Education can never be the end. It is only the beginning of a world anew.
I took a trip down to a university hidden from the mainstream Pakistani educational scene to deliver a training course on ‘Laws Protecting Refugees’ to a university whose name has been dedicated to a man who needs no introduction. I visited the great Bacha Khan University, Charsadda district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. I would hence pen my experience of the university according to my feelings and renewed emotions only for that is how, I find it best, to describe what befell me.
We were coming from Peshawar through the motorway. We took an exit on the motorway towards Charssadda district however rather than going towards the main bazaar, we went right on the paved grey shiny road towards the university. The road led us towards Palosa, Nisatta where the road broke down in to a rather bumpy ride towards education. The ride towards education cannot always be smooth and grey and shiny; it may sometimes encompass ditches and bumps and a road under progress. Watching those little but many cracks on the road looked more like crossing a sea full of snakes of many lengths and curls that tried their utmost to stop you. We moved on- then we reached the main market and took a small unnoticeable turn towards our left in the middle of unopened, under construction shops and took that little paved but broken bumpy road towards the university. The road kept on leaping towards humanity and civilization, as I did not fail to notice, once there afterwards, that that was the case. We drove on the road that was still shiny however it was rather singular in nature as there was no sign of another road or pathway nearby. The road was quite small and only one vehicle could pass on and if we had another vehicle coming our way from the front, which was seldom the case, we had to take our car to our left to allow the other vehicle to pass.
We crossed under the by-pass bridge that connects one village to another from the top of the motorway, and moved further on the ever slanting, elongated road to victory. The road then got a bit narrower and took us to the right under the motorway by-pass and from that point onward I felt surrounded by greenery. At the side of the bridge my sight caught a notice that said ‘forced/early marriage is a crime’– we moved on. Everything went green to my left, to me right, beyond and behind me. While we were crossing the grand green sugarcane plantation, it reminded me of how fertile the land here was. And we kept moving closer towards the host of actual fertility. At one point the road was surrounded from the left and right by large inwardly bent trees that were covering the road and the sun could not pass. It felt as if we were passing through a tunnel. Sunlight fought hard to penetrate this path and only emerged on the road in the shape of a few golden-yellow spots like some natural spotlights emerging from beneath the road. These were the spotlights installed by nature to welcome the travelers who progressed towards civilization in the middle of nowhere.
And then we reached a massive construction to our right called the Bacha Khan University, Charsadda. We turned right and I noticed that the security guards were heavily laden with arms including Kalashnikovs; something you do not intend to see at the gates of a university, and that sent a message to me of how this place was volatile and open to terrorist activity and considered unsecure to the attacks of those who cannot find solace in people who try to get themselves educated for a better, newer Pakistan.
Mr Faisal from the Danish Refugee Council Pakistan as well as the head of the Social Sciences Department, Bacha Khan University Mr Bangash- the Chairman, was sitting in our vehicle and so we entered without any interrogation or security clearance in to the university. We have had a lovely journey along the way, discussing whether what Imran Khan and the PTI were doing was politically correct or otherwise democratically insane. I found out during that discussion, much to my content, something that matched my personal take on that as well. And this meant, much to my relief, that I was not the only insane man in this country, but some other professionals and academics also shared my insanity. I could not see Mr Faisal or Mr Bangash throughout the way as they were sitting in the rear seats of the car and I in the front, however, this imagery-crippled, audible-only conversation enabled me to discuss the country’s politics and at the same time enough room to be lost in my imagination in the beauty of the surroundings, thinking about education; the whole way through.
The university was a vast green area with a few gardens, massive structures that were the building blocks of studies and education. Greenery was what was in abundance. It was in the middle of nowhere, however, that added to its serene silence and patience like that of an old oak tree, which stands alone reminding us of things beautiful and of things grand in nature. What an atmosphere this university presented to its dwellers- quiet and far away from the hustle bustle of life, silent like the silence of a wise man deep in thoughts.
