Kindling knowledge. ( Ghulam Sabir )
Written By Khalid Irshad

I did not want becoming a beggar was the last sentence of a letter I received two years ago. Though the letter encompassed the entire helplessness and hopelessness Ghulam Sabir had faced because of disability of both his legs, the last sentence truly depicted his firm resolve to overcome all his miseries and agonies.

I felt little exhilarated that despite undergoing years of mental as well as physical torments, this young man wanted leading a life like a physically fit person would do. It was indeed a miraculous outcome of the obsession of a disabled young man belonging to a poor and illiterate family that he had been able to do his B.Sc and needed financial help to complete his M.Sc in Physics.

He contacted Karwan-i-Ilm Foundation (KIF) around two years ago for stipends which were at once released. He got admission in M.Sc at Government Taleem-ul-Islam College, Chenab Nagar. He was provided with adequate money to meet all his necessary requirements and finally his dream to become a masters degree holder came true on day.

I wanted having first hand knowledge as to how this young man made it through and which personalities helped him achieve his goals and how he defeated every difficulty emerging on his path to excellence. So, I decided to meet Sabir.

Sabir lives in Chak Chakoora, which is situated 25 kilometers off G.T. Road on Chakwal Road. We reached a solitary dwelling in a plain after passing through ploughed fields. The boundary wall had no particular entrance. The solitary unit consisted of two small rooms without any doors and windows and a large hut in the courtyard where Sabirs family is settled along with the families of his paternal and maternal uncles.

All dwellers of this abode greeted us enthusiastically. We sat in the largest room, which wore nothing but the paint of poverty. I asked Sabirs father to shed light on his family background etc but he readily apologized and asked his wife to speak about their circumstances.

Sabirs mother opened up confidently and said that they were very poor people and initially did not own any property. Their family would barter earthen and silver pots for steel and plastic junk.

After marriage, I and my husband shifted to Rawalpindi where we established our hut in a desolate place. We would leave our abode for collecting junk early in the morning. I would return in the noon and prepare meals before my husband would come. Then, Allah Almighty gifted us with a daughter. We have seven children; Sabir is at number two and three more sons and two daughters.

Sabir suffered from high fever when he was just three. The treatment brought about no improvement. Next day, he stopped walking. We took him to hospital only to be told that he had a polio attack. We tried our best to get Sabir treated but to little avail. Now we were faced with a difficulty as to who would look after this disabled boy. Any how, his six-year-old elder sister started looking after him when I and my husband would be away to collect junk.

After two years, we were able to purchase this chunk of land with the partnership of our relatives (my and my husbands brothers). Sometimes, I would take Sabir along with me whenever I go to sell pots in the village. One day, I went to the house of Halima Bahtti who, after seeing Sabirs condition, promised to extend every possible help in his schooling in her own institution, she said. Now Sabir was eager to narrate the rest of their emotive story. At the age of five, I would crawl to exterior to our abode and see children going to school and coming back. That indeed instilled in me an urge to seek knowledge. However, poverty and my physical handicap would hurriedly dampen all my desires.

One day, with the collection of pocket money, I bought a nursery book and wooden slate schoolchildren use for writing exercises. I started insisting my parents to admit me to any school but they refused, primarily owing to my handicap walk independently. However, my elder sister, Saba, again took the responsibility of taking me to school and bringing back. It was only then that my father took me to a government school but the headmaster refused to admit me, saying that other students would make fun of my disability.

I still remember the horrible sinking feeling I came across on that day. However, then Mst Halima Bhatti admitted me into her own Al-Meraj Public School with a promise to provide me free education. Saba would lift me on her shoulders to take me to that school every day and bring back. This made me realize from the very beginning that schooling will never be an easy task for a disabled person like me.

