Something about this picture makes me look at it more closely.
Well-dressed young men in suits posing on a railway platform…on the verge of a journey….47 years ago.
That’s my father in the white shirt and tie, standing second from the right. The year was 1964, and the college was sending a batch of final year students on a 20-day educational tour, to visit major industries and hydro-electric power plants around Pakistan.
A special bogey had been booked for them on the train, a group of 40 students….the ‘cream’ of the crop as they were called by the principal of NED Government Engineering College in Karachi.
But let’s rewind the tape a couple of years…
My father (whom I refer to as ‘AJ’ in this blog) did his B.Sc. from DJ Science College, located in the heart of old Karachi. ‘DJ’ stands for Diwan Dayaram Jethmal, a Sindhi philanthropist whose financial support was instrumental in building the college. The foundation stone for the college was laid in 1882 by Lord Dufferin, the Viceroy of India and was inaugurated as the Sindh Arts College by Lord Reay, Governor of Bombay.
So, my father did his Bachelors degree in this glorious institution, unfortunately flunking Urdu and Religious Knowledge in his Intermediate year. But don’t blame him dear readers, bear in mind that my father came from Sidhpur….where the medium of his education had been Gujarati.
He wanted to pursue engineering after that, and to that end he applied for admission at the NED College of Engineering, the oldest engineering institute in Pakistan…..
This institution was initially founded as the Prince of Wales Engineering College with the donations of the citizens of Karachi to commemorate the visit made by the Prince of Wales to the city in 1921. The College was renamed as the NED Engineering College in 1924 in memory of Mr. Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw, a well-known philanthropist, whose heirs made substantial donations for the development of the College on his first death anniversary.
AJ’s form was rejected at the NED, for the simple reason that he had crossed the age limit for applying…..by 6 whole months.
All of a sudden, he was at a loss. He HAD to get into NED somehow, but it seemed there was nothing he could do. Desperate, he could only think of one course of action. He must write a letter to the Chief Martial Law Administrator of the country.
But first, here’s a little video to give you a picture of Karachi in those days, and the man himself: Ayub Khan.
Muhammad Ayub Khan, (May 14, 1907 – April 19, 1974) was a General and later self-appointed Field Marshal in the Pakistan Army and the first military dictator of Pakistan, serving as the second President of Pakistan from 1958 to 1969. He became the Pakistan Army’s first native Commander in Chief in 1951, and was the youngest full general and self-appointed 5 star rank Field Marshal in Pakistan’s military history.
Appointed Commander in Chief after the death of several senior generals, a combination of ambition and his distate for politicians led to his increased interference in Pakistani politics. Close to President Iskander Mirza, Khan supported the President’s decision to declare martial law in 1958 but had ousted him shortly afterwards, becoming increasingly frustrated by the level of corruption, he overthrew the government and declared himself President.
AJ wrote to Ayub Khan, saying he wanted to be an engineer but had crossed the age limit for admission. Could he help him?
He sent off the letter and let fate decide what it wanted to do with his dreams.
He was working at his uncle’s shop at that time, the Small Tools and Hardware Supply Agency on Nicol Road in the Wazir Mansion building, named after the Quaid’s house. About eight or ten days later, AJ got a phone call at the shop.
It was the principal of NED.
AJ was out on an errand in the bazaar, so his uncle (Yusuf) sent someone to go search for him. He had been asked to come to the college immediately.
‘Are you a cricketer?’ asked Pestonji, the principal of NED, as my athletic-looking father walked into his office.
AJ replied that he did play cricket, but he wasn’t a cricketer. He played a lot of volleyball back in Sidhpur, and was a table tennis champion at DJ. He was also a champion at chess. And boxing.
‘Why did you write a letter to the President??’
AJ told him that was the only thing he could think of in order to get admission in the college.
Pestonji looked at him, then smiled and told him to hurry up and fill out the application form once again and submit it along with the 150 rupee admission fee and three photographs by 3 o clock in the afternoon.
So it came to be that my father spent four years studying at one of the top engineering colleges in those days, and the reason why he was one of a group of forty final year students on a railway station in 1964.
Who knew then where their journey would take them.
But it’s easy to understand why he should have a soft spot for Ayub Khan in his heart.