Syed Fareed Ali
Yesterday I saw her again. There she was ambling along as always at a stately pace dressed in her customary blue and gold. She stopped at the same place where we used to meet. I stared at her for an instant and our eyes met. But alas, it was only for an instant. I sped away and she turned her attention to the boy who was standing at the same place where once I stood waiting for her. She had formed a new relationship. Life had moved on, both for me and her. It was now jumping from one relationship to the other for both of us.
She was my University Bus. My constant companion for the five odd years that I spent in the University of Engineering and Technology Lahore. Her very sight brought back to me those long lost memories of some years back but which now seem eons ago. I still remember the day when it all started. My first day at the Engineering University. I stood there waiting for the bus. Some veteran travelers were there to keep me company. Yet I was lost in my own thoughts. Thoughts that had to do with what lay ahead. It was with these thoughts and mixed feelings of anticipation and dread that I boarded the bus for the very first time to be welcomed by the beat of popular Indian songs. Thus started an experience that was unique in every sense of the word. An experience which besides education, (Yes we did study in UET) taught a lot about life itself.
Coming back to the first trip and there was an immediate concern.
UET has always produced talented singers and actors and the seniors did not want to waste any time in unearthing the new talent. So in a time honored tradition the selection process started. Of course we called it fooling and devised ways and means to escape the talent hunt and generally failed. Then of course, there was the entertainment bit. To show our gratitude to be included in the scheme we had to entertain the hunters (pun intended). Some with a heart decided to give us a welcome form the money collected from us. But they were in a minority. This minority also dwindled when it was our turn to become talent spotters.
A 40 minutes ride and we were in the institution that was to be our abode until we became engineers ready to build a better world for others. We took our first tentative steps in the famous Library Chowk of the University – the cultural center of all the political and non political activities of the university. The library Chowk also served as the best place for fulfilling the sacred duty of appreciating the charms and graces of the fairer sex.
Thus started our days at UET. First day was spent in introduction to the variety of teachers who would be our mentors for the better part of our stay in the university.
One teacher in particular caught our fancy. He told us quite bluntly about the big mistake we had committed in choosing this university and on top of it having the misfortune of being in the Mechanical Department.
The real business then started. Classes of two hours each with a fifteen minute break in between solely on the discretion of the teacher. In time we also became acquainted with the antique lab equipment which would be used (or their use simulated) for the purpose of educating us.
Those were also the heady days of unbridled enthusiasm and political activity.
The nation’s first love affair with the Daughter of the East had just begun. With her came the end of ban on student unions. Clashes erupted in colleges and universities all over Punjab. Oddly enough our University was the only one not affected by it. Instead it resulted in mushrooming of student parties who really threatened to challenge the status quo. None captured the imagination of the students more than the Crazy Students Federation whose avowed aim was converting the concrete walls of Girls Common Room to glass walls. Providing comic relief to the otherwise serious campaign between the two main protagonists (QSF and Jamiat) it died its natural death. The elections being won by Quaid -i- Azam Students Federation – the only non political student group in the running.
The lifting of ban also opened the doors for the institutionalization of the various extra curricular activities of the university.
UET, despite all its drawbacks has always produced talent which any institution would be proud of. UETians have also been avowed social workers contributing more to the social and other causes than any other institution. The Engineers Blood Donors Organization became the official Blood Donors Society providing more blood to the needy than the more established societies of the Medical Colleges. Debaters from UET have always dominated the debating scene of Lahore. They got a platform to really launch themselves. Activities started in the University in form of street theater and debating competitions and it seemed that the university had at last shed off its notoriety and was ready to take on the world.
However, all good things must come to an end. The non violent atmosphere in the university did not suit the powers to be.
Violence erupted and a life was lost. A young student in the prime of his youth became a victim of a bullet fired by a barbarian. The university closed down. Precious time was lost – never to be regained. The powers achieved their objective. QSF was MSF now. Its non political character buried forever.
The life went on in the university. The student power remained unbridled as always. How else could one explain the students themselves deciding when to go for summer vacations and when to sit for exams. The only area where their writ did not hold was the actual holding of examination. They were fair and impartial. Even theÃƒâ€š bullies of the university had no choice but to pass them in a fair manner. Of course the threat of boycott was always there. But this was rarely used. Even then it was more of a protest action against the teacher who had neglected his duty in teaching the class rather than an attempt for concessions for an easier paper.
But nothing compared to student power. Exams got postponed for cricket matches. Schedules were disrupted for frivolous activities. Perhaps in no institution could one go for a pleasure trip of two weeks during the exams and still come back to pass the exams with a percentage of over 75 % which yours truly did. Also nowhere will a paper be postponed because only one boy has met with a personal tragedy which also happened. Nowhere would the students themselves decide the exact length and time of their summer vacations and preparatory leaves. This all happened in the Engineering University Lahore. At the time it seemed cavalier and macho with no consideration given to the time being wasted. It is only now that the regret sets in of the time being wasted for no reason at all.
This unbridled energy was also put to good use. UETians were always the most active when ever a calamity struck. Be that the floods which ravaged the outskirts of Lahore or any other social cause. But the effort that really caught the imagination of the city was the collective effort by these very students to collect money for the treatment abroad for a student of the university for blood cancer. Boys in the sweltering heat of June standing on roads with banners not begging for money but only just appealing to the conscience of the people in cars. Asking the business community to donate to save a life. And UET can justly be proud of saving one of its students. The money, more than 3 million of it, was collected in just over two weeks and the boy sent abroad for treatment. They of course had help from the great Abdul Sattar Edhi but it was the initiative and enthusiasm of the students which really made the difference.
Such is the student body of the Engineering University. Perhaps it is the atmosphere there which makes them into much more than students.
Fills them up with boundless energy or perhaps it is the tonic that Lahore gives to all people who come there which is complemented by the lively atmosphere of the University. This same energy when misdirected is a cause of concern for it always resulted in destruction and mayhem.
There were many facets of the university life. Each would take many pages to explain. Some changed for the better. One being the farewell of the outgoing class. These farewellsÃƒâ€š were fun oriented with balloons and music. The Library Chowk of course being the venue.
No mention of the university can be complete without a mention of the Bhola canteen now sadly closed and extinct under the new administration of the university. The place where you could get something to eat twenty four hours a day. An institution unto itself its breakfast of Aaloo ka Paratha was a must even for some of the day scholars. Located in the middle of the hostels it served as a socializing and meeting point also. The convenience of getting piping hot tea at three in the night during the exam season was indeed something. Add to it the special ambiance of the place and the atmosphere which can only be experienced and cannot described. Countless have eaten at that place and none have forgotten it.
Such was the life at university. It offers boundless opportunities to learn for those interested. It provides the best opportunity to exploit ones talent
It aptomizes the spirit of Lahore and rubs the Zindadilani of Lahore in all those who enter its gates from the far flung areas of the country. As a distinguished gentleman who came to adjudicate at the debates in the university pointed out, life in Lahore would be very boring without the full participation of the boys of UET. The boys who have been beaten up in all the shopping areas of Lahore yet who return there in increasing numbers to make their presence felt. Students who with their sheer will to survive and enjoy the life make the city of Lahore a more interesting place to live in and the University which trains them to compete with the best and beat them.
About the Autor: Syed Fareed Ali is a 1993 graduate of University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore. He got his Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering. Later he passed the Civil Services Exam to join the Police Service of Pakistan. Currently he is pursuing a Masters degree from the University of Melbourne Australia.