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An election

Published Jul 25, 2013 02:03pm


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After completing my O LeveI from the Karachi Grammar School in January 1983, I joined Saint Patricks Government College (aka St. Pat’s) in March 1983.

Situated at the heart of one of Karachi’s busiest areas, Saddar, the college was set up in 1952 by the management of Saint Patrick’s School.

The college, offering degrees in the sciences and business, rose to become one of the finest in Karachi.

Like many other colleges and universities in Pakistan, St. Pat’s college too was nationalised by the populist PPP regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972.

But in spite of the fact that the teaching standards of many nationalised educational institutions eventually began to suffer from nationalisation, St. Pat’s (along with a few other colleges in Karachi), somehow managed to retain its standards.

Though politicised student unions were already present in both state-owned as well in some privately-owned colleges, in St. Pats they emerged in the early 1970s.

It was also during this period that the students at St. Pat’s began to elect representatives to their union from varied student political parties that began to emerge at the college from 1972 onwards.

Between 1973 and the year that I joined the college as a First Year student of Commerce & Business Administration in 1983, the college’s union was dominated by an alliance of three progressive student parties: the National Students Federation (NSF), Peoples Students Federation (PSF) and the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO).

St. Patricks College, Karachi. Nationalised in 1972, it was privatised again in the 1990s.
St. Patricks College, Karachi. Nationalised in 1972, it was privatised again in the 1990s.

When I arrived here the college was ringing with the aftermath of the last countrywide student union elections in Pakistan (1983).

Though student union elections involving student outfits affiliated with political parties had been a norm in various colleges and universities since the 1950s, the process was given a legislative sheen during the populist Z A. Bhutto regime through the ‘Student Union Ordinance’ (1974).

That’s why when the Ziaul Haq dictatorship banned student unions and parties in 1984, this did not really mean that student parties stopped operating on campuses or student union elections came to a halt.

What the ban meant was that the dictatorship scrapped the 1974 Ordinance and thus rendered student union elections as unofficial, localised events not recognised or funded anymore by the government.

For example, before the Ordinance, the dates and dynamics of student union elections were decided by the administrations of the colleges and the universities. After the Ordinance these were decided by the government.

The Ordinance decreed that the annual event of student union elections be held on a single date/month of each year across all state-owned universities and colleges.

So when Zia scraped the Ordinance in 1984, the elections once again became the sole prerogative of college and university administrations.

The reason that fewer student union elections were held after 1984 was not as much due to Zia’s ban. It had more to do with the incidents of violence on campuses that had grown two-fold after Zia’s military coup in July 1977 and his regime’s crackdown on anti-Zia student groups.

When I joined St. Pat’s College in 1983 at the age of 17, the last student union elections held according to the Ordinance had just taken place across Pakistan.

Incidentally, these were also the elections in which the student-wing of the fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami (JI), the Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT), suffered huge defeats in a majority of universities and colleges, mainly at the hands of progressive student alliances.

Supporters of the left-wing National Students Federation (NSF) celebrate the party’s victory at Karachi’s Dow Medical College during the 1983 student union elections.
Supporters of the left-wing National Students Federation (NSF) celebrate the party’s victory at Karachi’s Dow Medical College during the 1983 student union elections.

Since the IJT’s attempts to find a foothold in St. Pat’s had continuously been frustrated by the NSF/PSF/BSO alliance here, the IJT had once again been routed at the college in 1983.

Interestingly, one of the first friends that I made at the college was an IJT activist, Tahir Yusuf.

He had lost the1983 election for one of the many union posts up for grabs, even though he was the only IJT man whose defeat had been the closest, losing by a mere 4 votes.

Tahir was a tall, well-built 18-year-old, who was a year senior to me (Intermediate, Commerce) at the college. He approached me on the morning of my first day in college, as I sat on a bench underneath the huge, shady trees that covered the college’s entrance.

Tahir had done his matriculation from a state-owned school and belonged to a middle-class, Urdu-speaking family residing in Karachi’s Nazimabad area.

He wanted me to join IJT, even after I told him that my father had been a member of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

‘So will you do what your father did?’ He asked. ‘What about your own thinking?’

‘But I’m not a very good Muslim,’ I responded, with a polite and diplomatic smile. ‘I’ll be a disgrace to the IJT.’

‘You are a good person, I can see that,’ said Tahir. ‘And you come from a good school and a respectable family …’

I cut him off: ‘Those in the left parties don’t?’

‘I didn’t mean that,’ Tahir answered, now with his hand on my back. ‘There will be more respect for educated and intelligent people like you in IJT. Come, let’s meet Gohar.’

Gohar was the main IJT person at St. Pats. A chubby but strong looking 21-year-old, with a proud beard that ran like a rope across his chin and lower cheeks.

He too tried to convince me to join IJT, but I bombarded him with pointed questions: Why was IJT supporting the Zia dictatorship? Why is it helping the dictatorship to weed out Zia’s opponents from colleges and universities? Why did it celebrate the hanging of an elected Prime Minister (Z A. Bhutto) …

‘Propaganda!’ He kept repeating.

I didn’t join the IJT. Two years later, Tahir, who remained a friend, once asked: ‘Paracha, you were playing me all along weren’t you?’

I asked him what he meant by that.

‘You were never open to joining the IJT. You just played the part of an innocent and naïve boy until I made you meet Gohar. That’s when I realised you had preconceived ideas about IJT. Why didn’t you tell me right away?’

It took two years for Tahir to tell me how Gohar had admonished and humiliated him at an IJT meeting for ‘making a 17-year-old novice insult the IJT chief (Gohar).’

I knew Tahir had quit the IJT and had become completely apolitical, but I didn’t know this was the reason.

I further learned that quitting IJT was actually a rather traumatic experience for him because he had ambitions to graduate from the student party and join the ranks of the mother party, the Jamat Islami (JI).

I kept in touch with him for a while after college until he left Pakistan and got a job as an accountant, first in Jordan and then, I think, in the UK.

I may not have joined the IJT, but neither did I join any other student group – until the day the Zia regime announced the ban on student unions in May 1984.

I had joined St. Pat’s armed with the knowledge that it had the reputation of being one of the most ‘Shugal colleges’ in the city. Shugal is a Karachi-Urdu slang word meaning fun.

