Khalid Bashir Ahmad
After graduating with Honours in Political Science from SP College in 1975, I joined Aligarh Muslim University for Masters in Sociology but returned within less than two months following a severe attack of malaria and consequent hospitalization. My mother, concerned about the health of her youngest child, wanted me back immediately and I was only too willing to obey. Fortunately, I had also applied for admission in the departments of Urdu, Law and Political Science at the Kashmir University. The results were declared and I topped the three admission lists. When it came to deciding about one, the choice fell on Political Science, God knows why. I confess that the subject has not even remotely touched my person so far as my occupation or pursuits are concerned. Mirza Ghalib might have been closer to oceanography than I am to political science. Still, I had for some time toyed with the idea of registering for doctoral degree.
There is this interesting anecdote about my opting for Arts stream at the college level. When I and my cousin Muhammad Rafi did our Matriculation, the issue of choosing one of the three streams – Medical, Non-Medical and Arts – came up. It was clear that Medical stream would make you a doctor and Non-Medical stream an engineer. However, there was confusion about the Arts stream. Where does it take you was an important question. We consulted one of our senior cousins whose guess was that it would get us a job in the Arts Emporium. We opted for the Arts stream but without aspiring for a job in the Arts Emporium. However, as the destiny would have it, Rafi, during the course of his career, served as Secretary of the Organization for over a year and I nearly landed up there when I got a job but did not join.
At University of Kashmir, ours was the 1975-77 PG batch. The Political Science department was then housed in the right flank of the first floor of the oldest and, till date, the most elegant of the university buildings – the Arts Block – before shifting to the Naseem Bagh campus and later to the newly constructed block near the University Guest House. There were fewer buildings on the campus and the landscape was enchanting as against the present scenario when on every second yard a concrete monster has come up.
In the early 1970s, the university was a victim of serious administrative mess in so far as conducting examinations was concerned. It would take three or three and a half years to complete the two-year PG course. At a given time, there would be three batches in a department known as MA Previous (New), MA Previous (Old) and MA (Final). Happily, when we entered the university, this weird arrangement came to an end and our batch became the first in many years to complete post-graduation in two years. We had also this ‘distinction’ of receiving our degrees at the convocation that was held after a gap of about 20 years.
The faculty comprised Dr Zaheer Masood Qureshi as Professor and Head, Dr Mohan Kishen Teng and Ghulam Hassan Khan as Readers and Dr Roop Krishen Bhat as Lecturer. Later, Mr. Manzoor Fazili, who completed Ph D while being on the faculty, and Dr GM Shah also joined the faculty.
Dr. Qureshi, a fine teacher that he was, knew his subject very well and always came fully prepared with his notes. Under him passed out the first doctorate in Political Science from University of Kashmir. He was well built and spoke at a high pitch. I had touched upon this trait of his in one of my poems. It so happened that once on excursion to Yusmarg, while boys and girls were singing movie songs in the bus taking us to Yusmarg, I was seated with him. Knowing about my flair for poetry, he suggested I recite some verses which I did. Then he himself recited one of the famous humorous poems, Abstract Art, of a Pakistani poet whose first lines ran like this:
Abstract art ki dekhi thi numayish mai ne
Ki thi az raah-e-muhabbat bhi satayish mai ne
Aaj tak dono gunahoon ki saza paata hun
Koi poochay ki kya dekha hai to sharmata hoon
Naak woh naak khatarnak jisey kehtay hain
Taang kheenchi thi ki miswaak jisey kehtay hain
After we were done with the poetry recitation, Dr Qureshi asked me to organize a cultural program in the department which I did and also read out a poem specifically written for the occasion. It was a humorous description of the faculty. I have since lost the poem but this verse about Dr Qureshi is still fresh in my memory:
Lecture mai har girah ko kholtay hain woh
Bahar sadak pe suntay hain jab boltay hain woh
Likewise, there was a teasing verse or two about Dr Teng’s changing midway the medium of his lecture from English to Urdu that evoked laughter from the audience. After the cultural program was over, he took pains in explaining why he would switch over to Urdu in the middle of a lecture.
During our time, instead of the now prevalent semester system, annual examinations were held. The syllabus too was easier and shorter than it is now. If my memory serves me better, our syllabus in the first year included Western Political Thought, International Relations, Comparative Politics and Indian Government and Politics, in the final year, Indian Political Thought, Public Administration, International Law and Modern Political Thought. In the first year, the easy-to-understand Constitutional History was replaced with a little difficult-to-grasp Comparative Politics. We resisted the change but without success.
In our final year, there was this customary group photograph to be taken which was invariably taken in front of the Arts Block. When the students collected at the designated spot, the final year batch also joined insisting it be a joint photograph. Dr Qureshi did not approve of it but as they stayed put, he left in a huff. We were saddened at the prospect of the photograph being without the Head of the Department. I and a couple of my class fellows followed him to his house at the campus and requested not to deprive us of the opportunity of a group photograph with him. He did not budge and, sadly, we had to make a retreat. The joint photograph was taken sans the faculty.
Mr Khan was given the nickname of ‘Becaunz’ for his frequent delivery of the word ‘because’ with nasal accent. His favourite line to a misbehaving or irritating student was, “This is the reflection of your ancestral heritage.” Dr Roop Krishen Bhat was young when he joined the department. He was a hard working and focused teacher. He taught Comparative Politics and was referred to as Robert Dahl, then prominent political thinker of US, who was part of our syllabus. Dahl’s philosophy looked to us a very dry subject and, accordingly, most of it went above our heads. Mr Manzoor Fazili had moved in from a degree college in place of Mr Khan who had proceeded on study leave to complete his Ph D thesis on freedom movement in Kashmir. He taught Indian Government and Politics. Dr Shah was a thorough gentleman who taught International Relations. Unfortunately, he died in harness due to diabetes.
