Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Making a Difference

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It was a right delightful walk from the hill resort of Ziarat (near Quetta) to the valley of Zezri. Through sweet-smelling thickets of juniper we walked where the forest floor was rich with grasses for the rains had been plentiful since spring. Up a ridge and down into a narrow gorge, then up again and down on the far side until the houses of Loi (Greater) Zezri were visible in the shadow of the knoll they call Tor Skhar – Black Rock. But that was one thing. The high point of the walk was the chance meeting with a school master and his wards.


The school house was in the precinct of Orazha – a sprinkling of huts spread over a wide area – but a good way from the nearest houses, nestling in a valley between two ridges. It was a simple hut with its walls of juniper logs and juniper bark roof set in a small clearing. In front, a little to the side of the hut, the teacher sat on a chair with a desk and spread out in front on a blanket on the ground was a bunch of girls and boys poring over their books. To the left of the pupils the national flag hanging limply on its pole in the absence of a breeze declared this school as run by the government.


I went up and asked the master if I could have five minutes with him. Shaista Khan flashed an impish smile and said I could have ten. Indeed, even as I left him about half an hour later, it was this waggish smile and the jaunty air Shaista Khan flaunted that I found very endearing. He seemed the kind of man you could entirely trust, someone you would like to be friends with.

We sat down, I in his only chair and he on a rock under a gnarled old juniper tree. Thirty-two years old, Shaista Khan, a Kakar of the Sarangzai sub-clan is a native of Ziarat town. With a graduate’s degree he has been a teacher for the past eight years – and here in the bush, so to say. I would have imagined him to be a native of one of the hamlets of Orazha, for who would bother coming out all the way from town. Particularly when there was no road or regular transport.

Shaista Khan said he daily left home at six in the morning to trek the same way we had over the two ridges that separate Orazha from Ziarat to ring the bell at eight o’clock sharp. School is over at twenty minutes to one and he sets out for home again. Being the only teacher in this school, he simultaneously handles his twenty-eight students of grades ranging from one through six. I said that ought to be pretty hard work, but the man seemed perfectly at ease with the situation. Today was an easy day, he said, for only a handful had turned up because of the rains.

Did it give him some special satisfaction that he was passing on the light to young people who may well have been condemned to live in the dark, I asked. It did indeed, said the man. But wasn’t it a huge bother having to walk two hours to work and two hours back six days a week? And what of the winters when snow lies thick over the hills? No bother, he said and pointed out that in winters these people migrate to Harnai across the mountains and school is out for three months. I wheedled him about the difficulty of having to walk to work and back, hoping for him to give. But Shaista Khan said something that nearly brought tears to my eyes. ‘Someone has to do this work and I think fate has bestowed the responsibility upon me. I look upon my vocation as a responsibility to these young people.’

How many of us in Jinnah’s Pakistan would look upon our salaried work and that too in such adverse conditions, as a responsibility that we would not willingly shirk? Shaista Khan was a man truly remarkable. It is surely persons like him who keep this country going. He told me that there being no shelter other than the tiny hut, rain disrupted classes as they all huddled under the thatch trying to keep their school books dry. But happily the past several days it had regularly been raining only after school was over or before it started.

There was another school some ways away in the same valley, Shaista Khan said. But the master there, obviously not of the same mettle as our man, had not been attending his duties. My query regarding the other teacher’s absence was met with a smile and silence. I persisted and Shaista Khan parried the question with the information that an old student of his was looking after that school. His was only a primary school, that is, up to the fifth grade. After that the boys went off to the middle school at Ziarat, but in this strict Pashtun culture, the girls were then confined to the home.

This good man privately coached those of his girl students who wanted to carry on. Since the school did not have that facility there was nowhere for the fees to go, so the girls sat in his class gratis. Sometime Shaista Khan even purchased their books for them. One such girl student, having finished grade nine – the highest for a girl in the area, was now the teacher in the school where the government-appointed skiver was playing truant. But still Shaista Khan remained reticent on the reason for his colleague’s absence.

It was only back in Ziarat that I went nosing about to learn that the absentee teacher was a brother of the Ziarat nazim. The Nazim, incidentally, is MMA! Secure in his political support, the teacher could not be bothered with the long trek out to Orazha. This man and his brother surely invoke God’s name a thousand times every day. They very likely worry their rosaries all the time and do the prescription five daily prayers, but the haram income is all in a day’s work. Religion has done nothing for these unworthy men; it has failed to make them human.

Shaista Khan of the jaunty smile, on the other hand, never said a word about the service he was doing to the country or to religion. For him his work was a responsibility.

Postscript. This article appeared in The News on Sunday sometime in August 2007. I have to admit that Shaista Khan Kakar’s sense of responsibility moved me so much that standing there in front of this good man of great merit, I could hardly hold my tears back. I don’t know how I did. I never wrote about my emotional breaking down in the original piece. I admit it now and I salute, once again, Shaista Khan who makes this country work.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

1 Comments:

At July 2, 2015 at 10:30 AM, Blogger Spade said...

Good teachers are like parents, they nourish you , and that nourishment lasts a life time, it is the love and care that parents and good teachers give us that makes us human. I have had a few of good teachers in my life,,these are as dear to me as my parents are .

 

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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days