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The nation needs dedicated teachers: Pirzada Qasim

Karachi, March 20, 2008: Well-known American poet and short story writer Edgar Allan Poe could write only when Pluto, his beloved cat, perched on his right shoulder. There are intellectuals whose muse lets them down unless they use such things as a paan, a cigarette, or a cup of tea. Since he loved to imbibe, Ghalib must have used his favourite beverage to make his poetic genius go. Ghalib also lived in a time when there were no fountain pens and notebooks to jot down his couplets. So he tied knots to his waistband whenever bits of his enduring poetry flashed across his mind.

Pirzada Qasim neither has a pet, nor is he in the habit of using stimulants, nor does he wear a 'knotable' waistband. He does not even use his pen and paper to write down his couplets as and when they take shape in his mind. When an idea pops ups, say during a talk, a walk, a flight, he allows it to rest there and moves on with his usual business of the day. "Neither anybody at my home, nor in office would have ever seen me poring over a piece of paper with a pen in an attempt to write a piece of poetry," says Pirzada, the eminent poet, intellectual and science teacher. When he finally sits down to transfer his thoughts onto paper, probably at night, he tries to recall the couplets, which sometimes elude his memory forever.

He has two collections of poetry to his credit - Shaulay pay zuban and Tund hawa kay jashn main. A third one, Mujhay duaon main yaad rakhiyay, published by a group of his former students to honour him at a ceremony contains a selection from his two books as well as some fresh ghazals and poems. This book also contains eminent writers and poets' laudatory comments they made about him at various occasions. The luminaries who have paid tribute to him include Ali Sardar Jafri, Akhtarul Eiman, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Raam Laal, Jamil Jalibi and Abul Khair Kashafi. He plans to bring out a fourth collection. He says he has not written much. But whatever he has written has been acclaimed by prominent critics.

When I tried to contact him, I was told the vice-chancellor of Karachi University was in Tehran. When newspaper reports suggested Dr (Prof) Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui was back in town, before I could catch him, he had gone to Islamabad. And the day he was expected to return, he was in his office, where he might have come direct from the airport. His public relations office told me that the VC could be available for an interview on Friday, at 11am. "But make sure that 11 should mean 11 and not 11.15," said the protocol officer of Karachi University.

When I was escorted to the hall adjoining the VC office, a few people were already seated there waiting for an audience with him. He had just seen off Dr Manzoor Ahmed, the well-known teacher and scholar. Faculty, staff and students constantly seek his attention. He has to peruse and sign official files, attend seminars, meetings with high-ranking officials, tour abroad and he is member of several academic institutions. He has to keep himself updated on the situation on the campus, remain in contact with foreign universities, and a lot more. Since he is in constant demand as a speaker at literary, cultural and academic functions, he has to prepare speeches for the events also. His resume shows he has always been in important positions besides being a teacher head of department, acting vice-chancellor, pro-VC, VC of Urdu University, etc -- that demanded time and energy. Being a science student, he never had the luxury of rest.

Keeping in mind his occupation with such multiple matters, my obvious question was how he could spare time to read Urdu literature and compose his outstanding poetry. He says that from the beginning he has set his mind on how to make the best use of available time. "I calculate what task needs how much attention," he says. For instance, when there is a pause in receiving people or signing papers, he picks up one of the books stacked high next to his seat and begins reading it. And before going to bed he reads for about two hours daily.

The vice-chancellor attributes his successes to the initial attention and training he received at his school. He studied at a ramshackle Jacobline government school, one of the few state-run schools now disparagingly called peela schools, on account of their yellow whitewash.

He says teachers in those days were committed to education. They tried their best to train and educate their students. "Now people who do not find any other job become teachers, which affects students adversely. The nation needs committed teachers."

On his school bench, he was flanked on one side by the son of a big industrialist and on the other by a boy whose father ran a barber shop on Katrak Road. Proving that parents of that period were also very considerate, he cites the example of children of Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar, who was then the governor of West Pakistan. "The governor house driver had been told to drop the children at the Empress Market, well away from the school so that other students did not have a sense of deprivation."

He says children's relationship with books should be established from the beginning. They should be inculcated with the habit of visiting school libraries on a regular basis. "They should be encouraged to borrow books from the library and return them the next day. Even if they do not read them, the habit will establish a link between them and books."

He further suggests that besides taking children to recreational spots, they should be taken to big libraries and book fairs. They should be encouraged to buy books. "When I took my children (a girl and two boys) to book fairs, I allowed them to make generous purchases."

He recalls that once his wife gave her a handsome amount of money to get a VCR, saying that everyone had the machine and their children also wanted one. When he returned home, his curious children began opening one after another the boxes he had brought in. "But to their surprise, instead of a VCR, came out from the cartons a set of encyclopedia."

Recalling his visit to a library set up by the late Hakim Said, he says: "I was impressed to see the vast and varied collection. Hakim sahib said 'Pirzada, do you know who has helped make this collection of books so vast? The unworthy offspring of renowned scholars and writers. When they pass away, their children first dump the books in a garage. Then seeing that the rooms filled with books have unnecessarily occupied the space, they dispose them of to junk dealers. And I have my men after those junk dealers to buy those books at nominal prices'. I became so depressed to learn this that I remained sick for two days."

He says he has read almost all poets right from Wali Dakkani to known poets of today. "During this journey you make stopovers at places such as Mir, Ghalib and Iqbal to read them rather deeply. Many present-day poets are also very well highlighting the current issues."

He says Ghalib is the paragon of Urdu poetry. He says a great poet is one who may make a common subject a unique one. In this regard he mentions Iqbal's poem on the Cordoba mosque and says it can compare with any poem in world literature.

He says he is not satisfied with the state of higher education in Pakistan. "The things have, however, begun moving in the right direction. During the last four to five years, the government has given generous grants to universities. Now they do not only have enough to make their recurring expenditure but have funds to expand their infrastructure also."

Born into an educated family of Delhi in 1943, Pirzada Qasim arrived in Pakistan at the age of five. Here he studied at the Jacobline school, D.J. Science College and Karachi University, where he earned his MSc (physiology) degree. He obtained his PhD from a British university. Dawn


Your Comments

"All this may be true, but the Vice Chancellor role in the recent violence by Rangers on one of Karachi University teacher leaves a very different impression of the man. Its a shame. "
Name: p j siddiqui
Email: pjsiddiqui@yahoo.com
City, Country: Karachi, Pakistan

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