To begin with, it was perhaps the only college at the time (in Karachi) that unlike most other colleges did not require its students to be in a particular uniform, as such.

Male students were only required to wear a white shirt (over any colour trousers or jeans), and the female students had to wear a white kameez-shalwar.

But both hardly ever followed the dress code and wore what they would in their daily lives outside the college.

The college’s canteen and ‘common room’ were shugal places as well.

The canteen was sub-contracted to one John, a Pakistani Catholic, who had returned to Pakistan after bagging a degree in Business Administration from a college in the Philippines (in the late 1970s).

A tall, imposing man, John sold snacks and tea at subsidised rates at the canteen and also cigarettes (Gold Leaf).

But what made St. Pat’s canteen ‘notorious’ was the fact that John’s little fridge was also stuffed with bottles and cans of the Pakistani beer brand, Murree.

Though he stuffed the beer there for his own consumption, he was given to sell some to the students as well for a little profit.

The canteen also held regular games of Royal Flush. In fact only a few days before I joined the college, the canteen had been raided by the police and a few students had been arrested for gambling and consuming alcohol.

The students were bailed out by the student union and gambling and booze were banned at the canteen.

However, by late 1983, both the activities were back doing the rounds again.

The huge common room, set up for the students to play a game or two of table tennis and chess, was also a ‘dating room’ where the guys would bring in their girlfriends for a chat or a bit of necking.

However, in 1981, controversy and scandal had erupted when a guy allegedly tried to rape a female student in the hall-like room. The boy was expelled and the common room was shut down.

It opened again in 1983 and was back to hosting table tennis and chess enthusiasts, as well as Romeos looking to host their Juliets. At least no alleged rape attempts were reported during the years I was there (1983-87).

During the 1982 student union elections at the college, the IJT had promised that if elected, it would delegate separate timings for the male and female students at the common room and eradicate gambling, drinking and smoking in the canteen. It was routed at the polls.

St. Pat’s was sometimes also called a ‘charssion ka ada’ (a den of dope heads).

Hashish usage here had supposed to have increased in the early 1980s, mainly due to the fact that the gatekeeper of the college, Rehman, had begun to peddle it!

Rehman was a young Baloch toughie from Karachi’s biggest slum area, Lyari. He had studied till grade five but had to quit because his father could not afford sending him even to an inexpensive government school.

He worked with his father and brothers as a labourer before he managed to get a job as a gatekeeper at the college.

Lyari was swarming with drug peddlers and dens. Rehman used to buy about 100 sticks of hashish (each stick good for rolling about four hash joints), and sold them to interested students.

A stick of hashish (at the time) was for Rs.10 (in Lyari). Rehman sold it for Rs.30 to the students. He would sell about a hundred such sticks every month.

It was common for one to enter the canteen and be welcomed by a whiff of hashish smoke and loud music blasting out from the canteen’s cassette player, playing anything from Led Zeppelin, to Michael Jackson to the swinging qawwalies of Aziz Mian Qawwal and Madam Noor Jehan’s Punjabi film songs!

Front cover of a pre-recorded cassette of late Noor Jehan’s Punjabi songs.
Front cover of a pre-recorded cassette of late Noor Jehan’s Punjabi songs.
In May 1984 when the Zia dictatorship banned student unions, a delegation of progressive student organisations and IJT arrived at St. Pats for a meeting with the college’s union members.

The delegation was visiting all state-owned colleges and universities of Karachi to form a united front against the banning orders.

Soon disturbances broke out outside educational institutions across Karachi in which the police, and vehicles belonging to the government were attacked.

A similar riot also erupted outside my college as well. I gleefully joined the wrecking crew. There were more than a hundred of us clashing with the cops, throwing rocks at them as they lobbed teargas shells towards us.

The riots went on for three days. On the second day, a car with the green ‘Government of Sindh’ number plate went up in flames.

That’s when the cops began to fire rubber bullets. Dozens of students were injured. I managed to escape the bullets but was finally caught by two cops who gave me a good, sound thrashing with their long bamboo sticks.

I was thrown inside the back of a police van, bleeding from the head and the mouth. With me were about six other students. All bleeding, but still shouting slogans against Zia.

We were driven to the then notorious CID (Crime Investigation Department) headquarters about half a mile from the college. It was (for some inexplicable reason) known as the ‘555 Thana’ (555 Police Station).

The 555 had become infamous during the Zia years as a place that had torture cells. When we reached there, we found dozens of students locked up like sardines in tiny jails. Many were from our college.

I spent a terrifying 10 hours there, slapped, kicked, punched and spat on by the cops. They called us communists, Indian/Soviet agents, infidels and bas***ds, all the while landing a hard punch or a swift kick in the face and the stomach.

We were finally allowed to go with a stern warning and ordered to head straight home and not come to the college for at least another 10 days.

Then the anti-Zia student movement suddenly collapsed because the IJT pulled out.

Zia had been close to the IJT’s mother party, the JI. He asked the JI to ‘discipline its student wing’ otherwise the student outfits with whom the IJT had joined hands during the movement would damage Pakistan’s role in the anti-Soviet ‘Afghan jihad’ and slow down his regime’s Islamisation process.

I returned to the college after about a week. During the agitation I had already joined the St. Pat’s chapter of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s student-wing, the Peoples Students Federation (PSF).

When I went back to the college, I was warmly greeted by Rehman. He handed me a hashish joint free of cost. I put the joint in the pocket of my shirt and made way towards the union office. It was locked.

‘Idhar, comrade! (here, comrade)’, I heard John shout from inside the canteen. I turned and made my way into the canteen. I saw about a dozen students there, all swollen and looking sombre.

I don’t know how many students were arrested during the movement, but I was told that during the three days of agitation outside our college, more than 50 St. Pat’s students had been picked up but only 20 or so had returned.

A few more would trickle back over the next few years, but we only saw the rest after they were released from various jails in November 1988 when Benazir Bhutto was elected as the new Prime Minister after Zia’s demise in August that year.

Those who had vanished included the top leadership of the PSF/NSF/ BSO alliance at the college.

As we sat in the canteen, smoking cigarettes, exchanging our individual experiences at the 555, and boycotting classes, a first year student huffed his way into the canteen, announcing that the IJT was now planning to take over all the campuses in the city.

