The library at the English Department, Punjab University New Campus, Lahore, was recently named the Professor Sirajuddin Library in honour of Lahore’s legendary teacher of English literature whose distinguished career spanning nearly fifty years included a long tenure as head of this Department.
Prof. Sirajuddin started as a lecturer at the elite Government College, rising to professor, and, eventually, principal, before being appointed Education Secretary in the government of West Pakistan for a period. At Vice Chancellor Justice Sharif’s request he then set up and headed the English Department at Punjab University. He later became Vice Chancellor himself, a post he resigned from in a principled protest over policy issues.
True to his maverick spirit and deep love for teaching he then took a decision that surprised many: to lecture at MAO College until the end of his teaching days.
He died in August 1986. In his bank account that day were 220 Rupees only, but his book collection totaled nearly 30,000 volumes lovingly acquired over a lifetime. “He taught us Shakespeare” an old student remarked, “But actually he taught us much more, for, he opened our minds to Life – the true mark of a great teacher.”
Doing him and herself proud, his daughter Professor Shaista Sirajuddin is head of department now. For dedicating the library in his name she decided to fly in the face of ‘VIP Culture’ by not inviting your customary dignitary for such occasions (appreciating the spirit the Vice Chancellor graciously attended as a guest). Instead, she decided to ask two of Professor Sirajuddin’s old students to unveil the commemorative tablet in a simple ceremony.
I was priveleged to have studied for my Master’s under Professor Sirajuddin at the English Department, 1967-69. Retired now after a distinguished career in the civil service, Parvez Masud was Professor Sirajuddin’s student at Government College. Professor Shaista did the honour of nominating us to jointly carry out the dedication. Starting the proceedings, students and faculty from the English Department read pieces from poetry, prose and drama, an eclectic mix of Shakespeare, Iqbal, Seamus Heaney, Faiz, Pinter, Bulleh Shah, Shujhata Bhatt and Sweeney.
Students reading Shujhata Bhatt’s unusual poem in three languages, English, Gurjati and Bengali.
The readings took me back to 42 very nostalgic years ago, to the English Department of my day and the decision to start proceedings by giving readings during the farewell party for our outgoing seniors of the MA 6th year class. I was prompted to rifle through piles of old photographs to locate the three photographs below. We are all in our greyed 60′s now; mainly retired; some sadly no longer of this world.
1968 farewell party: Humorous Punjabi poem being read by 6th year student the late Dildar Parvez Bhatti in the small English Department library at the Old Campus. He became lecturer of English literature at MAO College, later growing very famous both as a Punjabi talk show host on PTV and a much in demand emcee. Seated from left, Shaukat Ali Bhatti, Ghiasuddin Ahmed, Toheed Ahmed (our studious idol, he expectedly topped the MA exam with a rare first division with distinction) and Suleman Ghani; all have retired as senior civil servants. Standing, Naveed Riaz, and, partly visible, the late Amjad Rashid, who also joined the civil service. (We enthusiastically invited Zahid Sajjad, the singer seated with his harmonium, not really because of the quality of his singing but for performing free!).
1968 farewell party: From left, Raheela Ghafur, Ghiasuddin Ahmed and I read from Chekhov’s play The Bear which we had earlier performed in an English Department production (see picture below) directed by Professor Navid Shehzad.
Professor Shaista observed, “This is a scholarly event needing a scholarly feel, not the conventional, ceremonial quality that a VIP chief guest would impart.” She explained: “A library is the heart of an academic institution. It is meant for students – and will be used by them in perpetuity. Teaching was Professor Sirajuddin’s passion. What better than to have this library dedicated in his name by his strongest legacy: his students. Parvez Masud and Naveed Riaz representing the thousands he taught, went their diverse ways after completing their studies. One rose to eminence as a civil servant, the other became a successful businessman. Yet, on this day the two have returned here as common students to remember their teacher”.
(This article first appeared in The Friday Times on Feburary 6, 2010. Naveed Sahib has been kind enough to also share it now with All Things Pakistan).