On 4 April 1968, the system liquidated Martin Luther King Junior for having an American dream; a week ago I had a nightmare in which I portrayed a boy in distress. I need to share it all with you.
The venue was the school principal’s office in which Brother Henderson sat wearing a missionary’s white robe, his pink hands folded. I saw my father bent over a table signing a contract over which was stamped TOP SECRET, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. It was hard for me to bend over in a nightmare and read everything in the document but luckily I was able to recall upon waking up the following:
I, the undersigned, being the biological father of the above-mentioned student hereafter referred to as ‘sample 7531’, do fully authorise the school to ensure: that the ‘sample’ shall not be spoilt, that the official rod shall not be spared, that it will be allowed to land wherever necessary on his person, and in whatever manner considered appropriate, and by whosoever might wield it, and that ‘sample 7531’ is my gift to mankind to further the cause of science.
After signing with a quill, my father broke the nib just like judges once did when condemning criminals to death. I saw that both he and Brother Henderson were dead serious. Then without my express permission, father handed over this ‘sample’ and jumped like a quick brown fox out of a window below which was parked his lazy dog-mobile. Other fathers with their boy ‘samples’ waited to be called in. I made a final attempt to escape by kicking Brother Henderson’s shin with full force but instead woke up noisily wrestling with a pillow, “Lemme go, lemme go Brother Henderson!” To my great relief, I found mother by the bedside attempting to contain an early morning rebellion.
A grave new world
I must now enter the time-tunnel to write one more school story for the readers, irrespective of the fact that reading and writing habits have been almost destroyed by misspelled ungrammatical short messages of purely electronic nature. The post box has been taken over by FaceBook ‘posts’ and Karen Carpenter's Please Mr Postman is quite dead.
It was all written in the sky: we needed decent English education along with the customary thought control; we were to face our teachers’ dark sarcasm in the classroom; we were never to be left alone; we were all to be just bricks in the wall. Many years later the British rock band, Pink Floyd, would release their classic song, The Wall, to reflect the harsh realities faced by millions of children spread quite thin across the globe.
I was elated to be gracefully promoted with the majority to class eight instead of being disgracefully held back in class seven. Having become a senior boy I faced ‘ER’ in every possible form: newER but fattER text books, greatER responsibilities and worst of all, harshER corporeal punishment. I derived immense pleasure from Art and music as it, without my knowledge, helped develop the creative right hemisphere of the brain to a greater degree than the left one. Scared geometry was better than algebra and drawing was superior to arithmetic. Besides, practising mathematical ‘sums’ at home was always a gloomy silent activity as it deprived one of the joy of spending perfectly good evenings at play with the loud boys. There were always plenty of other important things to do besides studying.
Science too became hardER to comprehend. Newton, Boyle, Faraday, Bernoulli, and others emerged as villains who began to get on my nerves. The scientists had no business, I thought, burdening my carefree mind with so many of their discoveries, all made within the time span of a few centuries. Had these men of science enjoyed normal childhoods, I and other children might have had more of the ‘normal’ as well. Since I was good at drawing, my escape lay in drawing neat scientific diagrams on the copybook and which left no alternative for the teacher but to bestow upon this budding artist remarks of the ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ varieties.
With seven years of rock solid schooling behind me, I had three more years in case I chose Matriculation or four if Senior Cambridge strangulated me with Add-Maths and Shakespeare. Students were required to choose between Matric and Senior Cambridge before they left class eight. At this stage, nobody thought of college as it was impossible for us to imagine what it might be like to step out of the school’s womb in the eighth month of educational pregnancy. Disregarding the school brotherhood and dreaming of parting ways for college was taboo. I was in class four when a dear class-fellow, Asim Beg, left for America saying, “I’ll be gone for fifteen years”. In my diary I made a woeful note of the year of his expected return; such were the vagaries of time and brotherly reunions.
Life, a science-lab
Science was a daily chore, not a warm love affair. There were two kinds of laboratories at St. Anthony’s High School of Lahore. For the students the stern Irish ‘brothers’ had erected a science laboratory equipped with round-bottom flasks, test tubes, and chemicals of all sorts. But the same management had another atrocious laboratory where some teachers were given almost similar apparatus to conduct one-on-one caning experiments on young boys’ round-bottoms, encouraged the flow of chemicals such as sweat and tears, and stored observations in test tubes of teaching experience. The Irish brothers were pleased to re-designate the teachers’ canes, foot-rulers and bare hands as official instruments of indoctrination and terror. In an atmosphere of many sticks and not enough carrots, the poor students were the lab rats whose raw supply remained inexhaustible.
