The way it was: Some inimitable characters

Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

Some of the boys at our school dressed as girls could easily have made the Kinnaird girls feel jealous of their looks. Aitchison was a strange place in those days

There was only one promise that Ziaul Haq kept, that was not to keep any. It was Aristotle or was it Longines, who said that a dramatic persona should be consistent in character. That if it was in a man’s character to be inconsistent then he should be consistently inconsistent. Zia was not a fictional character but a nightmare, otherwise he could have been cited as a superb example of consistency for being constantly deceitful.

Since women are considered inconsistent the wise Greeks used boys to act on their behalf. I wonder when a woman was inducted for the first time in Elizabethan theatre. In most all-boys schools, even today female characters are portrayed by males. I remember at our annual school swimming gala, Javed Saigol dressed himself as Anarkali and Rasheed Toru as a Mughal maiden. They created a flutter in the hearts of their schoolmates. It was awfully nice of them to let their close friends kiss them once on the condition that their makeup was not ruined.

Mr Moyene Najmi the art teacher had acquired the services of a make-up artist from the film studios through his younger brother Pervez, a well-known actor of the times. After the fancy dress event, I saw Javed and Rasheed dash off to their rooms to change for fear of being molested by friends. Some of the boys at our school dressed as girls could easily have made the Kinnaird girls feel jealous of their looks.

Aitchison was a strange place in those days. There were these boys, as already mentioned, who with a little blush-on could have “launched a thousand ships”. There were some from Southern Punjab in the junior classes, a few of them believed to be even married, who shaved hair off their legs in order to merge with the other boys of their class. Ali Quli Khan stood at least a foot taller than the rest of his class. He could run the hundred yards in hundred paces, while others of his class ran it in two hundred and more.

The successive repetition of this awesome spectacle finally convinced the college sports authority to introduce the height rule. The new rule meant that in spite of an athlete’s registered age, if he was taller than the prescribed limit, he was to be automatically moved up into a higher category (clearly, one can’t entirely rely on a woman’s fond memory about her own and her son’s age). The school took a just and necessary precaution that no one dashed across the finishing line leaving others struggling fifty yards behind.

I remember Ali feeling a little sheepish about his height. What an advantage he had in serving aces on the tennis court where the height rule could not be enforced. It is such a pity that there was rampant favouritism even in those days. While Ali was penalised for his height, the weight rule was not applied to Syed Shaukat Hussain, who was the fattest and fastest athlete of his class.

Why must girls always want to ape boys? In the colleges for women, girls played the male roles just because the boys played the female roles in theirs. I believe Musarrat Hameed was considered a great male star. She played the lead role in a number of plays staged by the Lahore College for Women. Her contemporaries think she was best as Charles Condomine, the hero in Noel Coward’s “Blythe Spirit”, that was directed by Miss Promilla Thomas with advice from Mrs Urmila Sirajuddin. Recently Musarrat rather proudly informed me while sipping coffee that the college girls “showered” kisses on her cheek each night after the play ended.

Tanveer Ahmed Khan our distinguished retired foreign secretary was without doubt a great teacher of Drama. While some other teachers at GC inflicted notes on the students, Tanveer Ahmed Khan infused a passion for literature. Who really cared for Carlysle, Dryden or The Eminent Victorian — Gorden of Sudan, Lytten Strachey, Florence Nightingale and who was the fourth eminent one? Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” were a source of great amusement especially when our teacher who never recovered like some others from having been to Oxford, read the old English text presumably with an impeccable fourth-century pronunciation.

Habib Ullah Tarrar, a gentleman from the mofussils of Hafizabad, was so inspired that he proceeded to Leeds to study English Phonetics. It is quite astonishing how he can improve upon our former GC professor, when it comes to reciting Chaucer. Chaucer’s metrical secret was lost to the late English poets. They continued to spell like him but had forgotten how he spoke. Amateurs, often misread “Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote”. They do not understand Chaucer’s pronunciation of final -e and -es, his rules for elision or his accentuation of French words. You should hear how Habib reads Chaucer. Other students of the batch of 1961 preferred to read a modern English version of Chaucer. It was much easier to keep pace with ribald tales, without being bogged down deciphering words with their peculiar old spellings. For example Chaucer takes a gibe at gentlemen of Aitzaz Ahsan’s profession: “No — wher (where) so bisy (busy) a man as he ther (there) nas, And yet he seemed bisier (busier) than he was”.

No offence meant to Aitzaz because he played with a straight bat at school even when he stood shorter than the stumps.

Pervez Masood after reading Chaucer never remained the same. It has been almost forty years but he remembers all the pertinent episodes of Chaucer’s naughtiest tales. Whenever I spot him at golf taking a player aside, muttering something in his ear with a smirk on his face, I know that he is not discussing a moot issue about the game but sharing something more basic.

Fuad Ali Butt, another golfer is an affable man, with a superb sense of humour. Unfortunately at golf he can be quite unpredictable. Frequently he likes to throw his spare weight around. I don’t believe it but they say that on one occasion Butt sahib got so infuriated with his caddy, because he was missing all his puts, that he finally flung his putter in the caddy’s direction, which got stuck in the branches of an acacia tree. When after repeated attempts the putter wouldn’t come down, Fuad first pleaded with the caddy and then tempted him with visible cash, to climb up the thorny acacia and get the putter.

The caddy refused to oblige because he feared he might be thrashed with the same iron after it had been retrieved. No one really knows how the iron was finally dislodged, but the last thing reported was one Fuad Ali Butt running after the caddy, who managed to save his hide by disappearing over the club boundary wall. Butt sahib was infuriated. He would have loved to twist his neck. Under the circumstances when the villain had slipped out of hand he shouted after him, promising to do the unmentionable, which no one had ever seen or done before. In spite of his nasty temper many people are actually quite fond of Butt sahib.

Nusrat Ali Shah from Jhania Shah, a former federal minister, now a well-dressed gentleman leisurely prowling in Islamabad once observed, “Actually Fuad is not a friend but an addiction”. A rather unsympathetic way of expressing friendship wouldn’t you say?

When Syed Iqbal Hussain lost his Scottish kilt (much less in value than Fuad’s putter) that he had acquired from near Dundee everyone sympathised. Iqbal hails from Shergarh who likes to flavour accounts of his personal achievements. For the private amusement of his friends he likes to encourage them to believe for having done things, which may not entirely be of his own doing. Above all Iqbal is scrupulously honest and correct. He is so punctilious and proper that the head office Habib Bank at Karachi conspired to get him out of their way by appointing him the Bank’s Balochistan chief. But more of that later.

Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is a painter, author and a political activist