The rumour was that since the leadership of progressive student parties was in jail, the IJT had begun to occupy union offices in colleges where it had lost the 1983 student union elections.

Then news came that about two dozen IJT members from the Ayesha Bawani College were moving towards St. Pat’s to ‘take over the college.’

We broke open the union office and armed ourselves with the hockey sticks that belonged to the college’s hockey team and were stashed there.

Then a PSF man went to a nearby shop and called on the phone, someone called Maku. As it turned out, Maku was a 20-something, 6’ 6, PPP muscle man from Lyari with a massive Afro!

He arrived on a big fat Honda bike along with five or six other Lyarittes. Maku and another one of his buddies were also carrying pistols. I don’t remember what kind, but they did look lethal.

As we sat inside the canteen waiting, we heard Rehman shouting outside. 'H@^i agey! Jamati Tha! Jamati Tha!' (The bas^@ds are here! Bang the Jamatis! Bang the Jamatis!).

The IJT posse had arrived.

It was all chaos after that. Fists and sticks, iron rods and bottles, knives and blades ruled the occasion. The college principal called in the cops, but the cops just stood there, doing nothing.

The commotion lasted for about 20 bloody minutes. The IJT attack was repulsed. But as the air cleared and we were about to celebrate this primordial victory, a student, Akif (don’t remember his surname), lay on a bench, bleeding from the stomach.

His stomach had been cut open with a knife. We picked him up, put him in a taxi and drove him to the state-owned Jinnah Hospital. He survived after an operation and some 40 odd stitches.

Akif was a quiet fellow – tough, stocky and topped with a hairstyle that remained one of David Hasseloff’s perm during his Knight Rider days. He also liked wearing those pointy, white ‘disco shoes’ underneath air-tight denims.

He came from a lower-middle-class Urdu-speaking family that resided in Karachi’s then turbulent LallukKeth area (now Liaqatabad).

He was with the NSF but then switched to PSF. In the late 1980s, he joined the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) – a party championing the cause of Sindh’s Urdu-speakers.

I later heard that he had escaped to South Africa during the 1992 military operation against MQM in Karachi, and that he still resides there.

No student union elections were held in Pakistan in 1984. The student movement against Zia had been brutally crushed and the top leadership of almost all anti-Zia student organisations was either in jail or had gone into hiding.

Standing outside the St. Pats student union office, 1984.Please ignore the puffy hairstyle. It was all the rage in the 1980s.
Standing outside the St. Pats student union office, 1984.Please ignore the puffy hairstyle. It was all the rage in the 1980s.
At St. Pat’s though we had prevented the take-over of the college’s union by the IJT, the progressive alliance was in tatters. Union offices were locked again and we entered 1985 in quite a different mood.

Shugal and decadence replaced ideology and politics. I struck brand new friendships after managing to pass my intermediate exams and now became a Bachelors student.

In January 1985 I went back to the college, this time as a Bachelor’s student. New batches of students had also arrived from various other colleges. The new ones also included those who had moved to state-owned colleges after passing their A Level from different schools. Private colleges were still a thing of the future.

After going through the ritual of having tea, a few cigarettes and meeting up with old comrades at the canteen, I moved out to attend my first B.Com (Bachelor of Commerce) class.

On the way, I noticed a cubbish fellow, with thick glasses, sitting on a bench, smoking a Marlboro and reading a novel by famous sci-fi writer, Kurt Vonnegut.

Now who on earth reads sci-fi at a Pakistani state-owned college?

Intrigued by the sight I immediately took a detour and walked up to him.

‘Hi,’ I said. ‘Mr. Vonnegut, I presume?’ I smiled.

I think he was equally surprised.

His name was Ali Kazmi. From that day on we became best buddies and have remained to be till even today, over 25 years after that first meeting at St. Pats College.

I have yet to meet and befriend a more intelligent, well-read and decent man than Ali, even though in the early 2000s I was fortunate to strike another empathetic friendship with yet another brilliant and upright individual, Fasi Zaka.

Even though neither of the two gentlemen have ever met, both remain to be two of my finest friends.

Ali came from an affluent Shia Muslim family. His father was a respected scientist.

Ali was an unflappable rationalist, but he never seemed to be bothered by his friendship with a now 19-year-old, long-haired, Marx/Mao-quoting, pot-head given to spontaneous, wayward impulses: Me!

Ali’s calm and wise demeanour actually became rather popular with a lot of our classmates in B.Com. What’s more, not only was he the only student who carried his own pack of cigarettes (Marlboro 100s), he also had a car (Suzuki FX, 800 CC).

Today, he is settled in Canada with his wife and kids and doing very well.

St. Pat’s (like any state-owned college in Karachi in those days), was a stark reflection of the stunning diversity this city boasts of.

It is the kind of ethnic, religious, sectarian, sub-sectarian and economic diversity that continues to baffle a lot of non-Karachiites till this day.

For example, in my B.Com class there were about 90 students. Out of these, some came from affluent families, some from lower middle class backgrounds, some were Urdu-speakers (Mohajirs), some were Punjabi, some Sindhi, Pushtuns and Baloch and we also had a few Palestinian, Iranian and Bengali students!

Most were Sunni Muslims, but there were also a lot of Shias. The college had a pretty thick sprinkling of Christians as well.

Another one of the most intriguing friends that I made at college in this respect was Ali Namazi.

A short, stocky and very muscular guy, Namazi, however, possessed a very gentle, decent and soft-spoken disposition.

He was heavily into 1970s progressive-rock (aka Prog-Rock).

He also made great tasting apple wine at home. Ali’s elder brothers were more extroverted but equally decent and fun to be with.

But a cloud of melancholy always seemed to be hovering over Namazi’s head. A very quiet and private man, his inner demons only burst out during cricket games and fist fights.

Never to start a fight, but if drawn into one, he would knock his opponents out cold with a fierce right hook, thrown with a most terrifying force. In cricket, he would bowl really fast and play with a ferocious passion, only to go back into his melancholic shell again.

We kept in touch, off and on, after college. But in 2012, when I bumped into him at a DVD shop after a long time, I embarrassed myself when I just couldn’t recognise him.

His hair had gone completely white; he wore rimmed glasses but still looked supremely fit. He hadn’t married. I’m not surprised. The guy was just too private and self-absorbed.

Then there was Umair Chapra. A slim, good looking guy from a well-to-do Memom (Gujrati) business family.

