by Zahid G Mohammad
The beauty of our fifteen-day tour was that Hamid Sahib did not try to impose his decision on us for a minute. He acted as if he was one among us
It was a season of mellow fruitfulness; everything around the University of Kashmir campus was ‘maddening spectacular’. In the lustrous Dal Lake, the reflections of Mahadev and Zabarwan shook by the heart-shaped oars of Shikaras slicing tranquil waters would make even the most stoic a romantic. With their leaves almost turned golden, the majestic Chinars, hundreds of trees with apples as red as rubicund cheeks of village damsels drooping from twigs and pretty girls sitting under them could melt every new coming boy as poetic as Rasool Mir. Of course, the prosaic boys like me could be no exception.
My First Day
It was perhaps Wednesday, October 4, 1972, our first day on the campus. In our life, it was a sort of paradigm shift, from ostracised college environs we had entered into an open space – baptised in co-education.
For me, it was more joyous a day than to many a new friend who had got admission to various post-graduate courses. After over two years of absence, isolation of sorts, I was returning to regular classes. That too, what some friends considered elite, the Department of English Literature.
Having graduated in science, I had taken up English literature. Thank unorthodox method of working of Dr MS Want, Professor of English Department. Although I had applied late for admission, he admitted me and interestingly, I was given Roll No One. Later, my roll call number in the class became a mark of my distinction as much as most of the girls from Sushma Rani to Usha Gurtoo instead of my name remembered me by it only as jailors remember the inmates.
On the first day on campus, my most thrilling experience was entering the archway of the arts block, one of the iconic buildings of the campus. The stairs, with girls and boys sitting on both sides, led to the English and Political Science Departments. They filled the atmosphere with giggles, laughers, and on spotting a newcomer, some jeered and whistles at him. Perhaps I was spared because I was humbly dressed; a white half-sleeve terry cotton shirt and black trousers – I had yet to switch over to the latest fashion of bellbottoms.
Those days, headed by Dr Want, the Department had only five teachers, Dr Jay Raman, Father McMahan, Moti Lal Pandit, and Hamid Anwar. The youngest of them was Hamid Anwar, lean, tall, as fair complexioned as Europeans and very handsome. He could pass just for a PG student or a recent pass out from the Department.
Before he joined the University, he was teaching at Amar Singh College. In our first year, he had to teach the fourth paper that included prose writers Francis Bacon, Jonathan Swift, John Ruskin, William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb and many others. Because of being lean and handsomely tall, the bachelor-teacher earned the sobriquet King Size Wills Filter from some girls.
Those days some pretentious students flaunted their “intellectualism” by smoking Charminar, a cheap brand cigarette or Beedi 705. The scene of piles of Charminar cigarette packets and matchboxes in front of some boys squatting with some girls on the lawns in front of the arts block disturbed me, perhaps I was not yet to reconcile to these scenes as the new norm. Even some teachers belonged to this group of cheap brand cigarette smokers.
But, Hamid Sahib, besides being the most handsome man around in the arts block, was a cultured, soft-spoken, and decently dressed gentleman.
On Sunday, August 15, 2021, almost forty-nine years later, like pictures in an old-fashioned bioscope, these images played inside my mind on hearing Prof Mohammad Aslam’s voice on cell phone: Is Hamid Anwar Sahib dead?
The query struck me like a thunderbolt. I knew he was sick; he was terminally ill; I did not know that. A couple of days earlier, Dr Wahid had talked to me about his illness; he was suffering from lung carcinoma. Having seen many people recovering from it, I did not believe he could depart us so soon.
Since autumn 2019, mostly confined to my home, I had not met or even seen him, perhaps I had last met him briefly on the lawns of Amar Singh Club, where I had gone to attend a book release function. To cross-check the sad news, I rang up Mohammad Sadiq Wani, a friend living in his neighbourhood, and he confirmed it. I shared the tragic news with some of my classmates in the English Department. Thank God some of us participated in the Namaz Jinaza, but some could not attend the funeral prayers because some routes were blocked due to the August 15 celebrations.
