In Sargodha, I did well in my studies though I didn’t outshine some of the more hardworking, intelligent boys. However, thanks to my father’s prior diligence, I excelled everyone else in mathematics. My classmates would seek my help whenever they lagged behind in the subject. When the son of the Base Commander at the local base – studying in the same class as us – needed help in the subject, he was put under my charge for about six months. Mr. Naseer, the head of the department, held me in special regard. When I was selected for the PAF Academy, he called me to his office and said that I should not join the air force. I was utterly surprised at his suggestion but he said that I ought to keep studying mathematics because he had not seen any other student in the college with my ability to understand mathematical concepts. This is the highest compliment I have ever received for proficiency in my favourite subject. The Gold Medal that I won in Bahria University in MCS – that I completed after my retirement from the Air Force at the ripe age of 50 – doesn’t even come close to the appreciation that my teacher gave me at that time.
The PAF School is a great institution. I had class fellows from all walks of life. Some belonged to social and economic strata that were far above my reach but the college had an environment where the only things that mattered were excellence in education and proficiency in sports. As everyone got an equal amount of pocket money, we had the same buying power during the weekend. We remained oblivious and unconscious of our background. Our friendships that have endured over the last five decades were formed on the basis of common temperament and interests. The education that the college imparted and the character that it built set me up to close many of the material and social gaps that existed between me and my more affluent classmates.
While we were in class X in 1969, disturbances broke out in the country against the Ayub regime. Inspired by Bhutto, students were in the forefront of these agitations. However, our school remained secluded from what was happening outside our school walls. The students of the local Government College once marched towards our school to get us to join their rallies. While being turned back by civil and PAF police, they handed over a few sets of bangles, to be given to us. As a consequence, our going to town on weekend was stopped. The matriculation exams that were originally scheduled for March were postponed till September. This gave us a chance to revise our course a few more times, enabling us to secure excellent results and win scholarships. I won a talent scholarship that earned me the hefty sum of Rs. 2,500 in the first year.
The students of the local Government College once marched towards our school to get us to join their rallies. While being turned back by civil and PAF police, they handed over a few sets of bangles, to be given to us
Most of us had, however, been politicised to quite an extent. I would frequently go out without permission to attend the political gatherings. I recall attending a charged public meeting by Bhutto in the Company Bagh and witnessed a rousing performance of mike-smashing and un-buttoned cuffs. A week later I attend a milder public meeting by Mian Tufail. I was joined by some of my class fellows in these surreptitious outings.
We were obviously not ignorant of what was happening to the country. We were getting some of the newspapers and would listen to BBC regularly. Our Bengali friends were drifting away and our relations with them were becoming strained. On the question of the integrity of the nation, they had clearly reached a point of no return. Our view of Bengali nationalism was, however, heavily coloured by our jaundiced understanding of the issues. The situation would continue to worsen over the next two years. Our stars were really unfortunate because when we needed a leader with vision and wisdom, we got General Yahya Khan. Within two months of our joining the Academy in October 1971, the two wings of the country were torn apart irrevocably.
At school, my lifestyle was comparable to that at Aitchison, Eton and Harrow where royal and feudal scions go to study. During the school holidays, I would go back to my one-room dwelling on the fourth floor of a crowded building in the walled city of Lahore – where there was no running water or clean toilet. There I would go back to my old routine of fetching water from the street tap and watch my family struggle against strangling poverty. That tale, however, needs to be told separately and will be continued in the future…
Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from PAF and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and can be reached at email@example.com
Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org