That day I left home to join Cadet College Hasanabdal.
Twentieth Entry Jinnah Wing, Cadet College Hasanabdal
L to R
1st step: Masood Sajid, Tameer ul Islam, Farrukh Najmi, Nadir Kamal
2nd step: Ghulam Shabir Tauseef, Nasir Gondal, Muhammad Afzal, Muhammad Zubair, Khawaja Iftikhar Ahmed
3rd step: Waqar Gerdezi, Awais Jamil, Shahid Ghafoor
4th step: Waqar Sadiq, Nayyer Iqbal, Omar Hamid and Asad Majid
(Phote taken by Zeb, the college photographer, perhaps in our third year/ Thanks to Masood Iqbal Sajid aka Kasuri, for preserving it on Facebook)
May 10th is the day of start of Mutiny of 1857. But for me, and around another hundred of us, it has a different and personal significance.
It is one of the most important days of my life. It was the first time I left home, at the age of twelve. I never came back to live at home until I was twenty seven years old and home had move away from Pakistan. But that is for another day.
It was a Thursday morning. and I had left home with my father the day before, stayed in Rawalpindi and the next day left for Hasanabdal. It was a big day for my extended family. I was the first one in our family to join Hasanabdal. My father's oldest brother Ghulam Sarwar made a special trip from village, where he was living after retirement. He was accompanied by my late cousin Ejaz Ahmad, son of my father's older brother Muhammad Afzal. Ejaz was working in a power plant (WAPDA) in Hasanabdal as an electric engineer. So in a way the whole father side of family was represented in giving me a send off.
It was the end of a long journey. We lived in Kohat, where my father was stationed as an accountant with the Military Accounts in Pakistan Air Force. All my schooling was in Kohat, from grade 1 to 7 in Cantonment Board Public School. Our principal was Madam Safdar, always sari clad wife of Air Force officer. Kohat was a military town from the days of British India. Although we did not know how to speak Pushto, it was not a problem at all. We lived in an Air Force camp, McQueens Lines, and most of the families were Punjabis, some were Bengalis but moved back to Bangladesh after the 71 war. In the town itself the main spoken language was Hindko, which is more like Punjabi than Pushto.
I don't remember where I heard of the college for the first time, but going to a boarding school, especially a cadet college was considered a dream come true in those days. I remember sending for the application forms and prospectuses of the various colleges including Cadet College Kohat and Military College Jhelum, besides Hasanabdal. For all of them, one had to go through a written examination, in Urdu, English and Mathematics. If cleared, one has to go for an intelligence examination and then the dreaded interview with the Principal. I have forgotten others but interview with N.D. Hassan, the principal of Hasanabdal is still vivid in memory. He did not look like an average person; short, reserved, strict and with an elephant's memory. One of those persons, whose influence in your life you cannot ignore. That is true of many teachers of that time and each of us would have a personal list of teachers to be grateful for the rest of our lives.
The day I got the acceptance letter from Hasanabdal, was one of the happiest days of my life. At that time, I had no idea how my education will be paid for. It was not as expensive then as it is now, but still it was out of my family's league. I would get some financial scholarship but still I would not have been there had not my eldest sister pitched in, who had just finished masters and started a new job as a lecturer in the local girls college.
College was all set to greet the newcomers. Located on the main Grand Trunk Road from Kabul to Calcutta at the juncture of Abbottabad exit, at a 'stone's throw away" from the Bus station, as the college prospectus mentioned, it looked a lot bigger building than it seems now. We took a tonga from the bus station to the college. We were greeted at the gate and taken to a make shift tent. The principal knew my name and remembered that he met my father in Peshawar, where I had the interview. There was where I first met with Omar Hamid, who would be my dorm mate and closest friend since. I think one of the main reason we connected was that we both felt comfortable to speak Punjabi in an otherwise Urdu and English preferred environment.
We had no idea that the nightmare of vigorous and rigorous life and punishment is less than twenty four hours away. For the time being, it was all honey moon for a day.
We were checked in to our residence hall, Jinnah Wing. Our housemaster was Chaudhry Muhammad Hussain and Assistant Housemaster was Sajad Hussain Baluch. Later in our five years of stay, we had a change of teachers and house masters. Our longest time was with the ever energetic Mahfooz ur Rahman, who is still involved in the affairs of college as a member of the Board. I think he is connected to most of Abdalians across different entries and wings.
The four seniors ( 9 graders) with eight of us new comers were Kaukab Azim, Aamir Munir , Wasim Chughtai and Adnan Jafri. We were, Shahid Ghafoor, Nayyer Iqbal, Waqar Gerdezi, Waqar Sadiq, Nadir Kamal, Tameerul Islam, Omar Hamid and me in Dorm 2. Across the hall in Dorm 1 were Farrukh Najmi, Asad Majid, Muhammad Zubair, Muhammad Afzal, Masood Iqbal Sajid, Khawaja Iftikhar, Ghulam Shabir Tauseef and Awais Jamil. ( thanks to Awais to help me remember the correct order)
Rest of the day went like a dream. Meeting new wing mates and sizing up each other. We did not realize that the parents have left and we are on our own. By the end of the day, we all looked like each other, each time of the day had its own uniform.
It took a few days for home sickness to creep in. I remember the first term, around two months or so was the hardest. In a week or so, I was counting the number of seconds left to go home.
The greatest gift of Hasanabdal was the gift of camaraderie. Around sixteen of us in one class with five other classes in one residence hall, called wings. And you stay with the same set of seniors and juniors for five years, changing a new class each year. In your own class, ( entry) you are around one hundred in six wings. Those hundred or so entry mates develop a sense of kinship which can be reignited even if you meet them decades later.
And I never knew the width of socio economic range between us. Hasanabdal was a great equalizer. It was only later, after I left it and was in medical college that I knew more about other entry-mates and how socially, financially and politically were they apart from folks like me. CCH gave us the equal footing to grow without any sense of privilege or limitation.