Chapra was also the college playboy. Though highly intelligent and pleasant to talk to, he was extremely mischievous too. And he didn’t mind a good, fair fist fight either.

But I don’t remember him ever having many of his romantic affairs and stints with any of the girls at the college. I never understood or knew why, but he did have a number of girlfriends outside the college, and supposedly one didn’t know about the other. Each one of them thought he was madly in love with her.

In May 1985, it was Umair who forced the college administration to hold student union elections that were cancelled in 1984 due to violence. The college principal agreed but suggested that the elections be held on non-party basis.

A group of us who were leading the talks with the principal, decided that the elections should be held as they had always been held: on party basis.

The administration responded by saying that since Zia’s military regime had banned student parties in the country, the government would apprehend the principal if elections were held on party basis.

Umair argued that it was unfair that the military regime was allowing student groups like IJT to operate on campuses but cracking down on other student parties. There was a moment of silence when he said this. Because there was hardly any IJT presence at St. Pats.

‘Well, they (IJT) might one day take over … no?’ he checked himself after realising that his example had contradicted the ground reality at St. Pat’s.

Nevertheless, we at once got down to revive the old PSF/NSF/BSO alliance at the college. But since the ‘Student Union Ordinance’ had been scrapped by Zia in 1984, the college didn’t have any funds given to it by the government for the candidates to use for their election campaigns. The candidates were asked to generate their own funds.

And anyway, after 1984, BSO had ceased to exist at St. Pats, and whatever leadership NSF had left was usually made up of 25-plus-year-olds who were just hanging around the college and doing nothing.

There was one particular NSF fellow whom everybody at the college called ‘Mamu’ (uncle). He was at the time 27 or maybe even 30 years old. He’d been an active NSF guy in the late 1970s and had also gone to jail (in 1978).

He’d been at St. Pat’s since 1977 but somehow avoided being arrested by the authorities during the 1984 crackdown.

Many of us began to believe that NSF at the college had been infiltrated by government agents and that Mamu was one of these agents. He wasn’t. He’d just become a cynical slacker.

I had been heading PSF at St. Pat’s after the party’s leadership at the college was arrested in 1984.

So I suggested that we visit some local PPP leaders that I knew and ask them to cough out the cash that we needed to reorganise the party at the college and run the election campaign.

Some of us visited a local PPP leader who was in-charge of the party office in the Saddar area. We requested that the party fund our election campaign.

‘Why?’ He asked. ‘What have you guys done so far? And I know what you St. Pat’s boys will do with the money – spend it on booze, women and drugs.’

We explained how we had fought hard against the cops and the IJT in 1984 and how many of us were injured and arrested, and how some of the college’s PSF guys were still rotting in jail for this.

‘But Zia is still here,’ he responded, snickering.

I lost my cool: ‘What have YOU done?’ I half-shouted. ‘You sit here all day on your backside, running your own private business from the party’s funds. You are a disgrace to the party. You better pay up or I’ll be sending a letter to the party chairperson (Benazir Bhutto – who was still in exile).’

He was taken aback a bit by the outburst: ‘How much do you want?’

Someone suggested Rs.10, 000 for the election campaign and … some guns (to keep IJT away).

‘Ha^@i band karwaye ga mujhay (bas^@d, you want me to get arrested and rot in a jail)’, he shouted. ‘I have 4000 Rupees to give. Use it to make posters or buy guns with it, it’s your choice. That’s all I have.’

Then someone asked: ‘Who jo jail mein hien, ghadey hein kya? (Those who are in jail, are they fools?). Then announcing, ‘Nahi chaye tumhari khairat. (We don’t want your charity)’, he huffed his way out.

But we did pick up the ‘charity.’ All Rs.4000 of it.

A PSF poster.
A PSF poster.
Back at the college, rumours were rife that the IJT was planning to ‘take revenge’ for what had transpired in 1984 during the clash we had with its members. So we bought two pistols (Berretta handguns) and used the rest of the money on printing election posters and banners.

The IJT attack never came. But something else happened. An ‘independent’ student from the college’s science section decided to stand with his own panel of candidates for all the six union seats that were to be contested during the student union election.

His panel was suddenly flushed with funds. Some investigation on our part confirmed that the panel was being funded by IJT’s mother party, the JI. The student, Aleem I think his name was, was popular with the students of the much larger science section and one of his brothers was a top man of the IJT at the Karachi University.

His panel of contestants too were good, clean boys. They didn’t smoke, drink and were hardly ever seen buying even a soft-drink from the notorious St. Pat’s canteen.

Posters of the panel began to appear. Glossy green ones, showing the pictures of the panelists and slogans like, ‘Vote for the Independent Group for an independent, faithful and clean Saint Pat’s.’

By independent they meant a panel that was not affiliated with any political party.

That was nonsense, of course, because the group was being bankrolled by the JI.

We, however, weren’t even sure on what party’s ticket our panel would be contesting.

We had decided to go against the administration’s idea of non-party polls, and contest the election on a party platform. But which party?

BSO had vanished from the college, NSF seemed haggard and we were still simmering about our meeting with the PPP leader, even though we had kept his money.

This is when Umair and I decided to construct a brand new alliance of progressive students at St. Pat’s. We called it the St. Pat’s Socialist Students Federation (SPSSF).

First we chose a 10-member core committee of the new alliance that included Ali Namazi, Ali Kazmi, Umair and myself.

Also in the committee were Shahzad Khan and Wasim Ahmed and four other guys.

Shahzad was a good-looking, tough, 6’2 lad who was extremely popular with the college’s women.

He had this habit of sitting on the fence that ran across the hallway where the classrooms were, smoking one Gold Leaf after another, and eyeing his latest love, as she eyed him back.

He had absolutely nothing, whatsoever to do with Marx, Mao or socialism, but since he loathed the mullahs and was a regular drinking buddy of ours, he found himself in the party.

Wasim was the guy we chose to head our election panel. We chose him to run for the top post of union president. He was a chain-smoking, quiet young man and Umair’s best friend. Like Umair, he too, came from a well-to-do Memon family. He was also the captain of the college cricket team.

But my favourites on the panel were Saqlain, and a female student whose name I never knew and still don’t. Everyone called her ‘Mommy.’

