RANDOM THOUGHTS: Call it Fate - BY: Dr. A.Q. Khan

Call it Fate
Dr. A.Q. Khan


Sometimes fate plays an important part in someone’s life and so it was with me too. As is generally known, I belong to Bhopal, one of the most beautiful places in Central India. To us, it was paradise on earth. After passing High School in 1952, I studied at Hamidia College for three months and then left for Pakistan via Khokhra Par. Since all admissions in colleges in Karachi had already been completed, I could not find a place that year, so I turned my hand to shorthand and typing instead. The latter became very useful to me in later years, but the shorthand I never practiced.

After completing a B.Sc. degree from D.J. Sind Government Science College, I joined government service as Inspector of Weights and Measures. It was a somewhat interesting and easy job and I came to know the whole of Karachi and its suburbs well. In 1961 I decided to go to Berlin Technical University for higher technical education. All I had in my pocket was an admission letter, a one-way ticket and 30 Pounds Sterling. I first went to Dusseldorf, where I had secured a place to complete the required 6-months’ technical training to start my course and to learn the German language. It was the most difficult time of my life – the weather was cold and dark, there were no English newspapers generally available, no English programmes on TV, films were dubbed in German, hardly anyone spoke English and there seemed no other Pakistanis around either. Consequently, within a few weeks I was terribly homesick. Every Sunday I would trek out to the railway station to buy the voluminous Sunday Observer, London; at least it was a bit lively around the station. The English paper would keep me occupied in the evenings the whole week when I was not going to German lessons. During all this time my ex-colleagues in Karachi were continuously asking me to come back. One day I saw a job advertised for a science teacher at a Grammar School in Benin City, Nigeria. I immediately sent off an application with copies of my certificates and received an appointment letter after just two weeks. The salary was good and the job came together with a furnished bungalow and an advance for a car. There were also two months’ home leave every two years with fare paid. My younger sister, who was very close to me, suggested it would be better not to return to Pakistan without the possibilities a further degree would offer. She was not adverse to the idea of me going out to Nigeria. In those days many Pakistanis were going to Nigeria and Ghana – they were English-speaking countries and they liked Pakistanis.

Before departing for Nigeria I thought I should at least visit the university where I had meant to study and to meet Prof.Dr. H. Stark, Head of Foreign Student Affairs and Professor of Mathematics. I had already exchanged many letters with him, first from Pakistan and later while doing my practical training in Dusseldorf. As gifts, I had taken a white marble model of the Taj Mahal and an onyx plate with semi-precious stones in the shape of flowers. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to consider that it was Saturday and the university was closed! I went to his residence, but was informed there that he was out of town. I then gave the lady at the house (presumably his wife) the gifts to present to him together with the note explaining why I was about to leave for Nigeria. After 4 or 5 days I received an express letter from Prof. Stark (I still have that letter) requesting me to meet him at Bonn airport after 3 days as he was going to Paris and had 2 hours there to change planes. I was to go to the Lufthansa counter and ask the hostess to call his name over the announcement system. Immediately after the announcement was made he appeared by my side, took me to a table, ordered coffee and said: “Now…….” Dr. Stark was about 5’10” tall and handsome with blonde hair and he spoke English fluently. After hearing me out he said: “Mr. Khan, you have come a long way to study in Berlin after a long correspondence with me. The decision is yours, but mark my words: once you are living as a teacher, you will retire as a teacher and die as a teacher. Once you leave Germany, you will repent all your life that you came all the way to the river and then did not drink the water. There are many foreign students in Berlin (about 25% of the total) and once you join us, you will forget all this tough time. You show me progress in your studies and I will give you a scholarship.” He sounded so convincing, genuine, interested and sympathetic that I promised him I would write to the Nigerian Grammar School and join the university after one month when the new semester began. I could see that he was genuinely pleased. We shook hands and he said he would see me soon in Berlin.

This visit and the genuine, interest shown by Prof. Stark proved to be my fate. It changed the complete course my life was to take. I became convinced that this was the right course to take and mentally prepared to go all out for my studies. Image what would have happened if he had not written back to me or not taken the trouble to meet me at Bonn airport or not been such a warm, genuinine personality!

I did find many foreign students in Berlin and lived in a hostel together with many of them. They were mostly from India and Iran. There was only one other Pakistani, Akhtar Ali, who studied electronics and we soon became firm friends. He is now retired and lives in California with his family. We still keep in contact regularly.

Posted on Jan 31, 17 | 12:59 pm