The persuasive means to make us talk less in class always remained in the custody of the teachers. Madam Moti Raam, the dark and talcum-powdered daughter of Mr Moti Raam, was the first female scientist whose foot-ruler landed on my small palms long before American astronauts claimed they landed on the moon. Her class III-B was located on the ground floor, next to the stairs of the junior section at the rear right hand corner of the school.
From class three onward we were daily fed on a variety of hors d'oeuvres of punishment. The most popular act was the loveless slapping on the backs of our heads which, since it was done almost daily and with increasing ferocity, might have done some of us the kind of damage a boxer’s punches do: separate the brain’s thin membrane from the skull. While boxers do sometimes suffer from Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, despite the teachers’ worst efforts none from my class met similar fates—praise God who loves little children more than he does vicious disciplinarians.
Then we had the appetising ear-twisting that turned our listening apparatus into red tomatoes. Equally artful was the pulling of the earlobes as if they were made out of genuine Malaysian rubber. Sometimes we were made to wear comical dunce-caps and made to perform guard duties outside the classroom and which generated not standing ovations but ridicule from passer-byes. And the ‘special children’ who suffered from incurable disobedience were always sent off to the principal’s office to face immaculate suppression. After returning they remained temporarily reformed for only a few hours; there was no such thing as a permanent cure or perfect obedience.
All that wham-bam punishment was designed to make us say “Thank you ma’am!” But there was one problem: the school’s arsenal only had one good-looking ma’am, Madam Shama Atarid, who had by then receded two years into our collective past. We must digress here to describe how she was able to change our lives in subtle but wild ways.
Tigers without stripes
Madam Shama Atarid, throughout class five, remained our utterly harmless and a totally sleeveless teacher. But a year later when her mother, Madam Atarid, took charge of us in class six, corporeal punishment firmly became part of the syllabus.
In those days there were all over Pakistan petrol pumps that displayed the ESSO sign and which represented an oil company called Humble Oil (later Exxon Mobil). To promote Enco and Esso Extra gasoline brands their advertising firm came up with a campaign in 1959 which became so popular that Time magazine declared 1964 to be ‘The Year of the Tiger’.
Esso’s oily product, ‘Tiger’, was represented by a tiger mascot. First appeared bumper-stickers claiming “I’ve got a Tiger in my tank”, and then came handing out of toy tiger-tails to customers who had their car tanks topped up with the product. Since the slogan was ‘Put a tiger in your tank’ 'Put a Tiger in your tank' , every man, but not necessarily every woman in our conservative society, wanted a tankful of a liquid that promised more miles and speed. The spongy toy tiger-tail was a foot in length, aptly covered with tiger-striped cloth and featured an elastic band that enabled any young child to wear it for fun. They sold millions of these tiger-tails in America alone. All that booming business and animal behaviour found its way into our school as well.
One day Ma’am Shama discovered a ‘fidgety boy’ playing with one such tail in the classroom. Had he attached the tail to his rear he might have been allowed to go scot-free but instead he affixed the tail to his naughty end. However, the young teacher planted the tail where it truly belonged and positioned the boy outside the classroom for the duration of an entire forty-five minutes period. As far as I can recall, this young back-bencher was a fine example of a perfectly under-loved and over-sexed boy. I do not know whether later in life he married a tigress or remained unmarried cherishing the memory of the one who actually tied a tiger-tail to his rear end.
|The ESSO tiger's tail for real men|
Punishment is known to sometimes emotionally shut off a person for life but the Creator protected me from such suffering. And if I were to place nine years of schooling on one side and the single year I spent in Madam Shama Atarid’s class on the other side of the scale, the latter would outweigh the former on all counts. She exuded love of such wuthering heights that I said “Thank you ma’am” in my heart almost every day. As of this writing, she still resides, age nineteen, inside millions of Anthonian brain cells spread evenly across the globe.
Armyman of science
Disciplinarian teachers—let us not call them sadists—came in all shapes and sizes. One such unique specimen was Mr Fardy, our science teacher, whose full name was Major Jack John Fardy. He was born in Rawalpindi. As an artillery man, he spent four years stationed in Burma with the Indian Army and was later absorbed into the Pakistan Army. When the British hurriedly partitioned the sub-continent in 1947, he performed border duties to ensure the safety of immigrants from India into Pakistan. Later in 1948, Mr Fardy served at the Kashmir front with Lt. Col. S.M.A. Shirazi who happened to be a class-fellow’s father.
|Major Jack John Fardy (1958)|
For a while, Mr Fardy taught at the Artillery School of Quetta, then retired in 1957 and finally married Molly whose real name was Maria Teresa. Born in Multan to parents who worked for the Railways and the Royal British Air Force, she taught English at St. Anthony’s High School. Together they produced two sons, Sean and Adrian. While the younger Adrian arrived every morning at school sitting on a baby-seat attached between his father’s crotch and the bicycle’s handle, the older Sean rode his mother’s ladies’ bicycle to indicate that manliness was around the corner.