There was a tradition in Indian and Pakistani colleges of the 1970s and 1980s of calling male students that were a bit older than the rest as Mamu, and in the case of female students, Mommy.

Saqlain was completely apolitical. But we chose him to be one of our contestants because he was very popular with the female students, mainly due to the way he dressed (like Michael Jackson) and the way he did the ‘moonwalk’ – even on Punjabi songs!

Incredibly, after we left college, it was Saqlain who managed to hook up with and marry the raciest, most good-looking and (thus) the most arrogant girl in the college! I could have sworn she was head-over-heals for me. Oh, well.

Mommy was chosen because she was a toughie and the female students depended on her to fight their battles with the administration.

I once saw a member of the military training staff at the college literally shiver in front of her as she told him off for exhibiting nepotism.

Umair and I decided to also contest the election.

We printed two sets of posters. The first set contained text and slogans against the Zia regime and about the coming ‘socialist revolution’ (courtesy of SPSSF, thank you very much); while the second set contained the pictures of our panellists and a promise to keep St. Pat’s free of religious fundamentalism, corrupt teachers and make sure that it remained ‘a haven of fun.’ I’m serious.

Also on our panel was one Asif (I forgot his surname), who was stoned on hashish 24/7, but was a professional agent provocateur. He was an expert riot-starter, and we put him on the panel just to intimidate our JI-funded opponents.

Well, this and the fact that when we ran out of funds for further campaigning, Asif led a couple of students to stop public buses outside the college and threatened to set them on fire unless they paid Rs.100 to the students.

In a few hours, he was able to collect Rs.1500 until someone called the cops and Asif and his gang made a run for it.

The Independent Group, with most of their contestants coming from the much larger science section of the college, were set to make history by becoming the first right-wing alliance to win an election at St. Pats.

Because even if only the students of the science section had voted for them, they would win because the number of science students was higher than the number of commerce and arts students at the college.

A set of books authored by renowned Islamic scholar and founder of the Jamat-e-Islami, Abul Ala Maududi. Coloured photocopies of the books were distributed among students by the Independent Panel during the 1985 student union election in St. Pat’s College.
A set of books authored by renowned Islamic scholar and founder of the Jamat-e-Islami, Abul Ala Maududi. Coloured photocopies of the books were distributed among students by the Independent Panel during the 1985 student union election in St. Pat’s College.

We tried to recruit a few boys and girls from the science section, but they refused. They complained that the commerce and arts guys had hijacked the college canteen and the common room and had no respect for the science students. True.

But it was Mommy who helped us make some important inroads into the science section when she warned the female students of the section that the Independent Group that was being funded by the JI would consequently take away the freedoms that the students enjoyed at St. Pats.

We doubted whether Mommy’s tactics in this regard were able to influence the science students. Also, we weren’t even sure if all commerce and arts students would be willing to vote for us.

Just like the Independent Group, we too had been talking about increasing the number of sporting and recreational events in the college.

But whereas, we kept on the mantra of keeping the campus clean from the ‘terror activities of the fundamentalists’, keeping ‘IJT thugs out,’ and how a ‘socialist’ union would treat all the students equally, the Independents had begun to use pictures of the founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and his motto, ‘Unity, Faith & Discipline’ on their posters and handbills.

A print of one of the posters of Soviet revolutionary and Marxist, Lenin, that we got from the Friendship House (Soviet Library) in Karachi. We printed various copies of it in the shape of posters and pasted them on the walls outside the college’s canteen and common room.
A print of one of the posters of Soviet revolutionary and Marxist, Lenin, that we got from the Friendship House (Soviet Library) in Karachi. We printed various copies of it in the shape of posters and pasted them on the walls outside the college’s canteen and common room.

At a meeting in the canteen, I think it was Ali Kazmi who suggested that we infuse some humour into the campaign. So, one evening, Umair and I entered the college premises with a bagful of stickers of Ziaul Haq’s face that we had bought from a roadside vendor in Saddar.

We stuck the stickers over Jinnah’s face on the Independent Group’s posters, and then scratched out the word ‘discipline’ with a black marker and wrote the word ‘flogging’ over it.

So, the posters now had Zia’s face instead of Jinnah’s and the words below it now read ‘Unity, Faith, Flogging.’

The Independent Group issued a protest with the administration but uncannily fell into the trap of changing its rhetoric to exactly the kind of language we were hoping it would start using.

Angry at the way we had defaced their posters, the Independent Group came up with brand new posters.

But this time they attacked the SPSSF of ‘working to spread anti-Pakistan ideas and mocking Islamic values on the campus.’ The Group also claimed that it was committed to clean up the campus of ‘drunkards and those who have no respect for the honour of female students.’

A day before the election, we sprayed colourful graffiti on the college’s walls, with our leftie slogans, our party name and insignia (a hand holding a pen shaped like a sickle!). Yes, kind of pretentious, but it looked great. I designed it.

Elections were held on June 3, 1985. The voting booth was set up in the Dean of Commerce, Karar Hussain’s room and some members of the teaching staff (from both the commerce/arts and science sections) acted as presiding officers.

The voting started at 8 am and went on till 12 pm. About 500 students voted to elect those who would run the student union’s six posts with the President of the Union being the top post.

A little more than a week before the election, many believed that the Independent Group would sweep the polls. However, a few days before the election, a majority of the students were expecting a mixed union of Independent Group and SPSSF members. Horrible thought.

On Election Day, some PSF, NSF, PPP and IJT members from the Karachi University also arrived to witness the election.

Some well-known JI politicians in Karachi also made a visit. Only a handful of colleges in Karachi were going to the polls that year. In most of these colleges, IJT had already regained the unions that it had lost in 1983. So, St. Pat’s had become a crucial battle ground.

An early 1980s picture showing MQM chief, Altaf Hussain, meeting Farooq Sattar at the Karachi University. Though the MQM was just a small party in 1985, Sattar briefly visited the college during the 1985 election and threw his support behind our party.
An early 1980s picture showing MQM chief, Altaf Hussain, meeting Farooq Sattar at the Karachi University. Though the MQM was just a small party in 1985, Sattar briefly visited the college during the 1985 election and threw his support behind our party.

