soon as I finished and the applause died, Shahryar Khan spoke up. He said that it was good that the mistaken policies of the past--referring to my criticism of the imposition of Urdu on East Bengal and Jinah’s speech in Dhaka in this regard– should be researched into and corrected. After this the embassy staff could no longer be critical as the military attaché, a brigadier, told me. Riffat Masood, wife of my colleague Masood Zahid who had once hosted me in London, told me what a sophisticated man the ambassador was and how much he had appreciated my lecture. She also told me that she would send me an embassy car to drive me to the airport the day after. I was most grateful for this and thanked her. Next day I spent in seeing Paris once again. I would get down at almost every landmark of that lovely city and missing Hana with whom I had seen Paris before, I would go about the landmarks. In the evening I rang home and who picked up the phone but Tania.

‘Mama has put me in O’ levels’, she said breathlessly ‘I will take the British Council examination as a private candidate’.

‘Excellent. This is a good decision’, I told her.

Tania hated science subjects and we had brought her out of the O’ level stream and put her in the matriculation one at Beaconhouse school. But this too she hated. She was always nervous and anxious and I felt she was under tremendous stress. Now she would study at home and this, I felt, would be less stressful than going to school and trying to cope with subjects she hated so much.

The next morning the embassy’s car came at the correct time but Latin Quarter where I was staying had such narrow streets that it had to be parked in the street at the back of the guest house. I went to the airport and caught the flight to Copenhagen and a connecting one to Aarhus. This was a deserted airport with only a few attendants here and there to suggest that human life was not quite extinct yet. Outside the airport stood Anjum Saleemi and I was pleased to see him because otherwise I would not have known where to go. I found my room in a high barrack-like building on the top (fourth) floor. The room was cosy, with a T.V and an attached bathroom. But I noticed that the place seemed quite lonely. Anyway, the evening was festive – something was being celebrated I believe. And true to Danish tradition, the nectar of the gods flowed freely. Like the British, the Danes were also partial to beer though, being fair-minded, they did not discriminate against other drinks too. I and Saleemi quite approved of their proclivities. When the party was over, I walked back to my room, got settled and watched T.V in Danish. Giving it up because I understood nothing, I tried to sleep.

Next day was taken up by administrative matters. The head of the department, a senior lecturer and not a professor, took me to the bank where I got my pay in advance. Then we went to the tax office where they took some of the pay back leaving me lighter but not much wiser. But even after the hefty tax deduction the leftover was more – much more – that almost a full year’s salary in Pakistan. Library cards were made immediately and my phone and computer were set up. Denmark was efficient. The department had an Indian lecturer too. His name was Prem Podar and he had read my work and we had a nice conversation. Saleemi introduced me to the other colleagues who were all Danish. I found the students – five of them – very good in English and serious in their work though they did not know South Asian literature very well. I had two lectures, both in the afternoon, per week. However, I spent the whole day in the office and the library because the room was lonely. The loneliness had begun to make me uneasy after only three days. On Friday evening of the first week Saleemi invited me for dinner to his house. We went after the office in his car and noticed an eerie silence in the house. Saleemi looked around and probably called his son but met with silence. Then he went in the kitchen and came back with an ashen, dark, haunted face.

‘My wife has left me and taken the children’, he said to me. ‘Here is her note saying her last gift to me is the chicken she has cooked for us. She does not even say where she has gone’. Then he slumped down, held his head in his hands and sobbed. I was overcome with grief as I tried to calm him down. Then he said we would have to go to the head of the department – whose name I forget now – who lived in a village. Since he had had a few drinks, I was afraid of accompanying him but this was no time to abandon him either. I steeled myself and came along and he had to stop the car several times to steady himself as he was prone to becoming completely overcome off and on. But we reached the village intact and the HOD listened to us after overcoming his initial shock. He got us a sandwich each and said the matter would have to be reported to the police. Saleemi came back late at night telling me again and again to trust him and blundering in the dark. When I reached my room, I was mentally upset and physically exhausted.

From that night I started feeling anxious and depressed. The kind of dread and loneliness which had driven me away from England, again took possession of my mind. I did not sleep and my appetite decreased. I knew these symptoms but I tried to battle against them because I had been paid and I wanted the money. I had spent my savings on research in London in the expectation of this payment. Now that I had it in cash, I could not think of returning it. So, in order to pass the time, I visited Prem and his friends in the city. I went around with Saleemi to the house of an Indian friend and also to the city centre. And one evening when the department threw us a party, I felt I could stay on. But that proved to be a passing phase. I grew so restless and the pain grew so much that I decided to leave. Having made up my mind I cancelled my lectures in Stockholm and Amsterdam and also told the management that I would have to cut short the course and leave early. Everybody was surprised and concerned but, both efficiently and courteously, they helped me wind up my affairs. The students came for an extra class and it was decided that I would examine them from Pakistan on what I had done with them. I also returned part of my salary and settled my affairs. There was almost no money left now but I was free to go. So, again to the dreary airport and then to the milling crowds at Heathrow. Here I had no booking – this being PIA if you please which asks you to confirm your seat – but eventually I got a seat. I was glad to see Ahmed Saleem, the noted scholar and editor of the Urdu section at the SDPI, at the airport. I was now relaxed and almost my normal self. Back in Pakistan, where Hana and my driver waited to receive me, I felt perfectly normal, but the horror of what I had passed through remained.

The book was taking a concrete shape now. I was filling in bits and pieces every day by running to a madrassa here and interviewing the principal of a school there. In the December of 1999 I got an invitation from my old friend, Omar Asghar Khan, to visit Abbottabad. He was a federal minister now and his NGO, Sangi, was being looked after by others. My host was Mazhar Arif and I used the occasion to meet Omar and go to the schools of Abbottabad to get the questionaries filled in. My own school, Burn Hall, brought an avalanche of memories as always. Public School Abbottabad looked empty without my teacher, Mr. Abid Jafri. I did, however, go to meet Jafri Sahib at his house near PMA. It was a useful trip from the point of view of my research. In January 2002 my book, now called Language, Ideology and Power: Language-learning among the Muslims of Pakistan and North India was published by the Oxford University Press, Karachi. It was a tome of over 700 pages and I used to joke that it could best be used for throwing at people in an argument.