The Peshawar-Ohio Link
By Khalid Hasan
Washington, DC

Dr Amjad Hussain left Peshawar more than thirty years ago but as Manto said of Bombay after he bade it goodbye, “ Mein chalta phirta Bombaii hoon. “ So is the doctor: a roving, wandering Peshawar.
Some years ago, he reproduced from memory a map of the city as it used to be. He also wrote its history, in English and Urdu. Ahmed Faraz, another of Peshawar’s sons and lovers, and an incomparable wit, once said, “It is Amjad who left Peshawar, not Peshawar that left him, so the city bears no blame.”
Amjad lives in Toledo in the Midwestern state of Ohio, where a couple of years ago, I went to see him. It was like walking with him in the Qissa Khwani or sipping green tea at a stall in Dabgari. I had to remind myself now and then that I was actually in Toledo, thousands of miles from Peshawar. Nostalgia is perhaps the most powerful of human emotions. Amjad is nostalgia incarnate, the city of Peshawar’s separated but intensely loving son, who has missed no year when he has not gone to breathe its air and stand under its sky. But as Ahmed Faraz wrote, he goes only to leave again.
Amjad has traversed the entire course of the great Indus river, from its source down to the Arabian Sea. Anyone who has anything the matter with his ticker will be in good hands were he to repair to Toledo because Dr Amjad Hussain is not a doctor like Dr Wazir Agha but a celebrated heart surgeon. He laid down his carving knives a couple of years ago but would cut anyone up for old times’ sake and with great dexterity too.
He may never have left Peshawar but for the fact that when he returned with an advanced medical degree after spending six years in America, he was first told that there was no suitable position and then given one that made no use of his surgical skills. After a time he was told that since his wife was a foreigner - he got hitched in America - he was in violation of government rules. Not taken into account was the fact that he had got married when he was not in the service of the government. In the end, he returned to America where he built a successful and rewarding professional career. But his heart did not leave with him; it stayed in Peshawar.
Amjad retired from full-time work as a surgeon a couple of years ago but still teaches and I am sure when his fingers get itchy, he fixes a game heart or two. He has just published an account of his life and the schools and colleges he went to. His recall of the past is amazing and he brings back the city of Peshawar and its way of life that no longer exists. His book - Dar-e-Maktib - is actually a book about his teachers, from the time he was four, to his professors in Peshawar and the hospitals of Ohio and Michigan.
The book is dedicated to his blind religion teacher Abdul Qadoon Hafizji at the Machhi Hatta primary school, Peshawar, who made him memorize, often with a slap across the wrists, passages from the Qur’an that he still remembers sixty-two years later. The Machhi Hatta school no longer exists, having made way for a market, but it lives in Amjad’s memory and in the pages of his book. Hafizji would come to the school every morning, being led by a niece. Before starting the lesson, he would test his pupils over the previous day’s lesson and anyone who faltered was asked to come up to him and receive a slap. Amjad writes in his dedication that whenever he stands up to pray, he remembers that it was Hafizji who taught him namaz . He also recalls Lal Shah Jigar Kazmi who taught Urdu to the first grade at Machhi Hata. To him, Amjad owes the neat calligraphic Urdu hand he writes, which distinguishes him from doctors who are known the world over for their illegible handwriting.
Muhammad Ali, one of the teachers he writes about, was known for his vile temper. So terrified were the boys of his fisticuffs that one day a group of them went to the mausoleum of Shah Noor Pir in the city to pray and promise that if Master Muhammad Ali died, they would return to make an offering. So confident were they that the saint would take immediate action that they were quite surprised when Muhammad Ali remained alive and kicking. Another teacher at the school was known as Abdul Ali ‘bone-breaker.’ In the classroom alcove, he kept a collection of canes for the ‘benefit’ of his students.
Amjad writes with particular affection about his English teacher at Islamia College, Peshawar, Prof Hubert M Close, who spent his entire life in Peshawar. He would dress like a Pathan, went around on a bicycle and spoke fluent Pushto. He came to India from Cambridge in 1937 to teach English at St Stephen’s College, New Delhi, joined the army when the war broke out and fought in North Africa, where he commanded a company of Pathan soldiers. After the war, though he returned to Delhi, he began to go to Peshawar every year to look up the men who had served under him. It was on his 1946 visit that Governor Sir Olaf Caroe offered him a post at Islamia College. He never left Peshawar till his last breath. After he retired from Islamia College, he began to teach English classes at the Peshawar University and Edwards College. He was given an OBE by the British and the Sitara-e-Imtiaz by Pakistan. When the medal was being pinned on him by Gen Zia-ul-Haq, he reminded him that he had been the professor’s student at St Stephen’s in 1946. The great Pakistani English poet, the late Daud Kamal, was one of Prof Close’s students.
Amjad graduated in medicine from the Khyber Medical College, worked at the Lady Reading Hospital and first left Peshawar in 1963, but in a way he never left it. His book ends on a wistful but eloquent note. “Time is like a river that keeps flowing. No one can block its flow. As I find myself walking along its running waters towards sunset, I turn around and see faint footprints that I recognize as mine. I also see faces that I know. Among them are my kind (and some not-so-kind) teachers, the schools and colleges through which I passed, places where I spent the days of my youth.
All those faces, those institutions, those teachers are like pillars of light that showed me the way to my future, and whose light never abandoned me. In fact, my life has been nothing but a borrowing from those kindly men and places. My book is a small tribute to them.”


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.