Late Professor Ghafoor Ahmed, a veteran JI man from Karachi, was one of the most learned and decent JI elders that I had the honour of meeting. I met him in the early 1990s when I became a journalist. Even though I didn’t see him, it was rumoured that he too visited the college during the 1985 election.
Late Professor Ghafoor Ahmed, a veteran JI man from Karachi, was one of the most learned and decent JI elders that I had the honour of meeting. I met him in the early 1990s when I became a journalist. Even though I didn’t see him, it was rumoured that he too visited the college during the 1985 election.
At 12: 45 sharp, the students gathered in the college’s hallway where Professor Karar, in the presence of the college principal, announced the election results.

The SPSSF had swept the polls! It won all the six union posts.

The hallway erupted with the sound of a loud, cheerful roar.

The SPSSF had won about 55 per cent of the total vote.

About 500 votes were cast by the students for all the six posts.

Wasim received over 300 votes to win the President of the Union post.

I received 267 votes for the post of General Secretary of the union. My opponent, Talha Rabbani, received 141 votes.

Mommy received a good number of votes as well, and Saqlain received over 400 votes. Even Asif won, goddamnit!

March, 1987. A month after graduating from St. Pats:  21, full of raging hormones, always ready for a hearty brawl, Marx in the head, cigarette in the mouth and hair. Lots of hair. Don’t laugh. That was a pretty awesome ‘radical look’ back in the day. Oh, what the heck, go ahead and laugh it out. I would too.
March, 1987. A month after graduating from St. Pats: 21, full of raging hormones, always ready for a hearty brawl, Marx in the head, cigarette in the mouth and hair. Lots of hair. Don’t laugh. That was a pretty awesome ‘radical look’ back in the day. Oh, what the heck, go ahead and laugh it out. I would too.

Wasim was picked on the shoulders and taken to the union office amidst slogans like ‘Socialism zindabad!’ (Long live Socialism) ‘St. Pat’s Surkh Hai’ (St. Pat’s is red), and ‘Jamati pention har gai’ (Those on Jamat’s pension have lost) …

We were in-charge of the union till we left college in early 1987. And I think we did a pretty decent job.

Recreational activities (like organising trips to the beach and holding ‘variety shows’ and singing contests) were doubled; so were the sporting activities as funds were provided to get new equipment for the college’s cricket, hockey, chess and table-tennis teams.

The SPSFF ceased to function after we graduated in 1987. I think PSF and MQM’s student-wing, the APMSO, became the dominant parties at the college till the college was denationalised and student politics at the campus came to a gradual halt.


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Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and He is also the author of two books on the social history of Pakistan, End of the Past and The Pakistan Anti-Hero.

He tweets @NadeemfParacha

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (43) Closed

Haroon Agha Jul 25, 2013 02:18pm

Thank you so much for this, NFP. I was two years junior to you at the college and yes, what a fantastic place St. Pats College was. A liberal oasis in Zia's Pakistan, mainly thanks to guys like you and the parties you people formed.

And yes, what an election it was. But you have been very modest about yourself in this article. You were the driving force behind the SPSSF.

I remember you as a brave and bold guy, though sometimes quarrelsome and always ready for a fight. :) But guys like me learned a lot from you and your comrades. You made politics fun.

And come on. Stop being so shy. You changed girlfriends like you did those Pushtun and Sindhi caps that you wore. :)

Amna Rizvi Jul 25, 2013 02:51pm

So it is true, all the drinkers and yo people were in socialist camps! :)

Btw, a nice and honest article. In this age, I would wonder, why the hell did you go to St. Pats from KGS? Today, no one would even dream of leaving KGS, especially for Pats

Blister Jul 25, 2013 03:18pm

I can never decide whether to hate you or like you ( was about to say love you but it did not feel right!) I have not lived through those times but they sound like fun. Hate you or not I still read whatever you dish out. You need to keep a record of the times and trials of Pakistan and then publish it in series of books. The history of Pakistan through the eyes of a nutter....(in a good way). Its funny the pic where AH is meeting FS slightly bent times change. I have followed and unfollowed you atleast 3 times on twitter but still keep coming back for more. Well done and thank you for sharing your life with us.

Haroon Jul 25, 2013 03:28pm

When will you write a book?

Mystic Jul 25, 2013 03:47pm

Nationalization (Socialism) in 70s destroyed our economy..... Islamism in 80s destroyed our minds. Sad, but ah, well.

TAM Jul 25, 2013 04:22pm

A far cry from the dowdy engineering course that I did almost one generation older than you and in a different country. But there, our idol was one Tariq Ali the extraordinaire who spoke nothing but Troitsky, Lenin and Marx. Ah yes we were all supporting long hair even then.

By the way that picture of St Pat looks like a photo of a badly done fibre glass model designed by perhaps an equally unimaginative young architect. Such buildings do provoke rebellion.

Haroon Agha Jul 25, 2013 04:59pm

@TAM: This is an 1980s pic of the college when Paracha was there. It looks much better now, after it was privatized.

Mehwish Jul 25, 2013 05:16pm

@Blister: True that Blister. I have done the same thing. My hate/love relationship goes on. I missed these college activities just because I was born in Zia era.

Dixit Jul 25, 2013 05:23pm

NFP ..... you have a unique quality to make simple things so interesting through your writing. God bless you!

Capt C M Khan Jul 25, 2013 07:24pm

REWIND: I studied in St Pats College 1969-1971. Science section, King makers of college elections, got a certain Salim and Vamik (Lyric Cinema) elected and were delighted to get Feroze Dada defeated.No party politics,No beer, No hashish,No attempted rapes, beautiful ladies respect for each other.After reading this I am in SHOCK as to much changed in so little time!Thanks NFP for your honest recollection.

aamir Jul 25, 2013 07:37pm

@Blister: You said it all

sanjay mittal Jul 25, 2013 07:45pm

Interesting life on campus! Just so human. Amazing how sick the Zia regime was that it even put students in jail for four years.

We all are a bit wild in college days. Guess it is the hormones. Many Pakistani friends I have spoke about the boring college life because of religious restrictions and the political clampdown in Zia's dictatorship. But seems NFP beat all that!

I hope some day a filmmaker with a good nasty sense of humour makes a film called "love and college in the times of flogging.

AbbasToronto Jul 25, 2013 08:12pm

Brings back old memories of a generation before NFP.

