Often in our lives comes a person who leaves us completely changed and different, even to ourselves. In my life such a role has been played by a number of individuals combined but one of them whose influence was maximum was late Mr. Salim, my English teacher during O Levels. May Allah bless him a place in Paradise.
I have never met such a person in my life, so gentle, so broad-minded. Even now when I remember him smiling, a smile appears on my face as well and I pray for him. He was a unique man; unique in, perhaps, every sense of the word. I had known him before I came to O Levels. He had been my Oral English teacher during the 8th class but he took only one period every week and hence we knew very little about him. When I entered O Levels he was our Class Teacher as well as our English teacher. He was aware of the fact that we were not very good in English and that we needed a lot of hard work. He gave us a nice little lecture about the new challenges we were going to face and how we were going to deal with them. He told us that everyday for the first five to ten minutes one boy was to come in front of class and make a speech, on any topic he wanted to talk, in English.
The students were to come roll-number wise. This was perhaps the most interesting items during my first year at O Levels. Everyday in the morning a boy would come, often reluctantly, and tell Mr. Salim what the topic was. Many times it happened that the student said that he had not prepared anything. Then he would say, with a matchless wave of his hand which I remember clearly, “Well, then do it offhand. Go on, speak on anything you want, anything you choose.” The thing which impressed me most was his vast knowledge. Before the student started his speech, he would give a little introduction on that topic, and no matter what the topic was he always knew something about it, even if it was like ‘Eating insects for food in the Far-East’!
I was a shy student at that moment and I knew that the speech-process would help me in over-coming it. When my first speech was drawing nearer and nearer, I searched for a unique topic. I had taken it as a challenge to find a topic about which Mr.Salim would know nothing. After a lot of search I found one: Antimatter. This was, I think, the real beginning of my relationship with Mr.Salim. When I came to make my speech, he asked me about the topic and I told him. For the first time in my life I saw an expression of unawareness on his old face. “Ah, well,” he said, “its something about modern Physics.” And then he beckoned me to make the speech. Now I had become a person he recognized. In fact, I think, he was impressed.
A few days after that he praised me for an essay I had written. I used to do assignments given by Mr.Salim with great zeal, perhaps just to hear a word of praise because when I did hear one by him, I felt myself elevated. I wouldn’t say I was very bad at English but I was not very good either. I was just an average yet somehow, slowly and gradually, like the dawn on a wet day, I was converted into a person who could write a good piece of English. I owe a lot of it to him, a lot. He understood the way we worked.
He knew that we were short of time and we had a lot to do, but he knew that if he applied too much stress we would break, and so he went slowly. At that time we thought that it was folly on his part that he took us gradually, while the other sections were covering their syllabus rapidly, but now after it is over, I realize it wasn’t folly but wisdom on his part. And I’m thankful to him for the fact that he made English for us a lovely subject. While telling us the meaning of adolescence he pointed towards me, as I had at that moment faint traces of a mustache. Although I have shaved off that mustache long ago, I can never erase that memory. During his last days he taught us the past papers and he would share with me my book of past papers, which I did with great pleasure.
If it had been just the love of English, I would never have written this article. He gave us a lot more than that. The outstanding among them is the broadening the horizon of my way of thinking. He was old, but he was not orthodox or conservative. He was a liberal and modern person. He understood the requirements of the modern age and he spoke fluently about it. Often, his views on Islam created disturbance among the ‘orthodox Muslims’ of our class. Topics like ‘Music, Nationality, Hadood Laws and Taliban’ were a cause of heated discussion. He had a weak and gentle heart. He couldn’t bear unjustice to anyone, even to his enemies. He was highly against the ‘Maulvies’ and called them ,’Semi-illiterate, half-educated mullahs, they want to keep us in the past, centuries back.’
He was aware of the fact that the people are apt to use their emotions rather than mind, especially in matters of religion, and this is, perhaps, his greatest contribution. He taught me to use my brain, not my emotions, for emotions are blind. He developed in me a hatred for rage and emotional acts. Yet, he was believer of freedom of speech, and whenever any student of the class objected on his views, he would allow them to say whatever they wanted to say. He would say to them, “I respect your views but I do not agree with them.” He never forced anyone to change his views. Once the topic of ‘Basant’ was under discussion and a few students of our class were speaking against it for in their view it was ‘against Islam’. He said, “Why don’t you people understand, its just a regional festival, why involve religion in this? You don’t want to celebrate it, fine, but why do you force others to do what you want? Live and Let live!”
All his life he wanted to gain more and more knowledge. Perhaps, the only field in which he was weak was modern Physics. A few days before he came to know about his disease, I was sitting in the class reading the book ‘A brief history of time’ by ‘Stephen Hawkings’ and he saw me reading it. He asked me if he could see it and I gave it to him. He then discussed with me a little about Stephen Hawkings. He said that there was another book by the same author in the market and I told him that I had read that one too. Then he asked me that if I had read it could I give it to him for reading, and I told him that he could take it for reading at that very moment for I was reading it for the second time. He thanked me and took it. But he never returned it to me because we learned only a few days later that he had stomach-cancer and was now on long leave from the school. A few months after that, he died. I don’t feel anything bad about that book, in fact I feel happy that he had with him something I had given, when he died.
I remember exactly the last day he spent with us. He was checking our assignments day and while he was checking mine, he asked me what the word ‘mentor’ meant for I had used it in my assignments and he wanted to know whether I knew its meaning or not, and I told him that it meant a ‘wise teacher’. He gave me an ‘A’ on that composition and I feel, I just feel, that the moment he wrote an ‘A’ on my notebook it was written in my fate that I would get an ‘A’ in English. When my result came and I had scored straight As, the person I remembered the most was Mr.Salim.
He was a patient person and bore everything with courage and determination. His son had died in an accident but he had kept himself steady and carried on with his life. He adopted a son and he once told us about him. He was very nice with his students and gave us a lot of time to complete our assignments but when a student wouldn’t do any work for months he would say, “Show me your knuckles, show me your knuckles,” and then he would give a blow on them with a wooden duster.
I think I won’t forget him my whole life. I remember him quite often; his words, his expressions, his speeches, his advises, his laughes and his smiles. He was a little hard of hearing and whenever he a person said something he couldn’t understand, he would bring his hand to his ear and say with an unparallel expression, “Pardon?” I remember it clearly, every moment of it. He never gave me any special treatment, he treated me like any teacher would treat a normal good student but the way he has influenced me is astonishing. I love that person. His death was a big loss, a big loss.
I sometimes feel that I never got the time to tell him how much thankful I was to him, and that how much I owed to him, and that how much I loved him but he went away, unaware that he had changed the whole life and way of thinking of a person. At times when I remember him, I feel that he can see what I am doing and that he is happy. I feel that somehow he knows that how much I loved him and how much I am grateful to him. I know that some of his ideas were wrong and in some points he misunderstood Islam but I also believe that it was all due to his gentle and nice nature and he had no bad intentions, and I also hope and pray that Allah would forgive him for his mistakes because he did them in good faith. I believe that Allah is gentle with gentle people, and Mr.Salim was certainly a gentle person.
Through this article I just want to thank him because I feel that he is reading this article. I just pray that Allah blesses him with a place in Paradise.