I would be remain seated on a chair in the classroom from opening to closing and haplessly watch my class-fellows going outside and playing games during recess. I would not take enough liquids before going to school to avoid the call of nature. My sister had no wrist watch, nor had we a clock in our abode, so she would come to pick me by merely conjecturing time every day. One day, Saba could not turn up for a long time after closure and the watchman left the premises after locking all the classrooms, including the one I was seated in.

My sister then would fetch the watchman from his home and he opened the classroom to grant me liberty. Had my sister not helped me out, I would have been living a disabled and beggars life. There was a pregnant pause. Sabir sat staring into space. However, the expression of gratitude for his sister was vividly noticeable on his face and that also brought a tear to his eyes.

I began to contemplate that had Allah Almighty not granted courage and understanding to Sabirs sister, this young man would have been a nameless and faceless individual among thousands of handicapped persons. After this incident, my family decided to withdraw me from the school. However, I and my sister remained adamant to continue studies and finally our parents surrendered, Sabir resumed.

Thereafter, I studied wholeheartedly and stood first in Class-I exams. Principal Halima Bhatti and a teacher, Mst Nagina, took great care of me. They indeed polished my talent. I started taking part in declamations and other extra-curricular activities. Soon, I earned the recognition of most talented student of the school. As Saba assumed household chores, my sister Shazia took the responsibility of taking me to school. I was imparted absolutely free education until Class-V.

After clearing primary examination, my parents again advised me to learn stitching clothes to become self-reliant but I decided to continue my studies. I was admitted to the villages secondary school where teachers received me encouragingly. My two friends, Muhammad Nadeem and Qaisar Shehzad, also took admission, primarily to facilitate me. Now they would alternatively lift me and take me to the school and bring me back as well. They attended to all me needs during school hours. I was given a wheelchair by philanthropists manya times but that otherwise useful aid proved futile for me owing to bumpy path from my residence to the school.

Nadeem has played a vital role in making my life far easier. He virtually proved true that a friend in need is a friend indeed. Since childhood, he takes me to fields to respond to the call of nature as petty household tasks become altogether difficult for a disabled person. Teachers taught me very attentively and I stood first in my school in matriculation examination. My teachers, including Mushtaq Hussain Qazi, Abid Hussain and Qamar Saeed, helped me hone my academic skills. They not only nurtured me befittingly but they also took great care of me in my early part of life.

I wanted taking admission to F.Sc but my parents were still persuading me to become a tailor. However, my insistence prevailed and my father admitted me to Government Inter College, Pir Phalai. The college had only two teachers on its payroll Raja Saleem Akhtar, the principal, and Atta Muhammad Asif, a lecturer in statistics to teach both F.A and F.Sc students. The principal persuaded me to get admission to F.A, however, I opted for F.Sc. As the entire syllabus was in English, initially I was utterly unable to comprehend any thing. However, I improved my comprehension gradually and I also cleared my F.Sc examination.

The nearest degree college was in Jhelum but my family was genuinely worried about my departure to that city as I had never gone out of the village since we shifted here and had also never lived alone. Earlier, Nadeem would spare some time from his work to take me to college and bring me back, but this facility would not be available in Jhelum. As I had started giving tuitions to students after my matriculation, so I had collected some money. Driven by obsession to seek more and more knowledge, I asked Nadeem to take me to Jhelum college, which he did. And I took admission into B.Sc without taking into account as to how I would go to that seat of learning daily.

I shifted to the residence of my elder sister who was already living in Jhelum after marriage. Her residence was situated at the peak of an ascending slope and I would face huge difficulty in driving my wheelchair to reach my new abode after returning from college. To avoid this daily hassle, I decided to become a boarder but I had no money to pay for the hostel charges. The Principal paid the hostel fee out of his own pocket and thus I was allotted a room in the living facility. The Superintendent, Mr. Nayyar, (may his soul rest in peace) approved free lodging.

