For the love of it A tribute to my school teacher Mr. Mohabbat Khan Niazi (Part 1)
I have often wondered as to what is it in someone which makes people respect
them? I mean respect that is bordering on reverence. People always say
that you can never demand respect. You always have to COMMAND this
desirable characteristic. But how do you do that?
After having had the pleasure of studying from various teachers, working
with some very special people and finally supervising work of some talented
individuals, I think I have finally understood what it is that makes people
respect someone. Like most complex things, it is not one factor that is at
play here. The foremost amongst these factors is, the ability to know your
subject. Whatever you do in life, you have to be GOOD at it. It is possible
to be incompetent and still be lovable, but its almost impossible to
command respect of people if you are a nincompoop. Period.
The other thing which is important if you want to command respect is to
treat people fairly. Not leniently, but fairly. People respect individuals
who are not afraid to speak their mind as long as they are not afraid to
say the right thing in front of people who are powerful and can harm you.
It is easy to give moralistic sermons to your subordinates but to say the
right thing to your superiors or to the influentials takes guts. People like gutsy individuals and because it is difficult to practise this characteristic, such gutsy people are not common. When people realise that someone is brave, they begin to
Finally, people respect someone who is not a hypocrite. Nothing erodes
respect like hypocrisy. Being a hypocrite is a full time job. A hypocrite
has to be on guard 24/7. Any little lapse in his/her guard and they stand
exposed. You can be a not very nice person but as long as your inner self
is the same as your exterior, people can respect you. But if your true self
is different from the outer appearance, then sooner or later, you would be
exposed and at that moment, whatever reputation you have made would be
In short, a person who is respected by others is competent at his job,
treats people fairly and is not a hypocrite. You can add additional
qualities like treating others with respect, dedication to their job and
good morals, but the aforementioned three qualities are the main ones.
Others stem from them.
In my many schools that I studied in, one teacher stands tall amongst the
group of teachers who commanded a great deal of respect from their
students. He had the aforementioned qualities in bucket loads. I first had
the privilege to be taught by him in 1979 when I was in 9th Class. I
remember that time to this day.
It was first day after the summer holidays. September in Rawalpindi is
quite an agreeable time. Sun has lost some its fierce heat and the stifling
humidity of August is being replaced by a hint of autumn cool. Wisps of
silvery white clouds could be seen floating in the sky wandering aimlessly.
The majestic Margalla hills provided the quintessential Pindi background to
the scenery. We had finished the recess and the teacher after the break had
not turned up. We had what was called a, ‘free period’. I had used that
time to get updates from my friends whom I had left back in ’77. So much to
discuss. We had a most interesting chit chat in which my friends gave me
the lowdown on contemporary school life.
The class room that was given to us, was located right next to the College
old library. This library was later converted to class rooms when the new
purpose built library and auditorium block had been built on part of the
school playground. In those days, this library was used as a make shift
auditorium. There was no boundary wall between our classroom block and the
college building. The space between these two buildings had a narrow grassy
patch with some nice shady trees towards the back of the building. I spent
many a happy afternoons in that grassy patch having leisurely conversations
with my friends.
So that is where we all spent our free period. I asked
Atif Yad Ali , about the next class. Atif replied that the next class was to be of Maths and
Sir Niazi was to take that lesson. “How is he like?”, I enquired. “Sir
Niazi is the BEST”, came the quick answer. No ifs and buts in the tone!
“Really?”, I asked. “Oh yes..Sir is the best”, Atif insisted. “So what’s
his full name?” “ It’s Mahaabat Khan Niazi”, Atif informed me.
Mahaabat....I had read this name in a history book sometime ago, so I did
not question it. Moreover we were to call teacher as 'sir' or as 'sir Niazi',
so the first name did not really matter. Many months later, when I visited Sir's home in Jhanda, I saw his name written on the door in bold Urdu letters as "Muhabbat Khan Niazi". So much for the accuracy of my 'informant' ! We were chatting when out of the
corner of the classroom block, a middle aged gentleman, clad in trademark attire of the proud Niazi clan, neatly pressed shalwar qameez and a dark navy coat, made his appearance. Tall frame approaching around
six feet, greyish thinning hair, a furrowed chin and deep intelligent eyes.
This was somber looking Niazi sahib. He gave us a gentle smile and the boys
started moving in the class.
