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Prof Imtiaz Ahmad misses the blue sky and star-moon gazing of his childhood

Rita Farhat Mukand

Professor Imtiaz Ahmad, former Director of the Khuda Bakhsh Library and Professor of History at Patna University, Bihar, commenced his academic journey as a Lecturer in History at T.N.B. College, Bhagalpur. His teaching tenure expanded to Patna University (1979-2004) and as Guest Faculty at Assam Administrative Staff College, Guwahati (1985-97). Notable for his scholarly contributions, he chaired significant historical conferences and held pivotal roles in esteemed academic and cultural institutions.

Summer Break Nostalgia

Prof Ahmad’s affiliations include esteemed bodies such as the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). He served on various committees, shaping curriculum frameworks and contributing to the preservation of cultural heritage.

Authoring and editing numerous publications, including contributions to renowned academic journals, Professor Ahmad’s intellectual footprint is significant. His editorial stewardship of the Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal and guest editorship of the Journal of Indian History underscore his dedication to academic discourse.

During his tenure at the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library as the Director, Professor Ahmad spearheaded initiatives to preserve cultural artifacts, facilitating the inscription of the Tarikh-e Khandan-e Timuriyah in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. His efforts towards manuscript digitization marked a pivotal advancement in library preservation practices.

Imtiaz Ahmad plucking tea leaves with his mother

His engagements extended globally, collaborating with institutions like the American Centre in Kolkata, and participating in international seminars and programs. Notably, his contributions to fostering Indo-Pakistani relations during a delegation led by Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, reflect on his multifaceted role in diplomacy and cultural exchange.

Awaz-the Voice spoke with Professor Imtiaz Ahmad,  particularly focusing on his memories of his childhood holidays to draw out the charm of the past:  Excerpts

How do you recall your childhood holiday memories?

I was born and brought up in Patna at our ancestral home in the old part of the city.  We lived in an extended family where our cousins and second cousins lived in the same compound in a large sprawling haveli-structured home.

As a child, during the holidays, all would have a marvelous time together.  Our vacations were long with endless fun and games and travel.  In Patna, there was a large field where we played cricket and football. On winter evenings we played badminton which I was quite good at.  Ten to twelve of us used to mobilize our resources to purchase a small silver cup and whoever won the game would get the trophy cup.  It brought us hours of unbridled joy.  I must also add that during those days, the burden of school was not that heavy, and we were not saddled with holiday homework and projects to the point that we could not enjoy our holidays.  We would, even during school days have the evenings for ourselves.  During the holidays, we relished indoor games such as carom, chess, Chinese checkers, and cards which was one of our favourite pastimes and very popular.  

Our exhilaratingly long vacations brought us to places in the summer such as Darjeeling, Mussoorie, Shimla, and other hill stations while another fantastic place we visited during our Puja holidays was Kolkata which I was enthralled by. We would all go to my father’s aunt’s place. She would take good care of us for 10 days. Occasionally, we would travel to Kolkata during the Christmas and New Year seasons.  Kolkata during those days would be glittering with lights with season festivities glowing in the air and there was a spirit of jubilation all around.  In the certain area where we lived, there were a few Christian families and other communities.

Imtiaz Ahmad with his brother

During my school days and holidays, I developed another interest where every Sunday and more during holidays, I would type out a news bulletin of two sides, one would have the major occurrences in the house or the neighbourhood, and the other page was political news.  I used to listen to the BCC and All India News and try to catch something interesting, type it out below make turn it into a very small editorial. Spurred on by my father and uncles, I engrossed myself in a hobby that would one day lead to publishing a column in Hindustan Times.  During those days, I would mail my news bulletin to my uncle in the States monthly with all four papers, two other uncles and my father would also purchase that sheet for 5 paisa, good enough for me to collect my paper and carbon as I used to type out three or four carbon copies. 

It was a healthy enjoyable engagement which I was more involved in during the holidays and would bring out two pages with special editions. Later on, Hindustan Times Patna Edition introduced a page called Career Corner and asked me to do that page where we published articles, etc for printed one page for the civil service aspirants.  As Bihar was a place well-known for the youth trying their luck with civil services, this became instantly popular and my advantage was after I had joined college I was engaged in coaching classes for the civil service aspirants in one or two centers. With that experience, I was able to put good inputs into that page.  One particular day, the editor told me they had printed extra copies as there was a huge demand for that column called Career Corner.

We come from a long line of family academics, glad to tell you that if I count my daughter as well, five successive generations studied at Patna University from my great-grandfather, grandfather, father, me, to my daughter, and I grew up in the aroma of paper, books in a rich academic atmosphere.  Though I was not a very studious child the environment was such that even as a child, I was reading books, such as Urdu detective series, Urdu magazines for children, read English history books, Robinson Crusoe was a favourite, Treasure Island, Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens, and Shakespearian dramas.  I relished reading and did visit libraries sometimes visited the British Council Library and the American Library.  ,

That was amazing, what are the particular highlights of any memories of your childhood home during the holidays?

