For whom the bell tolls
The 16th day of April 1853 is special in the Indian history. The day was a public holiday. At 3:30 pm, as the 21 guns roared together, the first train carrying Lady Falkland, wife of Governor of Bombay, along with 400 special invitees, steamed off from Bombay to Thane.
Ever since the engine rolled off the tracks, there have been new dimensions to the distances, relations and emotions. Abaseen Express, Khyber Mail and Calcutta Mail were not just the names of the trains but the experiences of hearts and souls. Now that we live in the days of burnt and non functional trains, I still have a few pleasant memories associated with train travels. These memoirs are the dialogues I had with myself while sitting by the windows or standing at the door as the train moved on. In the era of Cloud and Wi-Fi communications, I hope you will like them.
Other than Sultan and Chander Bhan, Jhang has references which the national history has chosen to forget. One such reference is Dr Abdus Salam, who is intentionally being erased from public memory, unfortunately, on accounts of religion. Official historians stumble upon his reference much similarly as they deal with the chapter of genetics in advanced biology textbooks; staple it and think it forgotten.
Born in the small dwellings of Santok Das, Abdus Salam spent most of his childhood in Jhang. His grandfather was a religious scholar and his father was an employee in the education department and so, it was the mainstay in Abdus Salam’s household. There are rumours that his parents saw a dream forewarning them about his illustrious career and then there are stories about him being taken to school for admission in the first grade but qualifying for the fourth grade instead. Regardless of these anecdotes, his academic life was indeed, a matter of honor. When anyone inquired about his young age and distinction in examinations, he simply raised his finger and pointed towards the sky, attributing it towards Allah. Those were the times of the Raj and religion was a private affair, rather than now when it is determined by parliamentary committees under the influence of protests.
Despite his love for literature, Salam took up sciences when he joined college. He opted for this route for qualifying for ICS, a job much envied by his family but after being turned down on medical grounds; he decided to pursue further education. Cambridge University, those days, offered scholarships for which Abdus Salam applied, despite his frail economic conditions. Between the benevolence of Sir Choto Ram, a minister in the Punjab Government and Abdus Salam’s luck, a candidate dropped off from the final list. The much desired Cambridge scholarship, for which people applied for months in advance and prayed for days, now belonged to him. That year, when people across the world arrived at Cambridge with their expensive effects, a young man from Jhang with his sole steel trunk was also amongst them.
After the completion of his Masters degree, Abdus Salam was offered scholarships for further studies and various employment opportunities but Pakistan was a free land now and it needed men like him. He came back and started teaching at the Government College, Lahore, his alma mater. He taught mathematics in the morning and coached students for football in the evening.
Dealing with differentials and equations in the first half of the day; and taking the lost team for Doodh Jalebi to Chau Burji at night, this young professor was certainly not the two sides of the coins but rather a prism which imparted seven colors to every incident ray. Lahore was subject to anti-Ahmadiyya violence in 1953 for the first time and it cut Salam off his base. He, like so many others, was at a loss of identity.
A month later, he was offered an instructional post at the Imperial College, London which he accepted. The 30-year-old, youngest ever assistant professor of Imperial College, London, was a Pakistani now.
Having settled the Martial Law issue and the political manipulation, Ayub Khan arranged for Abdus Salam’s come back. He is credited for drafting the first comprehensive scientific policy. Abdus Salam went on to found SUPPARCO and arranged for scholarships, which helped hundreds of Pakistani scientists’ to educate themselves abroad. Making PINSTECH, Karachi Nuclear plant and Atomic Energy Commission, a reality and leading the IAEA mission, Abdus Salam set the grounds for scientific research. Many research institutes, from where hundreds of Islamic missions take off for reformation every now and then, were once founded by this non-Muslim scientist. Regarding his contributions towards Pakistan’s nuclear programme, he was instrumental in the Multan meeting and initial research but when the Bhutto government declared Ahmadis non-Muslims, he left for England. Despite the change in countries, his heart never changed for Pakistan and he kept guiding all scientists involved in the programme till he breathed his last.
He was offered the nationality of all those countries whose asylum seekers, today, lead the criticism on his faith. On being asked that why he avoided Pakistan, he replied, it was not him who avoided Pakistan but Pakistan that avoided him.
Abdus Salam’s credentials of were finally acknowledged by his nomination for the Nobel Prize in 1979. He worked for the Grand Unification Theory that declared a single source for all forces. When the prize was announced, he offered nawafil in gratitude. On the day of reception, Stockholm saw for the first time a recipient dressed in the Pakistani national dress, reciting Soorah Mulk in the acceptance speech.