The Fardys lived behind Taj and Crown cinema halls in Garhi Shahu, an area almost exclusively occupied by members of the Christian community. Originally this suburb was called Khair Garh after its founder Abul Khair of Bokhara who died in 1719 A.D. Shahu Ki Garhi (Shahu’s fortress), being a small village, was abandoned during the Sikh period (1762-1849 A.D.) when it was occupied by a highway robber called Shahu.
We came face to face with Mr Fardy on the very first day in section-B of class eight; he was a mountain of a man—or so he seemed to us. We looked up at him with the kind of awe one reserved while watching a cinemascope film at Regal cinema hall’s foremost row and whose ticket cost only twelve Annas (seventy-five Paisas).
|Mr Fardy's all-seeing spectacles|
Our science teacher sported an army haircut that made him look like a strict drill sergeant. The round-framed Gandhi-style spectacles that he wore came with comfort wires which he carefully wrapped behind his small ears. The upper portion of his heavy nose had two depressions in the skin caused by the spectacles’ nose-pads. We never saw him lose the spectacles although we wished he did when he efficiently scribbled scientific formulae on the blackboard and whose sole aim was to replace all things artsy inside our brains. Out of habit, at least once during the science lessons, he would remove and clean the glasses, look comical without them, then blink at us blind as a bat, and remain unaware of boys making funny faces at him.
Unlike Mrs Davey from class four, Mr Fardy was more Indian and less Anglo, and had the skin of a brown sahib. There were many distinguishing features in Mr Fardy’s personality. His wardrobe comprised of three pastel coloured Gabardine suits on which he wore ‘shorty’ neckties. What kind of undergarments he wore was a subject that let our fertile minds run wild; at some point we agreed he wore camouflaged ones to throw off scent Indian soldiers who he imagined still pursued him since the Kashmir Front days. Being not at all into French after-shave lotions, Mr Fardy smelled of a germ-killer called Dettol and whose overpowering unpleasantness softly killed us ‘little germs’ on a daily basis.
Mr Fardy’s humble means of transportation was a black Raleigh bicycle entirely ‘Made in England’, complete with a fully encased chain-train. The act of riding his bicycle sometimes produced much needed comedy at the school’s IN-gate whose metalled pathway sloped upwards. The incline forced Mr Fardy to bend his body forward to peddle quite hard and which sometimes produced loud artillery discharges of trapped bodily gases within hearing distance of the student brotherhood.
A consummate cyclist, Mr Fardy always clamped a metal clip over his right ankle to keep the trouser turn-ups in place. Probably it was a carry-over from the days when he owned a bicycle whose chain-train either left stubborn oily smudges on the trousers or chewed the turn-ups. A senior boy once recalled Mr Fardy’s frank admission to the class: “I’ve told my sons if they ever got hit by a car from behind while riding bicycles, they should roll over to the side to avoid serious injury.” This is how seriously he took the bicycle and army training.
|Prototype of Porsche 911 'karara'|
Major Abdul Mannan Munir Khan was the father of Ghafoor Mannan, a class-fellow whom Mr Fardy teasingly called ‘goofy’. The Major had also served in the Indian Army up until 1947 and was Mr Fardy’s junior by a few years. Whenever Major Khan came to the school he greeted Mr Fardy with “Hi John, how are you?”, then clicked his heels and respectfully proceeded to exchange pleasantries. Always a proud soldier, Mr Fardy once narrated to the class a war-tale:
“I was serving in Burma during World War Two when one day I was caught in a Japanese booby trap. It had me hanging upside down for a day or so. Then a British colleague came to rescue and cut me free with a knife. Close by lay a dead Japanese officer and from around that khota’s neck I took away a camera.”
“Sir, is booby trap a device used by Japanese women to lure wayward men?” came one mature question that was left unanswered but which produced the expected laughter.
|A very 'booby' trap|
“Sir, do you still have that khota’s camera?” asked another curious mind.
Mr Fardy’s threatening offer had the class in stitches, “Of course I do, you khota (donkey)! See this cane here? It’s gonna take your picture if you just say cheese”.
To be concluded...
Read more about our close encounters with Mr Fardy in the upcoming Part-2 of this article.
Read more about our close encounters with Mr Fardy in the upcoming Part-2 of this article.