By Khalid Hasan
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
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
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.”