Niazi sahib, asked us about our holidays and what had we been up to. Boys
were not afraid to speak to him, but I could sense that each one of us, who
spoke, spoke with utmost respect. The careless manner in which students
spoke to some teachers, was clearly replaced with a hint of reverence in
the tone of even the class rogues. I was sitting in the front row. Sir
asked me where had I come from. I told him that I had been in Lahore. Then
came the dreaded enquiry about the summer holidays homework! Sir asked us
all to ensure that the COMPLETED homework had to be submitted by the end of
the week. I was asked to bring back the work that had been given to me at my previous school. Now that was going to be bit of a problem! You see, I had been counting on the fact that I would not be expected to show my homework as I was new to the school. Sir Niazi however, wanted to see the work that had been done for my previous school. Needless to say that I was horribly short of the target! Oh well, I will have to come up with something, I guessed.
Sir, after asking about our well being and taking a quick attendance, started his lesson. He had a knack of understanding which concept would be difficult to understand by students and therefore, bulk of the lesson was spent on getting these concepts cleared. Despite being an , 'English medium' school, sir knew perfectly well that most, if not all students, would understand the lesson better in Urdu. He therefore had a wonderful method of explaining the harder to grasp details in plain Urdu! In every class, there are students who are naturally gifted and they do not really need a teachers help 'pass' the subject. Some students on the other hand can never get even the basics right. A good teacher is someone who makes the first type of students improve from 'pass' category to 'position holder' group and the latter group from 'fail' to 'pass'. Niazi sahib was naturally gifted in recognising these types of students and then presenting them with specific challenges which were suited to their individual intellectual needs. Doing this delicate act in one class which did not have defined 'sets' of students was not easy but sir did a remarkable job.
Apart from teaching the basics of subject really well, sir was also an extremely dedicated person. When we were in 9th class, he was the class teacher of 10th B which was ahead of us. He really felt that he owed it to his students. He used to take a 'zero period' for them which would start at 0700 hours. That class was therefore excused from attending the assembly. Of course, sir used to do this extra work for free. Something which is hard to imagine in present materialistic society.
When we got promoted to 10th class, sir became our class teacher. He also gave up physics for us (he had been teaching us physics and maths in 9th). His main influence however was seen not in his allocation of subjects but in his role as our class teacher. I have written about this role in one of my earlier pieces that I wrote for this page ('A rainy day'). In the various sections of class 10th, there were some students who were known to be trouble. These students were not interested in studies and would always be busy in all sorts of 'non desirable activities' (quarrelling, missing school, fighting, visiting the next door girls' school etc etc!). The school establishment felt that these troublemakers would ruin the school's matric result which was the benchmark for assessing a school's worth. They were therefore asked to leave the school. Sir Niazi, knew that once out, these students would never be able to finish their education. He therefore asked all of these students to be put in his class. Result was that our class (X-B of 1981) became a colourful assembly of some very 'interesting' characters! Sir's insistence on including these 'outcasts' in his class was an action that needed courage and guts. This was one of the essential qualities that I mentioned in the opening lines of this essay, which made people respect him.
When our 10th class academic year started, the full consequences of Sir’s actions became obvious. Maths used to be our first lesson. We would have almost 100% attendance for this period. As soon as Sir Niazi’s lesson finished, all the ‘interesting characters’ would vanish from the class room! They all had their excuses of course. Someone had to take part in scouting activity (meant visiting the girls’ school next door!), someone had to organise trials for a team sport and someone just had had enough of studies for the day! Attendance for the subsequent lessons would therefore drastically reduce by almost 40%. And that was on a good day!
Sir wanted us to learn not just the exam oriented questions but also to develop a mathematical concept about various problems. To inculcate this particular aspect, he would give us examples from every day life. By using these additional sensory inputs he would be strengthening our memories about these ideas. A job which needed a lot of patience and perseverance. Sir had these qualities in abundance. A student’s learning aptitude was the limiting factor.
I remember the day when Dr. Abdus Salam jointly won the Noble prize for physics. Achievement of doctor sahib was obviously the main talking point for the next few weeks. Sir when describing the monumental achievement of Dr. Sahib explained that the feat was even more difficult than it seemed because he was from a very humble background. I could not understand how someone’s background could be a limiting factor in achieving something and challenged sir’s argument. Patiently, sir explained to me that if your father is an educated man then the whole atmosphere of the house is geared towards academics. Father would bring home books or magazines. A poor tailor would only bring home tales of long working days and miseries. A point well made. Following sir’s explanation, my mental horizon widened that little bit more. A good teacher not only teaches you exam passing tricks, but educates you in the real sense of the word trying to make us balanced and well rounded individuals. Sir Niazi tried to do that every day of his life.