I would face huge difficulty in attending my classes, sometimes at the second floor of the college building, therefore I got disappointed and decided to quit studies. The Principal, however, again came to my rescue and arranged all my classes at the ground floor. I schooled myself to perform all routine chores. The college administration made a little alteration in the toilet, which though appeared very ordinary, but was of huge importance for a disabled person like me and had that alteration nod been made, I would have perhaps abandoned my studies owing to hardship in using the toilet.

A very kind-hearted teacher, Mr Zafar Abbas, would financially help me quite often. My family would visit me in the hostel as I would avoid travelling for being very hectic for a disabled person. Though my class-fellows would take private tuitions but I had no physical as well as financial means to afford this luxury. Despite these adverse conditions, I was able to complete my B.Sc.

When I was retuning to my home after taking B.Sc examination, Mr Nayyar informed me about Karwan-i-Ilm Foundation and asked me to contact them for financial help. However, I didnt contact the foundation, thinking as to who would extend help to any needy student in these chaotic days. I applied for admission to B.Ed with a view to becoming a teacher if I could not get admission to M.Sc. Deadlines to apply for admission to all colleges lapsed while I was bewilderingly chalking out my future plans. However, admissions to M.Sc in Physics were still open at Taleem-ul-Islam College, Chenab Nagar, therefore, I halfheartedly wrote to the KIF.

After a few days, I received a positive response from the KIF, urging me to take admission and that the admission fee would be dispatched to me soon. I borrowed some money from a relative and took admission. After only a week or so, the postman spotted me in the college and delivered the money order sent by the KIF. The KIF had fulfilled its promise which inculcated in me a great sense of satisfaction that now I would be able to complete my M.Sc too.

Though my expenses at Chenab Nagar college were far more than the Jhelum college, however, the KIF provided me stipends to meet all necessary requirements. Though Taleem-ul-Islam Colleges academic environment was pretty elegant, its hostel was in a ramshackle state and students would prefer taking private residences in the city. I also shared an accommodation with some of my class-fellows.

Then I also started travelling alone and one day I reached home after changing three buses. Now I am preparing myself for the M.Sc final examination commencing after a month. I have decided to opt for teaching profession and if I succeeded in getting appointed, it would be my earnest desire that I should be posted to my hometown college, which is still facing with acute scarcity of faculty, Sabir added.

In the meantime, Pir Phalai College Principal Raja Saleem Anwar, and Statistics Lecturer Atta Muhammad Asif also arrived. We all decided to visit Al-Meraj Public School where Mst Halima Bhatti was waiting for us. We were accorded a warm welcome. Teaching staff and students were very happy that a disabled student of their institution had excelled in the field of education.

Speaking to the gathering, Halima Bhatti said: I did not nurture Sabir for any worldly reward or appreciation but I felt it my duty to impart education to this disabled boy. His mother would come to sell pots in our locality and sometimes she would also bring Sabir along with her. His condition really moved me to help him out and this is why when I established this school, I asked his mother to send him here and I would impart him free education. I had directed all the teachers to extend every possible guidance and assistance to this boy.

I would wholeheartedly appreciate his tremendous performance and always pray for his success. He is still in contact with me and I also sometimes refer some students to take tuitions from him so that he imparts quality education to new generation besides earning some money to carry out his academic pursuits.

Then we went to the high school wherefrom Sabir matriculated. As we entered the magnificently maintained building, Headmaster, Mr. Abid Hussain, and teachers, Mr. Mushtaq Hussain Qazi and Qamar Saeed received us. All the three teachers wore beards and appeared paragon of Islamic virtues. The Headmaster, who teaches Biology, said: Sabir had a great passion to seek knowledge. I would often quote his example to my pupils that how a disabled boy of a poor family worked hard to achieve his goals. Sabir is pride of our school. I did everything which was humanly possible to impart quality nurturing to him.

I have asked him to contact me any time without hesitation for any help I could extend to him. Sabirs class in charge, Mushtaq Qazi said: Instead of ritual teacher-pupil relationship, I had developed a very friendly and cordial relationship with Sabir, and I would always encourage him to work more hard to excel in his life.