When we were in the final year, there came a JNU pass-out to enroll as a Ph D scholar. Dr Qureshi assigned her one of our classes. We felt belittled on the prospect of being taught by a lady of our own age. Students discussed among themselves how to avoid this ‘humiliation’. The consensus was to boycott the class which was done and the arrangement was cancelled. Interestingly, girls also joined the boycott. Later, another JNU pass-out joined the Department as a Ph D scholar and faculty. However, she earned the Fulbright Scholarship and moved to the United States.
At the time we entered the university, India was reeling under the spell of Emergency in the aftermath of the unseating of Mrs Indira Gandhi by the Allahabad High Court. As a positive offshoot of the Emergency, ragging in universities was banned. Since Kashmir remained, more or less, untouched by the Emergency, the seniors at the campus gave a tough time to freshers, especially girls. Dr Teng thought I should come to their rescue since I spotted long hair that might make an impression on the seniors. I was saved from ragging because of my cousin, Niaz Ahmad, who was in the final year. When as seniors it was our turn to rag the freshers, we were mild. In fact, after the ragging, we took the freshers to the canteen and offered them tea and snacks – an unprecedented gesture, indeed.
There were two senior batches. The senior most was ‘wild’ and noisy. Mohiuddin or Lord, as he was known in his group, Aziz Ahmad, Qayoom Tariq, Niaz Ahmad, Manzoor ul Haq, Muhammad Yusuf and Ghulam Ahmad always moved in a squad. Ahmad was mild and girls felt more comfortable with him. The group was what Dr. Roop Krishan Bhat would call a ‘Yahoo jamaat’. Qayoom was the most handsome and he still is. He was romantic and, no wonder, landed up in France, the Lady of the Europe. Niaz was the intellectual input to the group. He had liking for conversing in English even with the illiterate support staff.
In comparison, our batch was a quiet assemblage- no hullabaloo, nothing. In our group there were Balbir Singh, Ghulam Nabi Kamili, Muhammad Subhan, Roop Krishen Saraf and Abdul Majid. Sushil Raina was more comfortable with girls to whom he would sing movie songs as leisure time entertainment. Once when he had fractured his right arm and we were on an excursion, he was hand-fed by a female class fellow. Lucky guy, or so we felt!
Ours was a male-majority batch but the boys having come from non-co-ed institutions did not quickly mix up with girls. Girls in the same class was a new experience. There were only a handful of them – Santosh Bakaya, Naseema Akhtar, Anita Raina, Shashi Bhan and one or two more in a batch of about 20 students. On the other hand, the neighbouring departments of Urdu, Hindi and English had an overwhelming female representation. Even our immediate senior and junior batches in the department were much colourful in terms of gender representation.
During our days at the campus, the University had a fleet of buses to ferry students and faculty. Prof Rehman Ali Khan of Law Department would call these buses as ‘four wheeled coffins’ for ferrying students in the afternoon and leaving the campus deserted and without any academic activity. One day in 1977, the university suddenly decided to dispose of its fleet of buses which infuriated students. The arrangement was years’ old and convenient for them. Several hundred students including girls took out a procession and marched to the civil secretariat to lodge protest. The decision was not reversed, though. For ferrying students and faculty, buses of the State Road Transport Corporation were commissioned.
Our department did not publish any journal but other departments were no better. However, seminars were held, albeit without periodicity, where a speaker would be invited for a lecture on a particular topic, followed by question-answer session. I do not recall any good speaker addressing such seminars. My friend, Rajinder Singh Raina, holds a different opinion and says good speakers were also invited. That must be prior to my joining the department. Peer Gyasuddin, a communist political leader, was one of the speakers during our time. He had come in a Fiat car and I remember students making fun of a communist owning and driving a car which then represented affluence. One recalls Prof Muhammad Yasin, Head of the History Department, who successfully organised seminars every Saturday. Students from other departments would also attend in good numbers, not because of any interest in history or the speaker, but for a cup of tea and a samosa religiously served during the proceedings. I and my friends must have relished countless samosas and cups of tea there.
The Arts Block was the focus of interest of boys for swarms of girl students being around. No wonder then that when a colourful audience was required for Amitabh Bachhan to recite his famous song, Mai pal do pal ka shair hoon, in a movie being shot in Kashmir, the choice fell on students from the Arts Faculty with good representation from Political Science Department. That was a year or so before our batch had moved in. However, when the movie was released, the scene had been replaced by a different audience. I remember how my cousin was impatiently waiting for the release of the movie and how enthusiastically he waited outside the Broadway Theatre in anticipation of the first show, only to return in a sad frame.
Boys from the Regional Engineering College (REC) would bunk their classes and spend hours in the vicinity of the Arts Block to feast on the riot of colours. Often, they would bring their Palestinian class fellows with them. Dr MS Want of English department would chase such Romeos away with a stick in hand and mouthful of expletives. The REC students were a rowdy lot. Brawls between the two sides were common those days.
Looking back, one feels nostalgic about being one among the pass outs -1820 PG, 56 M Phil and 19 Ph D since its inception in 1963 – of the Political Science Department. Eminent academicians like Professor Satya Bushan, Professor R Parihar, Professor ZM Qureshi, Professor KR Bombwall and Professor Shanti Swarup, among others, successfully led the Department in its 50 year’s journey. The first scholar to obtain doctorate from the department was Abdur Rashid Wani, a middle school teacher.
For us, the pass-outs, the Golden Jubilee of the Political Science Department is the time for celebration as well as saying ‘Thank You’ to our teachers for inculcating in us whatever little knowledge we possess. May those among them who are no more with us rest in eternal peace and those who are alive live long! Ameen.