During the latter half of class tenth, our school was made to undergo an inspection. This inspection was going to be a big affair. The neighbouring FG schools, including the girls' school also were scheduled to have this. The entire school was given a makeover. Students were asked to ensure that their notebooks were up to date. We were also asked to make neat looking and artistic charts illustrating some aspects of our curriculum. Given the general makeup of our class, Sir Niazi knew that we would do rather poorly in terms of charts and notebooks. He asked me and Syed Kazim Hasan to at least make a Time Table chart so that our bare class room walls could at least boast ONE display! Me and Kazim diligently made this Time Table which was nothing special, but showed the various class lessons according to the weekdays in a neat manner. This chart was our only piece of class decoration.
The girls' school inspection was a day ahead of ours. On this day, Sir Niazi asked if all the arrangements for inspection had been made. We reassured him that we were as well prepared as we could be. He expressed his disappointment that apart from Time Table, we had not bothered to make any more charts. He also informed us that the other sections of Class X were heavily decorated. Well, we could do no more at such a late hour so we just kept quiet.
Once sir Niazi's lesson finished, our class boys had an emergency meeting of the class executive council. All the notable sportsmen and troublemakers were members of this 'council'. It was decided that they could not let their favourite teacher down. An urgent plan was chalked out. Only a handful of students knew the details of this plan. At 2 PM when the school finished, we all went home. Unknown to us, the selected 10-15 boys visited the girl's school which had just had its inspection done. As expected girls had worked extremely hard and had made fantastic charts which adorned their class room walls. Our guerrilla force invaded these class rooms and picked up the choicest selection of charts. They collected 10-12 of the best looking specimens and ran back to our class room. There, they calmly changed the names at the bottom of the charts and stuck labels bearing their own names over them. Needless to state that next day, X-B was the most well decorated class!
On inspection day, when sir Niazi entered the class room, he was greeted with the most artistic charts displayed on the walls. He instantly realised what had happened! It was however too late to tell people off. Inspectors were on their way to the school. Therefore, he just played along and pretended that he had not noticed anything odd. X-B won the award of the best decorated class, much to the chagrin of other X sections! It was beautiful. Once the inspection finished and all the inspectors had left, our esteemed classfellows took all the charts off the walls and rolled them up for an action packed chart fight! Easy come-easy go!!
Some class. Some students.
One of the personal goals for sir used to be that he wanted at least some of his students to achieve 100% marks in maths. In our class he thought that may be me and a couple of others could achieve this goal. He therefore asked me to attend his evening tuition lessons in his house in Jhanda. My father however thought that these lessons would not be necessary and therefore did not allow me to attend. Sir was quietly disappointed but did not show this. In our sent up exams, I got 95% marks, losing 5 marks for a silly mistake. I now began to understand that if I was serious in achieving the goal of 100% marks, then I would have to do some lessons. I visited sir’s residence and he very kindly taught me some exam techniques. Pointless to say that he did not charge me anything for these extra lessons.
Our final exams arrived. I did quite well in most of the tests. In Maths however there was a change in the paper setting. Previously, students were asked to attempt question ‘parts’. For us, we were asked to attempt full questions. That made the exam somewhat trickier. When the result was announced, no one from our class could score 100% marks. I am sure that sir would have been disappointed.
After I finished my FSc and went to medical college, I occasionally used to visit sir at his home. He would always be the same energetic self. Full of life and enthusiasm. Last I met him in January of 2001 when I was about to leave for my career abroad. Sir had now got most of his beard turned white. He had lost some of his vitality. He explained that he sometimes gets exhausted and finds it difficult to speak. It seemed to me that sir had worked so hard in his life that finally all that added stress had begun to take its toll. He wished me good luck in my future career and asked about some of my other class fellows. Amazing, despite having taught thousands of students, he remembered so many by their full names. I benefited from his teaching whilst I was a student and by taking his blessings when I had moved on. Sir, true to his name, has taught many generations just for the love of it.
I hope and pray that he stays healthy and keeps on teaching, motivating and inspiring future generations of Pakistan. Ameen.