Gap Years: Another Teaching Assignment Before England

"I found American students very difficult to teach and not amenable to considerate and kind hearted behaviour. The only time I disliked teaching was in this school because the students refused to be friendly"

Gap Years: Another Teaching Assignment Before England

Note: This extract is from the author’s coming autobiography titled Not The Whole Truth: My Life and Times
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One day, when I was at home after the end of my triumphant one month at Burn Hall, I received the news that the University of Sussex had cancelled the M.A. class that year as there were only two candidates. I was mortified but nothing was possible since, most foolishly, I had applied to no other university. The British Council officer in Islamabad could hardly believe that anybody could apply for just one university but, instead of cancelling the offer, he decided to give me a chance and drummed it into my head that one has to apply to many universities to hedge one’s bets. I decided to apply to many universities next year. However, I was most attracted to the University of Sheffield which offered an M.A. in English History and English Literature, 1880 to 1920. I still had the idea that I should study the social sciences to pursue my dream of writing about peace. That is why I had chosen Sussex which offered politics and now chose Sheffield which offered history. Then, contrary to my careless style, I worked harder on the application to Sheffield than the ones to Birmingham for Shakespeare studies and other places.

One day I went to Burn Hall at the students’ invitation. They had written a letter to me saying they wanted to ask me some questions for their examination. When I reached the school, the principal was offended at the very idea of my having been invited by the boys. He said he knew nothing of this and that this would be against the discipline of the school. At that time, I was in high dudgeon against him, as were the boys, but now I feel he was quite right. If I had been a bit more tactful and worldly-wise, I would have understood his point of view even then but his cold attitude appeared like lack of recognition and appreciation for my work. Anyway, he was decent enough to lodge me in what used to be Father Ford’s room for the night. I left the school after breakfast. The brigadier, however, had no hard feelings against me and actually praised my work in the GHQ when he met Brigadier Naseeruddin.

One September day I was passing in front of the International School of Islamabad. This was a place young army officers mentioned in the hush hush tones one would have used for a harem. Then reason was that they saw beautiful girls in jeans and shorts coming and going out of the place. So, I went in only to see what the place was like. Being there I met the principal and asked him for a part-time job. I was jobless then but this was an unplanned and impulsive decision. And what a surprise – he actually hired me to teach a class for an hour or so a day. A Danish man, Ole, had been teaching them before and now I took over from him. My army friends studying languages in NIML, which was near the American school, regarded me with much awe even questioning me about the ‘houris’. I told them that when ‘houris’ become students they do not remain houris any longer. As for the young teachers they saw emerging from cars and driving off at top speed, I did not know them at all. I was new and the children I taught might also be taught by those teachers, but I did not pass any time with them. As for the teenage girl students, they were students so I did not notice them. As such, there were no stories to tell. They told me that they would have to write me off the list of their officers’ mess since I refused to regale them with stories of a salacious kind about the young teachers if not the senior female students. The excuse that I did not know them was not accepted. I forget the names of these officers studying in NIML as they were just temporary acquaintances and not old friends. In any case, this kind of banter was never seriously meant and my friends were, so to speak, ‘officers and gentlemen’.

While the NIML officers were actually temporary acquaintances rather than friends, I did have friends of many years standing. One of them was Joji – Major (Later Colonel) Javed Mehr – who had been an officer at PMA when I was posted there. Also, I had become very friendly with lieutenant (later colonel) Azam Jaffar whom I had met in PMA when he was a cadet and whose parents had died while he was still under training. Azam had joined the Ordnance as it allowed him to live in Pindi and take care of his sisters and brother – Sara, Bubble and Yusuf – in a small barrack-type house owned by the Ordnance Mess.  Azam had decided never to let his sisters and brother be dispersed among relatives. He was always in debt, not so much as his apparent extravagance as the fact that he was supporting his siblings on the inadequate salary of a subaltern. However, what impressed me was that he kept his head high; lived under his own roof; and his siblings really looked up to him. I started having long conversations with him and his taste for Urdu poetry made us enjoy many an evening. We used to go out in my red Datsun to every restaurant in the city. For a change I had a lot of money.

This happened because the American School I have mentioned above had offered me a full-time job which paid almost Rs. 5000 a month – a fabulous sum of money at a time when even senior officers were not paid as much in cash. This had happened because a group of Islamists had taken over the Kaaba, the holiest shrine in Islam, and someone had spread the rumour that the Americans had done it. Hence, a crowd of angry students from the Quaid-i-Azam University had attacked and burnt part of the American embassy. Some Americans had been killed. They had also threatened the school and American families and teachers were evacuated. When the school reopened, they were short of teachers and so I was offered a full-time job. That is why I could afford all the hoteling with Azam. I also gave my brother and sister regular monthly pocket money and looked after the car. In fact, I spent the money generously and eased the burden on my mother who wanted to buy gifts for my sister’s wedding. 

The term at the International School was to end in June and now I was teaching both 11th and 12th grades. I found American students very difficult to teach and not amenable to considerate and kind hearted behaviour. The only time I disliked teaching was in this school because the students refused to be friendly. They had to be controlled all the time and they took mildness and good-natured behaviour to be weakness. It was very different from my beautiful experience at PMA, Military College, PNEC and Burn Hall. But a few students appreciated me very much and one of them wrote me to thank me for my good influence on his life. He kept meeting me for many years off and on.

In the summer of 1980, I was invited by Shahryar Ameerzab, who was a scion of the princely family of that state, to visit him at Saidu Sharif, Swat. As I had heard much about the beauty of Swat I decided to go. When I reached to airport, I found that the plane would not take off because of bad weather. Nothing daunted, I went out and looked for a car and sure enough four people were already talking to a taxi driver about taking them there. When I joined them, the driver agreed and we drove to Saidu Sharif. To my great disappointment, Shahryar was not at home. However, his mother – a daughter of Field Marshal Ayub Khan – gave me tea and told me that her son was very pleased when I had agreed to visit Swat on the phone. I was surprised and glad that I had come. Shahryar arrived a little later and was really overjoyed. I was lodged in a guest house which was a house by itself. Next morning Shahryar and I were driven all over Swat. We visited the Wali of Swat’s summer palace made of white marble and went to Bahrain. The weather was refreshingly cool and the river road down the mountain gorges. It was, indeed, a beautiful place. After a week I flew to Peshawar in a small plane.

From Peshawar I went to my old regiment, 25 Cavalry, in Kohat. They told me that elements of the regiment had moved to Parachinar. As I had not visited that wild outpost of Pakistan, I travelled there by bus. The mess where I was lodged was fascinating. The mountains around it were like a fort and the greenery was like a picture postcard. I returned home with ideas of short stories in my mind which I wrote as Ammi prepared clothes for Tayyaba’s marriage. 

The marriage was a very colourful affair with Khurshida Baji and her son Pervez Shams putting colour into it by singing marriage songs. I loved the one about the bride refusing to go home with anyone except her husband (paehli duar mere susre aye/ susre sang meri juti jaye…[the first time, my father-in-law came/ with him only my shoe goes…). There were other songs about the bride or groom’s family though an old aunt told us not to say anything denigrating about Azam’s family since they were Sayyids. About ours, being Pathans by caste, anything could be said. So, Bubble and Sara had a free hand whereas the girls of our side did not. Arjumand Khala, Tipu’s mother, came from Karachi with her daughter. It was, indeed, a highly colourful event. However, when Tayyaba went away, Ammi sat down pensively shedding quiet tears. A daughter had gone and a son, myself, was about to depart to what she called “the land beyond the seven seas.”