Author: Zubeida Mustafa
Poets have mourned their unsung heroes. We have our own celebrated poet Mirza Ghalib saying,
(“Not all manifest themselves as lilies and roses/ What faces must lie buried in the dust.”)
In Pakistan, where education is at a discount and Article 25A is no more than a scrap of paper, the child prodigies that must have gone unnoticed buried under the burden of poverty must be countless. And anyone who uncovers such a flower deserves plaudits.
In this case, the owner of the beautiful mind is a 12-year-old boy Faris, the son of Abdul Vahid, resident of Mubarak Village (Balochistan). It was the untiring Baela Jamil, director of Idara-i-Taaleem-o-Agahi, who discovered the genius of little Faris a few years ago. Baela was visiting the village on her mission to create a network of children’s libraries all over Pakistan. It was at the Digi Kutubkhana — then stocked in a trunk and which is now in a house — that she spotted Faris. Ever since then, Faris has received a lot of support for his educational pursuits.
Faris impressed me when he visited me accompanied by his father, whose views on his sons’ (he has no daughters) upbringing and education are quite remarkable considering his modest background.
Abdul Vahid is a fisherman educated up to Grade 12. He could not do his BCom as he had no money to pay his examination fees. This shattered his “dream of becoming a bank manager”. His education made him a good father though. He gives credit to his wife for imbuing her sons with a passion to study. Mercifully, Mubarak Village has a government high school that actually functions. Abdul Vahid told me, “My profession allows me the advantage of being at home for long stretches once we return from sea.” That was the time spent tutoring and grooming his children. Looking at Faris, one can only say that Abdul Vahid has done a fine job.
When Faris was 12, he was looking around for greener pastures. He appeared for the entrance exam of the Naval Cadet College Ormara but failed. English was the stumbling block. That is the fate of thousands of our “lilies and roses” who then return to obscurity. For Faris, another opportunity came his way. The Hub Cadet College held its entrance qualifying tests. Faris appeared. Again English came in the way. But a “sharp and intelligent examiner” pleaded his case on the basis of his extraordinarily brilliant result in all the other subjects, and Faris was admitted. This was not the only act of magnanimity shown by the Cadet College; it also heavily subsidised the monthly fee, but within two months, Faris had established his credentials and he earned a full freeship!
The Cadet College is a private school founded a few years ago by Abdul Kader Jaffer, whose aspiration is to model it after the celebrated Doon School in Dehradun, India. The building is spacious and provides comfortable space for the boarding hostel, grounds for sports and games, classrooms for studies, a mosque for prayers and religious instruction. Designed for the children of the elite, the school’s enrolment is still too low compared to its capacity. Faris is the only one from the ‘masses’, his genius having earned him a place there. For Faris, the college is a heaven on earth when compared to the village school where he started his schooling years ago.
Faris describes to me his daily routine and how the students are provided the opportunity for diverse activities ranging from studies, games, religious obligations, and an organised simple lifestyle that is supervised by the teachers and a house mother.
The Cadet College offers two features which few other schools in the country do. First, there is a library and three library periods a week for every class. Second is the expansive playing field with facilities for a number of games. That means much importance is given to the two features that are basic to lifelong learning and health.
It is a delight to learn from Faris about his daily routine. He is articulate and coherent. His favourite sport? Football. What would he like to be when he grows up? A footballer? Like Pelé? Yes, he says, I have read up a lot on him.
These are my observations on the language issue: the medium of instruction at the school is English, and within a few months, Faris was fluent in the language. He wrote a letter to me in perfect English. Actually, in Faris’s case, the language scheme he unknowingly followed is what experts recommend. In his primary years, he studied in the language of his environment. When the time to introduce English came, around the age of 10, his language acquisition base had been firmly formed. Now he is ready to learn English at the Hub Cadet College.
Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2022