By Iftikhar Hussain Jazib
Nationalised in 1973, Qandil High school for the Blinds Rawalpindi was established in 1958 as a private institute for the education and vocational training of visually impaired Pakistanis. Mr. Ghulam Murtaza Abbasi was enrolled as a student in 1959, after completing his education, he joined it as a teacher. Hence, his stay at Qandil School comprises of 49 glorious years of its history. According to his recollections, the school was established by a Miss Fayson, her father was a Deputy Commissioner in British India, she went back to UK after its nationalisation in 1973. A founding member, the first principal of the school was Saeeda Habib Farooqi, Mrs. Lt General (retd) SMA Farooqi, an Ophthalmologist. Baigam Farooqi vitalised the education of visually impaired students with great devotion and many national and international dignitaries visited this school under her leadership. The school was shifting places until it was permanently housed at a Hindu Temple Kalyan Das in Kohati Bazar.
Abbasi was an English teacher at the school with a magnificent training for teaching English. He recalls that some British and American teachers were attached with Qandil School and an Irish lady Jane became his friend, she would frequently took him to diplomatic events, an enjoyment and opportunity to develop eloquence in English. The chances to move in high society put him a position for high achievements for the rights of persons with disabilities in Pakistan, he believes. Indeed, his splendid picture gallery is its illustration, he was having meetings with Presidents, Prime ministers and foreign ambassadors for the cause of welfare of persons with Disabilities.
For me, the roll of sir Abbasi is quite significant, perhaps I am writing these lines due to his brilliant English teaching skills. He advised me to listen to a programme of BBC Urdu service, “Professor Grammar” to learn better English. In that pursuit, I developed a habit to listen all the broadcasts of BBC when I was just a student of primary class at the school, a catalyst for developing expertise in national politics and international relations.
Another unique highlight of Sir Abbasi is his marriage to an alumnus of Qandil School, Mrs. Shahida Tanwir. She did Masters in Islamic Studies and became a teacher at Qandil School. Sir Abbasi and Madam Shahida were great teachers at school and generous hosts at their home for all the students. She is currently in-charge of Govt Girls High School for the Blind Rawalpindi where around 88 visually impaired girls are receiving education under her leadership. My closeness to this family was influenced by my father who was very impressed by the fascinating personality of MR. Abbasi among my teachers.
Abdul Jabbar was our science teacher at the school, he was also a student of the same school. All the students loved him for his expertise in electronics, he could tune FM radios to PTV’s audio frequency, a major amusement for us. We always looked for his advice on buying radios, recording, and playing equipment.
Perhaps, his major contribution for the students of Qandil School is the distribution of JAWS, a screen reader for computers that provides full command to visually impaired persons in all the software environments. I also got my first copy of JAWS from Sir Jabbar in 2002. And it is pertinent to mention here that I am writing this article in MS Word on my laptop with the support of JAWS.
For sure, the most lovable teacher for all the students was late Iftikhar Shaheen. He was Braille teacher, a touch-based reading and writing system for visually impaired persons. His teaching method was very unique for its necessity, he would involve parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts of the students for Braille training. For me, it was quite a joy to see my father learning Urdu and English alphabets in Braille from Sir Shaheen. His devotion was such that he was even teaching Braille after many years of his retirement from the service, and he hired a Quran teacher for the students for their proper religious education.
A Hafiz e Quran, late Latifur Rehman was our maths teacher and a literary person in the school. A kind of human computer, he could solve complex math questions orally up to 7th grade. All the literary taste that I have got is a gift from sir Latif. After appearing in my matriculation exams, I went to school to see my teachers. Mr. Latif suggested me, instead of wasting time, get the membership of Rawalpindi Municipal Library, Liaquat Bagh and prescribe me a list of high-value books in Urdu literature. Fortunately, I acted accordingly and that study remains an advantage for me in many respects.
Another amazing personality of Qandil High School for Blinds was late Mr. Liaquat Abbasi. During our times, the only option for blind students to appear in board exams was with a writer, 1 grade junior in education. It was very difficult to arrange a writer at that time with that condition as all the school exams commence simultaneously in March. This problem remained his utmost concern at the school.
He was an M.A in Special Education, despite meeting the government criterion, Special Education Department was not appointing him as principal, discrimination on the ground of his visual impairment. He made a long legal strive and finally got the justice from Supreme Court of Pakistan. However, his first day as principal of Qandil was a very fateful day, he had organised a Milaad, the moment he completed his speech on Prophet (PBUH), the angel of death finished his job, may his soul rest in eternal peace.
When I was a student, Qandil institute was the only secondary school for the visually impaired boys in the region comprising AJK, KP, and North Punjab, and some students from central and south Punjab also selected it for their education for its high repute. It is the devotion and hard work of teachers that Qandil High School remains a high seat of learning for the visually impaired students, who are artisans, Ph.D. scholars, university professors, government officials, and lawyers in Pakistan. And teachers with the same vigour are wanted in the special education department to maintain the standard of education, a challenge looking us in the eye.
The writer can be reached at Twitter @radiant_j_007