Student Elections in UET (then WPUET) in Lahore 1964-68 were festive affairs, and utterly non-political. The issue was control of the purse strings for College Events - the annual Music Concert, the Mushaira, etc. and expectation of plum assignments and free tickets for election volunteers.

The distant and larger Punjab University was no different.

Arrival on a Canada campus in 1968 was a shock. Viet-Nam war had students fired up. US Students feared the

kamljit Singh Jul 25, 2013 08:32pm

Every body and anybody who reads this, thinks that he or she is in his / her teens or early twenties. What a picture in words. The most fun part is ' shugal'. Shugal cannot be really translated in any other language to convey its true 'rooh'. Nadeem you have again proved to be Nadeem.

Sam Jul 25, 2013 08:47pm

Talking about girl friends as if was a just a casual activity. If so Pakistan colleges were far more "social" than India in 80s

Capt C M Khan Jul 25, 2013 09:30pm

@AbbasToronto: This is the first I did not click the "Thumbs down" after a long time. Well done.

Socialism Jul 25, 2013 09:53pm

I really enjoy reading NFPs work. I think its mostly because of his recollection of the socialist struggle. The part of his work I don't like, and I find this to be a common thread amongst people who found Marx or Lenin in their youth, is that they think that because it was a part of their youth it is no longer applicable. Just because someone approaches Marx, Engel, Lenin and Trotsky with a youthful mind and gives them up later in life does not mean everyone approaches them sophomorically.

But this was awesome. Keep it up NFP.

Mustafa Jul 25, 2013 11:02pm


" Talking about girl friends as if was a just a casual activity. If so Pakistan colleges were far more "social" than India in 80s"

May be so, but NFP is not a typical Pakistani. Grammar school and St. Pat's are cocoons of Western culture. When they outgrow these cocoons they go to Oxford and Cambridge to learn learn about Northern Karnataka culture and how to build an energy pipeline to the Sun. Bilawal thinks it should be done in the night to avoid being incinerated.

Mustafa Jul 25, 2013 11:17pm

It would be nice if NFP could tell us if Bhutto did or didn't cheat in 1977 elections.

Gerrard Jul 25, 2013 11:26pm

@AbbasToronto: What a MUPPET.

This guy couldn't be that buddy of NFP who eventually settled down in Canada. Come to think about it, it cannot be since this guy must be NFP's dad's age or even older.

"when Nixon de-linked gold from $ - it has been downhill all the way. The Middle Class has been decimated." What has NFP's article to do with the $? Tell me. And what is this jibe against the country that you live in? Clearly some nuts are loose and need immediate tightening up.

Mustafa Jul 25, 2013 11:31pm

@kamljit Singh:

"Shugal cannot be really translated in any other language to convey its true 'rooh'."

Actually "Shugal" is galat, sorry ghalat, should be "Shughal" In our pidgin English, "gh" represents a consonant that Urdu shares with Arabic and Persian but not with other South Asian languages. That is also the difference between Ghazal and Gazal. By the way, both Shughal and rooh are Arabic words.

Deb; India Jul 25, 2013 11:45pm

@Sam: Agreed, but only by half. Campus affairs were there even in undivided India.

Deb; India Jul 25, 2013 11:45pm

@Sam: Agreed, but only by half. Campus affairs were there even in undivided India.

Yusuf Mirza Jul 25, 2013 11:51pm

@Mustafa: Idiotic argument. Clearly shows you did not read the article. NFP may have gone to Karachi Grammar School, but he joined the STATE OWNED St. Pat's College and NOT the school, fool.

Read how he describes the college. It had affluent as well as lower middle class students. And also, since I too went to a state owned college during that period the annual fee of such colleges was just Rs. 400 a year. Everything was subsidized.

I guess reactionaries like you never tire of making a fool of yourselves. Pity.

Amarah Qazmi Jul 26, 2013 12:02am

@Haroon Agha: I was at St.Pats College as well but two years after NFP and his comrades had graduated. Yes, SPSSF ceased to exist after they left but for a while their antics became kind of legendary in the college. St.Pats College became a bastion of liberalism during the reign of the student union that they democratically won and control. Yes, we also heard stories about how they had their dark sides regarding how they carried knives and guns on the campus and openly did drugs, drank alcohol and gambled in the canteen and got into fights with their opponents. But they were also remembered for a lot many positive things as well, like organizing debates, improving the book collection in the literary, improving the standards of the college's cricket and hockey teams and maintaining a special fund to help needy students who arrived from small villages.

ams Jul 26, 2013 12:15am

NFP you brought a lot of memories and tears to my eyes - I passed out in 74 long before you , same a B.Com and lived at least one elections - the canteen in my time was Andrews and yes the hashish was there booze, don't know about and it was a place to be, a fun place and lot of girls with a lot of fun not closed minded - and there I learned to respect other religion like Christianity and Hindu, there were sisters ( Nuns ) with us at the college and we were always very respectful to them even in the evening classes it was co-education.

It was a college which produced many a great names in our country and I don't know if they have old students association or not - it seems all Mr.BHOTTO's sons and even Benazir was student there.

I came from a middle class family and have studied next door Technical HIgh School, and was even a red hot Socialist and even today I am although lived and enjoyed so much of the Capitalistic society.

In my days NSF supported Mr.Bhutto totally, Meraj Mohammad Khan ruled and Ali Yawar was the president at Nazimabad College and Kazmi I don't know the full name was In Abdullah College. I can keep on writing but you are right some of my friends I never saw them again just vanished in some cold cells of the police or I don't Know where, I was just saved by an accident and was in hospital for few months.

Later when I joined IBA as first year student there were many from ST.Pats there, now I have lost contact with them but it seems they are all in Canada, LYla Amin, Khalid Younus, Aziz Majid,and A.Sami Allam in US. all from St.Pats.

Thanks NFP for good old days and memories.

Dearborn Iffy Jul 26, 2013 12:39am

@AbbasToronto: "Pakistan that went from the frying pan of 1970s Socialism to the fire of Islamism of the 1980s, as if there is a short cut to development and progress"

Uncle, are you the same AbbasToronto of late?

Oh don't be so harsh Uncle. Progress wise, Pakistan is still the pioneer in exporting "Chausa" mangoes. Now, that is some going and progress.

Have I missed out something and not "gotti" again?

