Some of my close friends, such as Muatasim Qazi, know for how long I have been planning to write this piece. This is meant to pay tribute to one of my best (living) teachers ever. We, as a society, still need a lot to raise the respect of our teachers. They have all enormously contributed to the opening up of our minds and broadening our world vision.
Master Liaquat was one such teacher from my (Government Model High) school (Panjgur) days whose teachings inculcated the sense of liberalism, free thought and critical analysis. He taught me Urdu literature at school when I was in class six. What was so good about him? Many things, I must say. He was an independent thinker and I used to look at him with utter disbelief every time he spoke differently from many of our teachers.
As I grew up, many of my school teachers taught me art, music, dance and photography were all un-Islamic. Any child who was ever seen singing inside the school would often get punished. The only times we (not necessarily me, of course) got an opportunity to demonstrate our “singing talent” (but to call it a singing talent was also taboo) was when the 14th of August (Pakistan’s independence day) approached. We could only sing national songs. I know a lot of boys who would eulogize Quaid-e-Azam, the founder of the country, in a Mohammad Rafi-style sound in an effort to quench their thirst for singing and pay tribute (which they never meant by the bottom of their hearts) to the founder of the nation.
They would sing “Ay Quaid-e-Azam tera Ehsan hey” ( Oh Great leader. Its your favor —-that you got us independence) but I surely knew that my friends meant Ay Quaid-e-Azam its a favor—that you got us a chance to sing, today).
Then, there were the incompetent teachers who had largely been appointed on political basis. They didn’t know how to properly teach their subject matter. So, they used to get inside the class and ask us to, first and foremost, lock the class door (so that no one, including the school principal, should walk in).
Then, he would say: “Guys let’s sing today.” Music-starved that we were, we all kids would cheerfully shout out, “Han waja…han Waja” (Yes sir, yes sir — showing our delight and unsolicited endorsement to the idea). As the period ended, the teacher would open the door and walk back so gently as if he even didn’t know what music actually meant. Even a detective dog would not establish the gentle teacher’s internal love for music after smelling him for several hours from hat to socks. After all, teachers were not supposed to know art, music, films. On our part, we were dying for the school time to get over so that we would go and tell everyone at home that today our teacher made us sing.
Even a secrete period of singing at school would renew our love for the school for several more months.
Master Liaquat, however, was different. He used to shut down the door of the class when he was immersed in teaching. He didn’t want us to glance outside the classroom only to avoid distraction. The day he didn’t feel like teaching, he would say guys open the door. Today, we are going to sing. Everyone of you is going to sing a wonderful song. Sing with love,passion and a loud sound, he would instruct. He was a brave, liberal man. He’d say art was not something to hide but to be cherished.
“Show your talent before the world,” he often used to say.
Many of us loved him because every time we didn’t understand a difficult vocabulary from the Urdu literature books, he would sing a song or utter a dialogue from an Indian movie to explain the meaning of the word to us. He taught us to admire art and insisted that we learned from movies as much as we learned from books.
He is the one who introduced me at an early age with liberal and progressive writers and poets like Syed Sibte Hassan and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. He consistently urged the students to spend their time inside the library and often held essay writing competitions inside the class.
The established pattern of writing Urdu essays was to write the contents word by word after memorizing it from the text books. One day, Master Liquat asked the class to prepare for an essay writing competition. I had always been very bad with remembering the text word by word. However, I pretended to be ready for the test. As the test started, I honestly had not memorized a single word. Thus, I decided to write whatever I knew on the subject without referring much to the textbook. Surprisingly, he declared my essay as the best in the class.
“You don’t learn everything from these text books,” he said, “you learn more by observing and describing things in your own words.”
Master Liaquat was my first introduction to human rights and equality among the human beings. One day, he surprised the whole class by throwing away the textbook to another corner of the class with anger. He was the only teacher who had given us ample space to talk to him in a friendly manner.
“Waja Che boo?” (Sir what happened?”) one student asked.
“For many years,” he said, “every time I come across the word “Hajam” (a word used by the Arabs for the non-Arabs) against the “Arabs” I throw away this book away. These textbooks divide people. They don’t respect human beings but salute races. I refuse to teach a lesson that teaches racism. Let’s move to the next lesson.”
He did. He gave us thumbs up.
“We are all equal. There is no Arab and Hajam in my dictionary,” he assured,”Skip them as you see these lines of division.”
Master Liaquat was a blessing at a school where you had teachers like Master Latif. One day, on July 9, 1996 to be precise when it was my birthday and I had participated in a speech contest at the Pak Public School in Panjgur. It was the first time in my life when I had opted for public speaking. Two of us from the Government Model High School Panjgur participated in the contest. I was supposed to deliver the speech in English while my classfellwo, Sanaullah, was to speak in Urdu.
I didn’t win any positions and Sanaullah got the third position.
As we returned to our school after the speech competition, Master Latif, a staunch practicing Muslim, was teaching the class. He asked about the result and smiled for a while and got back to the class.
“Aziz bacho (dear kids), do you know why Sanaullah won the competition and Siraj lost?” He asked.
I looked at Master Latif with anticipation wondering how he knew the causes of my failure in spite of even not hearing my speech.
Together, the class said, “No sir.”
“Let met tell you,” he began to explain as we all listened silently, “Siraj chose to speak in the language of Kuffar (the infidels). English is the language of Christian and Jews while Sanaullah spoke in Urdu coupled with Quranic versus. Allah does not like English but loves Arabic and Urdu.”
“There you go!,” I mumbled which would in Balochi go like this: “noon gosh e dar!”.
I am not sure how many of our schools today have liberal and forward thinking teachers like Master Liaquat. If you have/had someone like him in a remote district like Panjgur, please write a piece of article about him. Let’s document these great teachers who gave us the courage to think differently. I still wonder how people like Master Liaquat survived and retained their voice in regressive societies. They are the real heroes of our schools. We need a lot of them who do not teach text books only but instill a sense of critical thinking.
I am so delighted that I finally managed to write a piece about my first writing teacher.