Professor Nasrullah Malik: The Gordonian Guru
By Dr Asif Javed
Prof. Nasrullah Malik (PNM) once asked if I had fully understood Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I answered in the affirmative. That pleased him. The truth is I had found it difficult to comprehend the twisted plot of the Nobel Laureate’s masterpiece. But Prof. Malik, whom I regarded as my guru, had high expectations of his students. Although I had never been to Gordon College Rawalpindi, I had simply forced myself into a long list of his former students and admirers who remained close to him after leaving GC.
Prof. Malik had a habit of recommending books. Once he saw me stressed out and asked me to read Bertrand Russel’s The Conquest of Happiness. I read it and have since re-read it a few times. He was the one to recommend Manto’s Ganjay Farishtay and Nirad Chaudri’s The autobiography of an unknown Indian to me. He was a scholar and encouraged pursuit of knowledge.
Raja Anwar, who has authored many books, including The Tragedy of Afghanistan and The Terrorist Prince, had been one of his favorite students. The two of them shared political philosophy and fondness for ZA Bhutto. RA became advisor to ZAB in the mid- seventies. After ZAB’s fall, RA escaped to Afghanistan and PNM was suddenly transferred to Dera Ghazi Khan by military regime. The allegation against him was the preface written by him to one of RA’s books Jhootay Roop KayDarshan; this book had nothing to do with politics and was simply a collection of RA’s love letters to a former class fellow. Being away from home was hard on PNM. He had to leave his wife and young children behind in Islamabad. But somehow, he endured the enforced exile to DG Khan, reading his books and having made new friends.
Once I asked him about a famous high profile Pakistani journalist who had once worked with ZAB. “Yes I know him.” There was a long pause and then, “Yeh log dunya walayhein, dil waley naheen.” I had realized years ago that Guru was not an ordinary soul. He had his faults but he had a heart of gold. He despised hypocrisy; during long association with him, not once did I hear him tell a lie. He did go through financial difficulties at times. There were scores who owed him a lot and were financially well off. Only once did he borrow money from someone. Within a few months, he paid it back--every penny of it.
Once as we were talking about corruption, he noted with sadness that way back in the 40’s, a relative of ours had made illegal money. It turned out that this was a well-kept secret among the elders of the family. Although many knew it, only he had the moral courage to admit and condemn it. It took him years to build his house. He had to wait until he received, his long overdue, share of inheritance from his siblings. He spent most of his time at Gordon College in a modest apartment that was attached to the college hostel; he was content with that.
Prof. Malik was not very handsome in the strict sense and physically not very imposing. His real talent showed up when you had a chance to listen to him. He was an avid reader and when in mood, had the ability to run an impressive conversation on diverse topics: literature, history, music, movies, and politics among others. He was not a professor by title only; he was the real deal. Sometimes I wondered if he had been an under-achiever and should have gone on to bigger things; perhaps a PhD or a teaching post abroad. But his yardstick of success in life might have been different. I never asked him this question but if I did, I suspect he would have looked straight in my eyes and with his characteristic, loud laughter, would have reminded me that he was not a dunyawala.
He was an astute observer; once he reprimanded me for drinking too little water. The physician in me protested but guru was right so I increased my water intake. On another occasion, he spent a night with me in my college hostel in Lahore. As I woke up, I saw a strange sight: there were two feet pointing towards the ceiling; confused, as I sat up in my bed, I found him upside down, standing on his head. “Yoga is good for you. Nehru used to do it,” he remarked. This was one of his advices that I was unable to follow.
In his youth, he had spent two years teaching in our village school. Guru considered those years the best of his life and felt very nostalgic about them. To this day, his former students and friends in our area remember him with fondness. He had touched the lives of many. In mid-90’s, he was asked to be the chief guest at the annual school day and appeared thrilled at the opportunity to be with the simple village folks again. As is customary, he delivered a speech. He was not known to be an orator but that short speech was very moving and almost brought tears to one’s eyes. The theme: some things always change while others always stay the same.