Viqar Jul 26, 2013 01:15am

@ams: St. Pat's College produced some very noted Pakistanis: Shaukat Aziz (former Pak PM); Wasim Bari (former Pak Test captain, wicketkeeper & selector); Javed Jabbar (Famous intellectual); NFP, of course, and many more. I was a senior when NFP joined. I was with the NSF. At first I didn't like the way he and some of his friends scrapped the old progressive alliance and replaced it with a new one. But eventually that was the right thing to do. They did very well to maintain St. Pat's left-liberal environment. They were wild guys, but a lot of fun and daring. And I really appreciated how they stood up to Zia, his police and the IJT.

Karachi Wala Jul 26, 2013 02:04am

@Mustafa: @kamljit Singh:

"Shugal cannot be really translated in any other language to convey its true 'rooh'."

Actually "Shugal" is galat, sorry ghalat, should be "Shughal" In our pidgin English, "gh" represents a consonant that Urdu shares with Arabic and Persian but not with other South Asian languages. That is also the difference between Ghazal and Gazal. By the way, both Shughal and rooh are Arabic words.

I find it funny. When Kamaljit Singh used the words Shugal and rooh, he was referring to neither Urdu nor Hindi. His reference was with Punjabi and he understood what NFP was referring to. Nonetheless, Mustafa you are not wrong. Neither is Kamaljit. Thanks NFP for the article.

Sad Oldman Jul 26, 2013 02:22am

Paracha Rules. Son of a bi##%* Zia robbed Pakistani youth of their carefree years. Rot in hell Zia....

Riga Jul 26, 2013 03:36am

@Gerrard: Give AbbasToronto a break. I find his ideas quaint and amusing. The guy seems to be perpetually on his own trip. As long as he just writes about the Era of Trading and Globalization, he seems harmless. If he gets political power, then who knows?

Arshad Afridi Jul 26, 2013 03:54am

I used to hate this man because i was stupid, and now when read his coloumns/blogs quite regularly, it has completely changed my views. even today i was about to miss my 'sehri' and my mom kept calling me but this piece kept me stuck to the screen. You are one brilliant writer/human, kindly if you're reading this unblock me from your twitter account. i just accept that i was stupid few years back. my respect for you have been increased by many fold after reading your detailed articles. Kindly accept my apology and unblock me from your twitter. My twitter handle: @Arshad_Afridi

Gulbaz Jul 26, 2013 04:02am

Great work.

Karach Wala Jul 26, 2013 07:01am

@Sam: "Talking about girl friends as if was a just a casual activity. If so Pakistan colleges were far more "social" than India in 80s". Don't be sad Sam. NFP is talking about St. Pat College and a unique band of students. Trust me most of the students in the then Karachi even though hormonal because of age could only dream of a girl friend. That is how the society worked for the of middle and lower middle classes. This was also true for the vast majority of those who were anti Zia and had liberal leanings. Most of them did not have courage to talk to a girl let alone asking her out. Those who were out spoken from time to time would like to brag while among their friends but they were quickly straightened by other braggers. On top of that these young men were completely sterilized by their elders before they get to collage age. I guess just for the heck.

abdul w qureshi Jul 26, 2013 08:44am

very interesting story . I don't know how much political knowledge you have gain during your life time . to understand the modern world you have to study or read the world historyand specially western ( Europe/America after the industrial revolution . have you thought about the contribution of british on the indian sub continent . The discovary of oil in Saudi Arabia by America . bring this knowledge to the young generation of Pakistan and you should be able to translate or write in Urdu.

Shamoon Jul 26, 2013 11:23am

What a truthful narration of one's past and of the culture at St. Pat in early eighties. I could have never imagined having that experience in my days in my college. Thank you for this education NFP. I joined S.M. Commerce college in 1958. Being a night college, most of my classmates were older married people who worked during the day, Tired faces and dim light shone from a single bulb filled the room with gloom. In the third year I switched from commerce to arts and that decision sealed my fate, closing all doors to good opportunities. My childhood dreams of big cars, good clothes, good food and clean living forced me to leave my home and my country 40 years ago. In America I fulfilled my dreams but missed my family and my country, only if I can call it my country. I was born in India, I was a Mohajir in Pakistan and I am an emigrant in USA. But Pakistan is where I have been going back every year in search of memories which took root in that piece of land.

observer Jul 26, 2013 12:16pm

Excellent! Brought back my own memories of the struggle against Mrs Gandhi and her emergency ( including ban on student politics), on the other side of the Radcliffe line.

Hope someday you will write a La Deeni History of Pakistan.

sam Jul 26, 2013 03:43pm

@Karach Wala: yes i thought so , i am happy that i am not so unlucky

Ali S Jul 27, 2013 12:23pm

I'm sure NFP and his college mates had a wild fun time even during Zia's era thanks to what they made of St Pat's, and maybe they did achieve something important during that particular era of oppression. But the reality is that today student politics has become the scourge of most state-owned colleges. Members of a certain leftist student party here in Karachi run goon squads on campus, force students to join their rallies and register with their party under threats, and openly intimidate college staff.

It's no longer a place where students (especially female ones) feel safe to come to learn. Given today's situation, most hard-working students at state-owned colleges would rather have a somewhat boring place where you can study in peace over a 'fun and exciting place' with booze, drugs and flirts.

Sohail Pirzada Jul 28, 2013 03:16am

NFP what a great re-collection brought back my St. Pat's School memories, Saddar, 555 Thana........ awesome man just brilliant........ I remember these IJT's distributed sweets on the assassination of ZAB by Zia (accursed - thu thu).......

shujat ali Jul 28, 2013 04:10am

Mate, Such a Delightful article. I got enrolled there during the 90's started in Pre-Engg but ended up in B-Com. What an absolute gem of a place St.Pat was, i met great people and teacher. I still remember Professor Karar Hussain. Unfortunately,during our time MQM(Haqiqi) ruled roost and were like Campus Bullies. you made me remember the quiet romance i experienced which was confined to interactions between eyes. thank you NFP for making me remember some treasured memories.

Aqeel Butt Jul 28, 2013 04:13am

Great work sir! I have really become a fan of yours.

NMA Jul 28, 2013 06:36am

Excellent article..... Strange but though I despise your views on socialism... love your writing..... You do an excellent job documenting Pakistan and Karachis past..... Something so few ever bother to think about

Can this not be made into a movie ?!