Apr 192008

When we were at school, life was routine. Getting up early and ready and hurrying through breakfast were all motions gone through automatically. Things were routine, same activity, classes and games day after day. Many years later, as a psychologist in the Inter Services Selection Board, I was to administer multiple choice IQ tests to service commission candidates including a question as to why parents sent children to school. One choice of answer was “because they want children out of the way.” The answer was obviously wrong theoretically, but in fact it could be true in many cases. I recall a bright young man from Karachi who argued at length in defence of this answer.
College was a big change from high school where the discipline was quite rigid. Life in college was more relaxed. Attending classes was not compulsory. I was not one of them, but there were some students who cut classes and hung around the cafeteria, chatting. To students like me they were all heroes. We could not have the courage to miss a lecture not because we did not want to but because of the mortal fear of our parents. 
Studying Psychology at the university was perhaps the most enriching experience of my life. I had studied Philosophy in my first two years at college and Psychology in BA which I rather enjoyed. Professor Hamidud Din, the head of the department interviewed me for admission. He asked me why I wished to study Psychology. “Because I like people,” I replied. “We will see,” he remarked with a cynical smile and admitted me.
Dr Hamidud Din was a learned Columbia PhD. He was a grave looking person and very soft-spoken. In my two years in the department I never heard him raise his voice. If you asked a silly question, he would just look at you without saying a word.
Professor Ajmal taught us abnormal Psychology. He was a charismatic person with significant presence. Dr Ajmal was indeed not a traditional teacher; he had a way with his students, a rapport that facilitated learning and knowledge. He avoided lecturing in a classroom. We were seven or eight students so he met us in his office on the first floor. He was an incessant smoker, like a journalist cousin of mine who was his friend. Both had leftist views. A burning cigarette dangled from Ajmal’s lips, the ash at the tip becoming long. A student once raised an ashtray to it and delicately flicked the ash into the ashtray as he spoke.
There was a mystique about Dr Ajmal that gave him a presence, a presence that was a little more than charisma. He spoke slowly in a measured, bass tone, a slight stoop as he sat in his chair and a remarkable way of using Persian and Urdu poetry in his lectures on Freud. He knew history, literature and spoke excellently. In fact this was a quality the entire faculty of the department shared with him.
Talking about Jung’s process of Individuation, he could go on about the mystic poets of Punjab. Ajmal had a complete command over the work of Baba Farid and Sultan Bahu. He quoted from Waris Shah often and this made his lectures something different. He cast a spell on his students: a perfect relationship between the teacher and the taught, a critical concept in psychoanalysis.
Many years later, in the eighties when I attended an intensive programme in the Jung Institute in Switzerland, I realised the depth of Dr Ajmal’s interpretation of Jung’s work and his concept of Shadow – the dark side of man – on a mystical canvass. In those days we were dedicated to ideas and concepts with a passion. Our ideas could be flawed but the commitment was complete. No one imagined our energies would fritter away and adventurous charlatans would wreck the very institutions we were so vigorously trying to establish for a civilised society in our young country.
In the late fifties in Government College we could not imagine the impending doom at the hands of General Ayub Khan although it was clear that he was dabbling in politics. Perceptive people knew that he and Major General Iskandar Mirza, a civil servant who had become the Governor General, were in cahoots. Politicians were being rubbished in a press that the government controlled and corruption even then seemed rife. In the end, the scheming generals succeeded and Ayub took over the government in a coup, acquiring the dubious distinction of imposing the first martial law in the country.
That, in my humble view, remains the beginning of the curse: pushing the rock up hill all day after day and watch it roll down at sunset. But the Greek curse might be ending. Fingers crossed, it has taken us all of 60 years to see some light at the end of a seemingly unending tunnel as we watch a cornered, helpless General (retd) Musharraf about to go.

Source: The Nation, 19/4/2008

 Posted by at 12:57 pm

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