We lived in that old large haveli-styled house with a lot of open spaces around it with an angan or courtyard so during the summer evenings, we would sprinkle water around to make it cool and then spend the evenings in that courtyard lying on cots or sit on chairs, where we would lie back and indulge in sky gazing to watch the bright stars shimmering in the sky,  so clear that I can still visualize those stars from my memory of those days and would stare in wonder at the full moon.  In comparison, now, we can hardly see the skies though we have a lot of trees and flowers around us.  We always connect with nature as children as the children of today hardly see the sky or get sunlight as most people live in flats.  Now, that is lost, we live in this concrete jungle where there is hardly any greenery, hardly see the sky so this is a very negative change.

Prof. Imtiaz Ahmad with his wife and children

What difference do you see between your childhood holidays and the holidays of the children today?

We are a close-knit family.  My mother who lives with us is 90 years old and enjoys the company of her grandchildren while my father passed away earlier. We had the advantage of having our grandparents living with us, unlike the children of today.  They would read stories or converse with us.  I remember as a child, we children would huddle together on our large diwan listening wide-eyed to my grandfather’s stories and also enjoying discussing things together.  Today, children don’t have the presence of their grandparents, or cousins and the only source is the parents and they too are busy so the child is neglected and that is very sad and their holidays are long, boring and lonely for many children.

My children before the mobile era would play games like Carom, ludo, and Chinese checkers. I did not allow them to play chess or cards. We used to travel 30 kilometers from Patna to see ancient historical relics.  I have three children, one daughter passed away, I now have my eldest son, and my third daughter who is now a German teacher.  As children, the two sisters used to play House-House where they would concoct a little house, and cook some things while later, their brother would come and rob their food, causing a lot of confusion, where they would fight and then settle down. This was their little fun.  Later, during their teenage years, they got addicted to computers and mobiles.  By the time my children grew up, the family splintered so that large field was out of the picture and they would play indoor games more often.  Other children in the locality would play in a common field.  My son used to play cricket with the children and is a good bowler.  Now, children are latched onto their mobiles and computer games.

The children of today I feel are losing their childhood and the art of enjoying holidays due to their hectic schedules of their schools.  Early in the morning during winter, even in the dark of dawn, children are hoarded into their school bus riding through bad rocky roads, caught up in smothering traffic jams, and have to go to the suburbs in the newly springing schools.  Children have to travel for many kilometers to school and come back at around sunset or maybe a little earlier, completely drained out, and then with no respite, have to slog over the homework, and they have to go for tuition too.  Among the Muslims, there is a compulsion to give religious instructions to read the Quran and the Maulvi would come over. 

..And that homework…


Prof Imtiaz Ahmad

During the holidays, the children are straddled with a huge volume of homework and there are projects to make, so they are constantly immersed in their studies.  The joy that we enjoyed during our holidays is missing today with the children of today.  Another thing I notice is children need more attention from their parents.  We have reached a situation where the parents hardly have time for the children and even when the child is at home, the parents are busy with their normal chores or if they are working, they are exhausted after coming back from the office to give much time to the children.  So children are now hooked more to playing games on the mobile or watching certain channels on the mobile, and TV also now is slightly outdated while mobile is the in thing for children.  

I feel many parents should encourage their children to connect with nature during the holidays, picking up even a pot, indoor plants, or potted flowers to spark that attachment with nature.  We know about the environmental problems we have so unless children connect with nature, they will never have environmental concerns, keeping the children happy, and engaged making them aware of the concerns that they can face later, is educative and recreational for the child.

What advice can you give to the parents of today as to how they could spend holidays with their children?

My wife, Farzana sacrificed her life for our daughter, a quality I greatly admire her for, and she chose to be a housewife due to my daughter’s debilitating illness which eventually took her life at the age of 22 after she completed her intermediate through the correspondence course.  I used to take her to school in a wheelchair.  During college, in those days, there was hardly anything for specially-abled people, if the class was on the first floor, we could not carry her in the wheelchair, only stairs.  The results came out a week or so after she passed away.  As a baby, the child needed tube feedings such that we could not in those stages go out for functions or marriage patterns with our eye on the clock due to her feeding timings.  When my daughter died, my wife was shattered; not knowing how she could go on, but time is the best healer.

Investing in your children is always a blessing, especially taking children out for a picnic outing.  I read once about an imminent lady who when asked what was the best moment in her life, replied, “When I was a small child, one night during the holidays, I was travelling with my father in a car and as we were driving along the road in the night, there were a lot of fireflies dancing over the grassy foliage and trees, I asked my father whether I could get down and catch some of them.  Although my father was in a hurry, he paused and said go, and I stayed there for about ten or fifteen minutes collecting all the fireflies I could.  I will never forget that moment or the love and exuberance of my father at that moment, taking trouble for me out of his busy schedule.”  Parents don’t have time for their children so they take them out of a grueling routine.  The children need to find some time, particularly during the holidays when they can just go out for a walk, sit idle, relax, read good books, try to play outdoor games, aim to be closer to nature, have picnics, and visit a resort.  I always say that a personal trip is far more enjoyable than a school trip which is on a strict routine schedule where the teachers keep rushing them from one spot to another, in a tightly monitored grip.  I tell parents, “Get them out of the concrete jungle.”

ALSO READNajma Hepthullah remembers climbing fruit trees and fishing in pond

The other day, I was listening to Javed Akhtar during a TV interview who said that people now say that there is no mention of nature in the songs that we write but the problem is nature is no longer in our lives anymore, so how do we write about something that is not there in our life?”  

Rita Farhat Mukand is an independent writer

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