Homage to a teacher

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.— Kahlil Gibran

HOW many university teachers in Pakistan would fit this definition? Today there are over 46,000 academics in our universities and the quest for better standards in our institutions of higher education is endless.

In the times that I am writing about — the 1960s, when I was a university student — there were just over 1,200 university teachers in the country (that included East Pakistan) and only 72 of them were women. And I may add that each and every one of them did his/her best to lead us to the threshold of our mind as Gibran suggests a teacher should.

Those were not easy times for university academics — talent was in tough competition, resources were few and access to knowledge was restricted to books and journals as the Internet age had not yet dawned. There was no television and the radio did not entertain free academic debates.

Nevertheless, all my teachers were PhDs — there was one who wasn`t but he was preparing to enrol in a doctorate programme abroad. The environment was a male one and a woman had to be strong and academically sound to survive. That is why Dr Khurshid Hyder, my lecturer (subsequently Reader) in international relations at the University of Karachi who later became a friend, guide and mentor, could make her mark on the intellectual scene.

Today it is exactly 20 years to the day when Dr Hyder passed away in Vienna where she was serving as Pakistan`s ambassador to Austria, also accredited to the IAEA. She had left the academia in 1973 and moved into the Foreign Office when the first PPP government announced the `lateral entry` scheme.

From Karachi she moved to the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, where she was appointed a professor at the department of international relations. Her love for research and teaching never deserted her. With a Masters from the Institute of Social Studies at The Hague and a PhD from Columbia, she went on for post-doctoral research to the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, on a Nuffield fellowship.

What qualities are considered essential in a teacher? As the Chinese, the epitome of wisdom, say, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.

Hence one would expect a university teacher to teach students the basics of research and communication skills while developing in him/her the capacity to analyse and think critically. And obviously this is not possible without a rich stock of knowledge and education. How can you teach a student to separate grain from chaff if you do not know what is grain and what is chaff.

It was her capacity to distinguish good from evil and her immense knowledge that gave Dr Hyder the confidence to stand her ground. Those were days when Pakistan was virtually a satellite of the US but there was tension in the air as China was looming large on the horizon.

We had two American teachers in our department brought to Karachi, courtesy the Asia Foundation. They took their assignment with a pinch of blind patriotism — they were determined to convince us that the US could do no wrong and the USSR was the biggest curse that had visited mankind.

Khurshid proved to be a countervailing factor as she taught us the virtues of self-reliance and independence in foreign policy and the dangers of imperialism. She helped us place America in a balanced perspective.

She was far from being a screaming Das Kapital-waving socialist. But she certainly had the confidence to expose us to all points of view to expand our minds. She invited Dr Henry Kissinger, at that time on the faculty of Harvard, who was visiting Karachi to speak to the students of the university.

We were then introduced to the other point of view by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then minister for fuel and power in Ayub Khan`s government, who came as a guest speaker to the department of international relations shortly thereafter at a time when he was in the process of developing the `China card` for Pakistan.

That was Dr Khurshid Hyder`s style of teaching — she wanted her students to learn about ideas from across the spectrum to enable them to arrive at their own judgment.

More was in store. Dr Mahmud Husain, the great scholar of history and the vice chancellor of the Dhaka University, was invited for a lecture on Afghanistan for a solid historical perspective on southwest Asia. A mock session of the UN Security Council was a very practical lesson in the working of the world body, while our department`s reading room initiated us in the world of archiving and its indispensability to research.

All this gave the department a high profile but we were brought down to earth with a practical demonstration on the dignity of labour when one windy day we found Dr Hyder with broom in hand sweeping the corridor in front of the staff room because it had not been swept that morning. She was a stickler for order in her environment.

Her first love was teaching and all that goes with it. In essence it meant research. Writing in The World Today (journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London) in November 1966 she had forecast “In the coming years Pakistan will continue to follow a policy of qualified alignment. The existing links with the United States will not be formally severed but they will be superseded by new sets of relationships.”

She however advised the government to maintain a delicate and sensitive balance between its relations with China, Russia and the US. We do see feeble attempts at that today. But would Dr Khurshid Hyder have found it to be satisfactory had she been around and commenting on Pakistan`s foreign policy?