Note: Thassim Akbar, A Sri Lankan student spent five years at NED from 1971 to 1976. Following is the first part of his experiences in the city.
I left home for the first time at the age of nineteen, bound for Karachi, Pakistan on the 5th February, 1971. I had been awarded a Pakistan Government Cultural Scholarship for Undergraduate Studies in Engineering. My first choice was Marine Engineering but as that was not available; I opted for Mechanical Engineering at NED Engineering College. With me was another Sri Lankan student, Gamini Bamunuwitharne who opted for Electrical Engineering.
Our Air Ceylon Trident Flight landed at Karachi where we were met by Mr. Farid who was the Administrative Officer at NED. We were taken to Sevakunj Hostel in Arambagh which was one of two hostels housing NED students at that time. We were put in a room for three. Our partner was Muhammed Bashir a third year undergrad in Civil Engineering for Azad Kashmir. He was a bearded religious person and every time after the Adhan, he would take his miswak and cap and leave the room heading for the Masjid. At that time I was not religious and did not pray although I was inclined towards religion. Later on a tall imposing person with a long beard and leather cap visited our room. He was Muhammed Amir, the head prefect of the hostel. He hailed from Gilgit. Next day being Eid, I wanted to attend the festival prayers and he promised to take me along.
So began our stay atKarachiandPakistan. It was a bit of a culture shock for me, having lived in at home all my life inCeylon, my father being the Chief Water Works Engineer,Colombo, and following a more westernized life style. However I was made to feel at home and developed a close friendship with our Pakistani friends especially Muhammed Amir from Gilgit and his room mate Ghulam Murtaza Shah from Jehlum who helped us to settle down. We would eat Kinoo and other fruits and order tea from the café down stairs which was run by people of the Bahai faith. In fact Sevakunj was also owned by Bahai’s I think, and they had a free medical clinic once a week. Also they ran a reading room downstairs where we could read all the daily newspapers. In those days this was our only contact with the outside world when there was no internet and TV was limited. Also letters would take about 2 weeks to go toSri Lankaand another two weeks to get a reply. So you can imagine how isolated we were. No mobiles, no telephone etc. So it was really great to enjoy the hospitality and friendship with the other boys in the hostel from different parts ofPakistanand the some other countries as well. I would say that at that timePakistanwas a well knit society free of the current divisions and internal strife.
So on Eid we went early to an open place some where near the Quadi Azam Mausoleum. The prayers were conducted by Moulana Ehthishamul Haq Thanvi. His discourse in Urdu after the prayers was most pleasant to listen to. Urdu is quite a melodious rhyming language. There after we visited various friends of Amir, Bashir and Ghulam Murtaza. Mostly these were religious people connected to the Tablighi movement. Close to the Sevakunj Hostel was the Arambagh Masijid. It was a beautiful looking red and white marbled construction. On the rear side it opened to the Aram Bagh which was a park area without much greenery. Across the park on the other side was the Bab-ul-Islam Masjid. This was a well carpeted and well maintained mosque. We used to attend prayers in both Masjids and more often at Bab-ul-Islam. I was told that there were some differences between the two schools of Islamic learning viz. Deoband and Brevly. Hence there was some friction between these two. However in Ceylon we had no such experience at that time although it has surfaced now in Sri Lanka but not to that degree.
So life for me revolved around the Hostel, mosque and the university. NED stands for Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw, a Parsi philanthropist who founded the college. Those days there was a Parsi fire temple at the corner near Pakistan Chowk, as the place was known. The Chowk was a circular space at the middle of the junction of about five or six roads that converged at this point. The Chowk was often occupied by police who used to sit there and play cards. I suppose those days they did not have much to do. This was the old city with old apartment buildings and no garden space. A lot of shops and businesses were on Bunder Road.
I wondered if DJ College had Parsi origin. Before partition NED was affiliated to Bombay University. That was well before the creation of Pakistan. I have visited Mumbai several times and found that there was a sizeable Parsi population. We do have a small number of Parsi families in Sri Lanka too who are very industrious and are in Business.
to be continued.