Deaths In Pandemic
During these Covid-19 lockdowns and earlier curfews, many friends like Mir Gowher Ahmad, a contemporary in the English Department, later on, a colleague and columnist M Ashraf, a contemporary of Hamid Sahib at REC, died of the virus, but hardly any friends participated in their funeral prayers.
However, after the internet was restored and the social media platforms Facebook, Twitter became available, some of us turned into epitaph writers. We memorialised the dead friend in the best words we could. To pay tribute to friends in whose funerals we could not participate, sometimes borrowed famous lines from men of letters and literature: “In my beginning is my end…In my end is my beginning” or “Excuse My Dust” or “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”
Like many an old student of Kashmir University, I also thought of writing an epitaphic note on Hamid Sahib, but words bluffed me, and I could not write it. However, the saddening news flash jogged my memories, and I remembered some of the best days we, my classmates and I, had lived with him during an education tour to Simla, now called Shimla and discovered a great friend in our young teacher.
The Shimla Tour
In 1972, when my friends and I joined masters, there had been a change of guard in the State; Syed Mir Qasim had been placed in the saddle of Chief Minister. One of his ambitious ministers looked at the University Campus as a bastion of power, and he wanted to build his political constituency on the campus. The minister cultivated some students, offered doles, and sent them on education tours outside the states to achieve his objectives. He succeeded in creating a group but failed to get a foothold on the campus. A section of student activists supporting the Plebiscite Front was the most influential group. Having a say in administration, it sent its supporters on tours outside the State without ministers’ support.
My friends Hamid, Rashid, Iftikhar, my younger sibling Hassan of the commerce department, and a few others were sent on tour to Simla by the University administration. It had caused a flutter in our department. Some of the boys, including me, were also enthusiastic about joining the group. Professor Want had succeeded in insulating the English Department from the campus politics and minister’s influence. Noting our restlessness in his typical style, he said I don’t want you to be part of the “ruffians,” I will send you on tour from Departmental funds.
He asked his PA to call Hamid and Jay as he fondly called Hamid Anwar and Jay Raman and told Hamid Sahib to take a group of students from both Previous and Final (as the first year and second-year MA were then called) on tour to Simla.
It was August 1973 (the exact date of our departure has ‘etherised’ from my memory); we boarded a bus for Jammu on our onward journey. I don’t remember how many we were in total. However, some of the names still part of my memory include Maharaj Krishen Raina, Anil Kumar, Abdul Majid Padder, Bashir Ahmad, MA Gupkari, Bashir Ahmad Zargar, Nisar Ahmad Guroo, Mohammad Maqbool Bhat, Sheikh Manzoor Ahmad, Shafi Shauq, and myself. Gulzar Hazratbali, the Librarian, was from the staff.
The beauty of our fifteen-day tour was that Hamid Sahib did not try to impose his decision on us for a minute. He acted as if he was one among us, and all decisions regarding sight-seeing and visits to different places were taken by consensus.
Knowing Hamid Anwar
On the day he passed away, when I rang up Manzoor, Maqbool and Nisar, everyone had cherished the sweet memories of Hamid Sahib and our visit to Simla. To recapitulate those syrupy memories, one would need reams of paper and days together. During this tour, I learnt that, like me, he had landed in the English Department by share ‘conspiracy of the providence.’
In the early 1960s, he had joined the newly established Regional Engineering College to do a Bachelor of Engineering Course. In his second year, he was made to quit the Engineering College and forced to take a different stream of education. A couple of years back, recounting his student activism days, Ashraf told me that Hamid Sahib had joined Engineering College with him. Then, the Principal of the college was ZU Ahmad, a very tough academic immune to any outside influence, rusticated a few students, including M Ashraf, Bashir Ahmad Kitchloo and Hamid Anwar Dharr.
Ashraf later retired as Director-General of Tourism, remembered as tourism man of Kashmir who brought Ladakh on the international tourism map and Hamid as an educationist and one of the best Controller of Examination – known for his honesty and integrity.
May their souls rest in eternal peace.
(A former officer of the Jammu and Kashmir government, the author has been a columnist. Many of his books were published in recent years.)