Back in the 80’s, I accompanied him to PTV, Lahore. PTV was big then. He had to see an old friend Younas Mansoor, the script editor. As we entered, we bumped in to a handsome man dressed in an impeccable baggy trouser and a long shirt. That was renowned producer Yawar Hayat. It turned out that Yawar Hayat had worked with PNM at PTV Rawalpindi, way back in late sixties, during PTV’s formative years. PNM had had experience of direction from his association with the drama club at Gordon College and did occasional work for PTV. While we were having tea in Yawar Hayat’s office, Jamil Fakhry, then a famous comedian, walked in. “Meet my mentor,” is how YH introduced PNM to JF. I then realized that PNM had been Guru to many. Rahat Kazmi and Shujat Hashmi, who made name in the PTV drama, were both nurtured by him at Gordon College. I recall an interview that he had done with G. Allana, a friend and biographer of Quaid-i-Azam. There were many other programs that I missed since I had gone abroad. Just a few days ago, I saw a short clip on U tube of PNM playing—yes acting—the role of a Professor in a PTV drama about the Kashmiris struggle for freedom. It is a short role, but he comes across as a natural. I also vaguely remember a family gathering when he was asked to sing Heer; he duly obliged and did fairly well. PNM was multi-talented.
Among his friends—and mentors—was Dr Fazal-ur-Rahman. Today not many remember him but back in the sixties, Dr Fazal-ul-Rahman had been asked to return to Pakistan by Ayub Khan to head the Institute of Islamic Research. He was a scholar par-excellence. Unfortunately, he was hounded out of Pakistan by the radical religious elements. PNM had high regard for him and stayed in touch with him until the latter’s death in 1988. As I recall, PNM’s daughter, who joined the prestigious CSS, had been named by Dr Fazal-ur-Rahman.
Guru was a socialist at heart and had had high hopes of ZAB. Bhutto’s execution hurt him deeply. I once saw him in polite but serious discussion with my late brother—an army officer—about the flaws in the Supreme Court’s decision in the ZAB case. He told me with sadness once that Raja Anwar had been wrong to criticize Bhutto in his book The Terrorist Prince. “The facts are reported correctly in this book,” he accepted, “but Raja has bitten the hand that had fed him.” Guru was emotional at times but, still, a rational man although it took him years before, finally, becoming disillusioned with Bhutto.
Guru had an uncanny innocence about him: A nephew of mine, a police officer with a rather inquisitive mind, once asked him whether he had ever been in love. Guru answered in the affirmative. When asked if he liked beautiful women he said, “I did but I was not a flirt, just an admirer of all things beautiful, including women.” He liked the forbidden nectar too, but was discreet about its use. Somehow, he had convinced himself that the Holy Book’s prohibition of liquor applies to prayer times only. He was not overtly religious but had a solid understanding of religion. I once saw him reading Qur’an with two different books opened, side by side; he was comparing the commentary of two authors, one of those being late Amin Ahsan Islahi whom he greatly admired. Salman Rashdi’s infamous Satanic Verses made him quite upset. Unlike many, he actually read it and only then concluded that this book had little literary merit and Rashdi seemed intent on maligning the Holy Prophet.
In the early 90’s when I was doing post-graduate training in UK, he wrote to me. Here is an excerpt from that letter:
You must keep reading relevant literature on your subject. You must bring good name to the family by some outstanding contribution to make men, women and children more beautiful and good to look at….You should also, learn to relax and be happy. Those who do not enjoy life have to endure its sufferings more acutely. Read good books on human relations and become a good healer.
Except for a minor heart attack, he remained in excellent health most of his life until age finally caught up with him. The last few years were difficult. A stroke had left him physically weak; it made him stop his long cherished walk. Recent memory was impaired too, but he could still recall the fine details of his childhood abode Bhera. During my last visit to Pakistan, I could see that he was fading away; he had become just a shell of the man he used to be.
PNM, the beloved Guru to many, is no more. He passed away quietly a couple of weeks ago in Islamabad, surrounded by his family. To my utter shame, being abroad, I missed his funeral. I have heard—from two different sources—that he had an unusual glow on his face after death. I wonder whether the Gordonian Guru, who was a great admirer of beauty, had a premonition of all the beautiful things that awaited him on the other side of the great divide. (The writer is a physician in Williamsport, PA and may be reached at email@example.com)