THIS ABOVE ALL
Modern in every sense
School recently celebrated its 90th birthday. I am perhaps its
oldest living product — so old that the celebration committee
was not aware I was still around. I would like to tell you about
its birth and early development. It is the child of a well-known
Jain family, which owned a lot of real estate in the walled city
of Shahjehanabad, including a large mansion along the Mughal
wall in Daryaganj facing the house of Congress leader M.S.
The patriarch of
the family, Rai Bahadur Lala Sultan Singh Jain, had one son,
Raghubir Singh, who was a nationalist and wanted to raise
children with patriotic ideas. My father Sobha Singh was a
friend of Sultan Singh. So he persuaded my father to lend a hand
in his venture and made him president of the governing body.
Modern School was
truly modern in every sense. It was the first co-educational
school in the city with as many women teachers as men. The first
Principal was a Bengali Christian, Kamla Bose. She brought two
of her nieces to join the staff. It started off with about 30
students, three of them were girls — one Kaval Malik was later
to be my wife. We were the first Modernite couple. Besides the
normal curricula, Modern School also introduced painting (with
the eminent Bengali artist Sarda Ukil), music, carpentry,
scouting and military drill under an English sergeant.
Sialkot has produced eminent poets and novelists, including Allama Iqbal
At the same time
Raghubir Singh invited national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi,
Rabindranath Tagore and Sarojini Naidu to address the students.
Altogether, it was way ahead of the times, which the older
generation found unacceptable. One of them was my grandfather
Sujan Singh after whom Sujan Singh Park is named. He preferred
living in Punjab where he owned a lot of land and factories. He
happened to be in Delhi on the third or fourth anniversary of
the school’s founders’ day celebrations. My father took him
along to see how his grandsons were doing. He was shocked to see
so many women teachers. He called us brothers rann mureed
— disciples of low class women. He was more enraged to see us
learning classical music. Back home he berated my father:
"You want your sons to become mirasi beggars?"
he asked. In any event, he called his grandsons bharooas
(pimps), no doubt, affectionately.
There must be
something in the climate of Sialkot which produces eminent poets
and novelists. Allama Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, both
top-ranking poets of Urdu, were Sialkotias. Recently, I
discovered another son of Sialkot who has made his mark as a
novelist and a poet in English who comes from the same town,
Zulfikar Ghose. Because of his surname Ghose, I had assumed he
was a Bangladeshi. I presume Ghose derives from Ghaus.
During World War
II, the family moved to Bombay. Many of Ghose’s poems are
about India. As the war ended, he migrated to England. Ghose was
educated at Sloane School at Keela University. He lived in
London for many years and made his living as Sports Editor of The
Observer, besides reviewing books for the Times Literary
Supplement and The Spectator. Finally, he moved to
Austin (Texas) where he was appointed professor of creative
Oxford University Press, Karachi, published a selected
collection of his poems — 50 poems; 30 selection and 20 new.
Reading them was
an enchanting experience mainly because most modern poets are
hard to comprehend whereas Ghose is lucid, easy to grasp and
The first of his
anthology is about India. I quote a few lines:
India lies still
in a primeval intactness of growth;
The great alluvial
plains are sodden with trees;
Neither city nor
village intrudes with temples and towers;
In this riotous
land of flowers and creepers.
"Age makes cowards of us as youth makes fools". This
is partly illustrated by a poem entitled Ask the Women. I
quote a few lines:
Ask the women who
knew me in my youth;
Of the love we
made when twilight cast;
A welcome gloom
under the plane trees;
Those long June
evenings in London’s parks;
Will there be one
whose memory coincides with mine?
Or breathing again
those night fragrances?
When cool gusts
blow away the traffic fumes;
And the air swirls
with currents from the flower beds;
Will she feel
again her lips swollen with kisses?
On paper JPC
stands for Joint Parliamentary Committee. In fact it stands for jab
(Contributed by KJS Ahluwalia, Amritsar)