My Father, My Teacher

For us he was a father and without doubt our ‘first’ and ‘best’ teacher
My Father, My Teacher
Abdul Hamid Makhdoomi in the centre. The photo taken in late 60's in a school in Downtown Srinagar where he was a "single teacher".Photo: Shafat Makhdoomi

My father was a fragile young man when he was inducted as a teacher in the department of Education Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir in late 50’s. He was inexperienced, immature and had no substantial qualifications to be a teacher.

However, with a razor sharp mind and a strong passion for teaching, he acquired teaching skills and became a popular teacher wherever he went and whatever he taught.

He started his career from the far-flung areas of North Kashmir. In his later life, he would often talk to us about his foot voyages to the ill equipped schools on hilltops and across the ice cold streams with no bridges. He would talk about schools in open air, underneath mighty chinars and schools over cowsheds. He never complained about the difficulties he faced though he would be away from his family for months together-disconnected from his home and the city he loved. It was here in these difficult areas that my father developed an intense passion for teaching. In his free time in those isolated areas he would read books, listen to the radio and enjoy the beauty of countryside. He taught in times and at places in Kashmir when there were no educated men across miles and children had to be forcibly brought to the schools. He brought joy, light and fragrance of education into these beautiful places. I can imagine how his powerful voice must have resonated from hilltops and meadows with the chorus singing by children of “doyi kaya do..’

In the later part of his career my father was transferred from beautiful valleys of countryside to the congested alleys of the downtown Srinagar. He taught in schools at Nowhatta, Kawdara, Gurgadi Mohalla, Saraf Kadal, Rainawari and Dastgeer Sahab. Wherever he went, he made a difference. In times when poverty was not an anomaly and education was not out of bounds for poor, he groomed a generation of education seekers in and around the Downtown. In many schools he taught as a ‘single teacher’ wherein he would teach ‘many subjects’ or ‘any subject’ to all the students attending the school. I can’t imagine how he must have done this all. Keeping the children of one class busy with a maths question while teaching Urdu to the other group or drawing a flower on the board and asking the kids to draw the same on their ‘Mashqs’ must have been a difficult task. He never complained about his role as a single teacher but would tell us that tackling seniors and juniors together though tiring for the teacher benefited students. My father dressed immaculately in well-ironed suit, a pristine white shirt and well-polished shoes. He did it without fail though most of the times he had only ‘Children in rags’ to notice him. We would often see him clean his coat or pants which would be spoiled by the wet clay the students would use. An avid reader he would never miss news and would always update the school board with the latest news headlines in his beautiful handwriting.

My father did not ignore the educational needs of his own children. My four siblings and myself would eagerly wait for him to come home from school. We would flock around him and he would teach us anything that he thought was essential for us or anything we desired to be taught. It was never boring to learn from him.

He taught us Urdu, English and build our basics of grammar and language. He had a passion for mathematics and patiently taught basic mathematical concepts to us. All the calculations were done in mind and he made algebra and geometry so simple for us.

He would discourage rote learning and teach history and geography as if he was narrating an interesting story. He often would quote Shakespere, Rumi and Iqbal and never hesitated to use a dictionary. In fact passionately using Urdu lugat and Oxford dictionary was his favorite pastime.

For us he was a father and without doubts our ‘first’ and ‘best’ teacher. Many fathers must have done this before, and must be doing it now. So what was it that made my father late Abdul Hamid Makhdoomi unique? He taught his students well, taught his children well.

And did not stop at that. He taught the children of his mohalla, his community, his clan and all those privileged and underprivileged who came to him for education. All for free. All difficult children in family and neighborhood were brought to our home to be taught by my father.

Our family had an opportunity to host people from far-flung villages in view of the proximity to the shrine of Makhdoom Sahib. Many people from villages would stay in the house of their ‘pir’ i.e our home and many would leave behind their children who aspired to study. My father obliged many parents who wanted to study in Srinagar.

Many of my fathers relations who lived in Kupwara would stay in our home for their studies. My mother would cook food for them and my father would ignite the passion for knowledge in their hearts. This all, without any financial benefits. Many of those kids became fine gentlemen and excelled in the field of their choice.

My father’s role as a teacher would not have been so exemplary had my mother not been a partner in his endeavor. Any child in the neighborhood who did not go to school and who would come to play in our home would be registered in a nearby school by my parents most of the times without the knowledge of their parents.

My mother would ensure that those children went to school regularly. In the later life when many such adults retired from their jobs, they would complain to us that our parents had registered them with ‘wrong dates of birth’. They would however acknowledge that without that registration they would have remained unlettered.

My father believed in women empowerment and sent his daughters to faraway corners for perusal of higher studies. This served as an inspiration to many of his friends and relations who too worked hard on women’s education.

As times changed so did the teaching methods. But, my father’s passion for teaching and contributing to the society did not wane. He taught his grandchildren and children of generation next in the neighborhood with same sweet and strong passion. Out of all the things that I owe my father ,the greatest is his contribution towards making a ‘teacher’ out of me for my children and my students in medicine .With long and frustrating periods of school closures, I needed this trait badly. I cannot match my father but thanks to him I could teach my children Urdu, Mathematics, English and Kashmiri.I remember him going up and down the stairs while teaching ‘ascending’ and ‘descending ‘order to his grandson.

My father taught thousands and at the fag end of his life he took upon himself to educate his young domestic help. A rough unlettered boy became his darling student too and is pursuing graduation now. My father was an ordinary man but pursued an extraordinary life which made a difference to so many lives. I pray that with his barakah the light of selfless service is ignited in our hearts too

Post-script: The most impressive memory I have of my father is his leaning self and a bandaged eye (because of surgery) but teaching mathematics to his domestic help who was to appear for his 10th class examination the next day. He did not live long after that.

Dr Rumana Makhdoomi, MD (Path), Fellowship Neuro-oncopathology [NIMHANS] is Professor Dept of Pathology SKIMS, Srinagar, Kashmir

Greater Kashmir