And there I was, in the middle of the heart of education in a city that does not boast literacy as much. The first thing that I observed when we entered the campus was that there were many women students moving about their business. This was something that I could not help but appreciating. Some were in ‘hijab-o-niqab’ and some not however seeing that I was delighted that the women of Charsadda now have a chance to show themselves to the rest of the world that they belong to a city that shall cherish education and literacy, even for their women and girls, if given a chance. I felt proud on their parents for letting their daughters attend the university and get educated despite a normal taboo against female higher education.
There were a couple of hostels and that made me inquire from the Chairman Sahib as to who resides there. To my much-anticipated but amazed satisfaction he responded that there are now students in the Bacha Khan University who come from Buner, Dir, Malakand, Mardan and other areas to study here. This was indeed the sign of how a singular university, that is well-managed and ongoing, attracts the education love-birds from all around its surroundings.
We had to wait for a while in the garden allowing for the students to assemble in the training hall upstairs in the adjacent building. While I was waiting in the garden I saw a bush towards my right. There was something peculiar about that bush. It was a rose-bush and the most interesting thing to note was that for some reason perhaps only to be understood by either nature or a well decorated gardener there was only one lonesome rose in that very bush. She was perhaps the stubborn one who had withstood the cruelty of the inappropriate season that made the others wither but she was rather strong and had more faith than the rest of her kind and hence had stood up tall. It suddenly reminded me of ‘Reidi Gul’ by the great Ghani Khan (son of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan- famously known as Bacha Khan; in the honour of whose name the university stands today). I felt as if I went, in that sudden instant, in a conversation in my mind with Ghani Khan for he said in ‘Reidi Gul’;
یو ورځی یو صحرا کې په ښکار وتی وم روان, یو ګلاب می ولاړ ولید، پړقیده ښایسته خندان
زه خفه یې خوا له لاړم ، ما وې اه زما په شان, ته هم ګل یی بد نصیبه ورک د زلفو د جانان
نه د چا نیازبینې ګوتې ، نرم مخ له به دې یوسي, نه به ښکل دې کړي سری شونډې دیار سره نازک لبان
هغه غلی شان مسکی شو ، وې خان مه کوه خفګان, زه به دا صحرا ور نکړم ، د ایران په ګلستان
دلته زه یو او یکتا یم ، هلته زر زما په شان, چار چاپیره سپیرې خاورې ، زه یوازې یم روښان
دلته دې تور ریګستان کښې زه د رنګ او نور لمبه یم, د ښایست چپه نغمه یم ، کرشمه د لامکان
ستا په باغ کې په زرګونو دي ګلاب زما په شان, یو بې نومه سور دریاب کې یو بې نوم څاڅکی روان
ته دې هم په خپل صحرا کې خفه مه شې زما وروره!, آخر را به شي دیدن له دې څوک سوی غنی خان
In a desert, once, on a hunt did I find, With a radiant smile, a flower so fair;
Sadly, I approached and sighed, “Ah! Of my kind, Are you too – a hapless flower from a beloved’s hair.
Frail fingers wouldn’t take you to a soft face so close, Nor would you be kissed by lips delicate and rose
With a silent smile the flower replied, “Don’t lose heart!
This desert I wouldn’t give up for the gardens of Iran, A solitary I am here while legions are there,
Amidst this cursed soil I stand apart, In this gray desert, a flamboyant flame of divine light am I
Beauty’s silent song, a miracle from the sky, In your garden, there are thousands of flowers like me
In this grey desert, a flamboyant flame of divine light am I, Beauty’s silent song, a miracle from the sky.
In your garden, there are thousands of flowers like me, A nameless droplet in a nameless sea.
You too, in your desert, don’t feel forlorn, To behold you at last shall come a sore Ghani Khan.
I thought for a moment that I completely understood Ghani Khan’s pain and that I was the one who replied to him on behalf of the rose that stood in the garden today in front of me; lonesome and the only flower left in the bush. Yes indeed, I thought, this was Ghani Khan’s rose, that had today bloomed in the shape of the Bacha Khan University. I saw the spark in the eyes of the students, that unmistakable spark that a teachers sees in his pupil’s eyes- the one that makes him fly high. I am sure that the university shall flourish over time and many scientists, authors, poets, artists, scholars and men and women of wisdom shall be groomed here and that they shall emerge as the great blossoms of the seeds that Ghani Khan wanted to sow.