I and my colleagues would take proper care of him during his entire stay in this school. No teacher of this school gives tuitions privately. However, they do compete among themselves in terms of preparing their students for the matriculation examination, which is a healthy activity. In pursuit of this goal, teachers give extra time to their students so that they perform well in the Board examination and that is why this year Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has given a special award to our school along with three other institutions of entire Chakwal district. Under this award, every teacher is being paid Rs: 24,000 annually in recognition of their extraordinary performance.

We again reached Sabirs residence. His college teacher Atta Muhammad Asif also shed light on Sabirs journeying against all the odds.

After doings masters from the Punjab University, I was appointed lecturer in Pir Phalai College. Initially, we were four teachers, but after sometime two teachers were transferred to other stations. I would teach all subjects to First Year students while Principal Raja Saleem Anwar would teach all subjects to Second Year students. Only two students, including Sabir, had chosen mathematics in their F.Sc. I persuaded two more students to opt for mathematics.

The Principal and I would often request our friends posted somewhere else to come and give some lectures to the students. Once, Oil and Gas Development Company Limited set up an exploration camp near our college and I convinced some engineers to take honorary classes of F.Sc.

I appreciate Sabirs will to seek knowledge despite being gripped by miserable disability and pathetic poverty since his childhood.

I always encouraged him to get high education and now he is about to complete his M.Sc which is a great source of satisfaction and gladness for me. I wish he gets a job soon after completing his education to reap the reward of his hard work. Speaking on the occasion, Principal Raja Saleem Anwar said: I had been convinced of the passion of this young man since day one, therefore, being the head of the institution, I tried my best to facilitate him. I constantly encouraged Sabir during his stay in the college to work hard and concentrate more on studies. I also helped him out at the time of his admission to Jhelum Degree College.

And I feel greatly proud of my pupil while seeing him reaching his destination steadfastly. I pray for his success so that his achievement should set a benchmark for others. Two meek and timid young men who set a glorious example of service to mankind were sitting in front of me. Nadeem and Shahzad truly discharged the duties of being friends and relatives and they relentlessly and selflessly extended every possible service to Sabir for several years.

Nadeem and Shahzad said that what ever service they provided to Sabir was their duty. Though they themselves could not continue their studies after matriculation also owing to hostile circumstances, they left no stone unturned to help out Sabir in his educational pursuits. They said they had not done any beneficence, but they took it as they had been destined to serve Sabir to earn a good reward in the hereafter.

They said that Allah Almighty was already paying them dividends and they were leading a contented life. People were usually jealous of their friends or relatives success but their parents were pleased on their rendering service to Sabir. They said their parents had advised them to extend every possible service to Sabir throughout their life. It was a gloomy afternoon when the meeting concluded.

As I prepared myself to say good-bye to some great personalities gathered in the decrepit premises, they came to what was appearing an entrance of the premises to bid farewell. As I stole a glance on them, many of them were wearing shabby clothes and were without proper shoes, but their faces were shining with sense of satisfaction and among them stood Sabir positively glowing with pride of excellence.

This tenacious young man has defeated the ills of misery and disability with his stubborn obsession for seeking knowledge. An unyielding and unending glow of success is going to illuminate his rest of life. He will set an example for general public, particularly for his relatives, after becoming a breadwinner in his poverty-stricken and illiterate family.

Owing to students, who exhibit unfaltering commitment, like Sabir, personalities, who extend every possible help to talented youths, like Nadeem, Shahzad and Sabirs teachers, and the organizations like the KIF, which provides financial assistance to deserving and needy students, this journey of enlightenment is going on and on.

Had such towering personalities mentioned above not aided Sabir and the KIF not extended financial assistance, Ghulam Sabir would definitely have been leading the life of a hapless man, and more certainly of a beggar.