By Assad Bhuglah
When I passed the Standard VI examination in 1964, my father was very anxious and inquisitive as to which college would be appropriate for me. My village did not yet have a college of recognized standard. My surroundings at home had mentally prepared me to opt for a college in Port Louis where my cousin had just completed HSC and had subsequently joined its teaching staff. However, my cousin convinced my father to try another institution, the Islamic Cultural College, which was reputed for its good performance in SC exams, exemplary discipline and fully equipped laboratories. In those days, the dearth of experimental laboratories had prevented many colleges to offer science subjects.
Admission to Islamic college was not an automatic process. After the screening of the Standard VI results by the college, the candidates were invited to sit for an entrance examination. Once you were selected, your responsible party was interviewed by the Management of the institution to ensure that the rules of the college would be abided and, more importantly, the monthly tuition fees would be paid in time.
Indeed, discipline was exemplary at the college. The discipline master, the late Mr Bacor, was the one who ran the show. He was dreaded and despised by the students but very much respected and liked by our parents. He controlled the attendance and monitored the journals of each student. The journals gave weekly reports of our conduct, progress and shortcomings. The students were required to show the journals to their parents every weekend. Mr Bacor would ensure that the journals had indeed been seen and initialled by our responsible parties.
In addition to the academic pursuit, the college was alert to unfolding of events at national and international levels. I recall that in 1966, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam was invited as Chief Guest to the Prize Giving Ceremony at the college. I remember he made reference to ‘independence’, a notion which was abstract to our young minds. Needless to say that Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam was one of the privileged ‘neighbours’ of our college; and he came to our function by foot from his residence at the then Desforges Street.
I also remember that following an official visit of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and Sir Abdul Razack Mohammed to Egypt in 1965, there was lot of echo of this mission at our college. I still remember that the entire staff and students were brought to cinema hall to watch a documentary film on Egypt. We also received books, magazines, Arabic language manuals and cassttes.
The tradition of maintaining contacts beyond the shore of Mauritius was an inborn trait of our college. The foundation stone of the college is a constant reminder of the Pakistani connection. H.E S. M. Afzal, High Commissioner of Pakistan to British East Africa based in Dar es Salaam, travelled all the way to honour the foundation stone-laying ceremony.
The walls of the college, if ever they could speak, would have many anecdotes to narrate: the folklore of Plaine Verte garden, the political and cultural manifestations in the vicinity, the refugees of the 1968 riots, assaults by tear-gas etc, In fact, in 1969 when we were getting out of the college, we were caught in a street blockade caused by a political riot: political activists and policemen were in encounter. A bullet of tear-gas hit my right ear. I was instantly rescued by a barber who pulled me inside his ‘salon’ and immersed my eyes with plenty of water.
I also have a vivid memory of our daily incursions to Bismillah Palace during the morning breaks. This traditional tea-shop, owned by Dad, a popular figure of Plaine Verte, was the centre of ‘information’ for teachers and students of the college. All around its walls photos of key world leaders were hang: king Farouk, president Nasser, King Feisal, Kamal Pasha, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Ayub Khan, Dr Mohammad Iqbal, Yasser Arafat ...At a time when Internet did not exist and when penetration of television was insignificant among the mass, there would be always someone at the teashop to give full account of latest world news gleaned from BBC and the radios from Cairo, Pakistan and All-India. One could imagine the craze for information at a time when the communication system was old fashioned and poorly serviced. Here at this teashop, we witnessed the frequent visits of Paul Berenger, clad in black leather jacket. Dada would pride himself being the right hand of the leader of MMM. We, students, would relish the ‘secret’ tips leaked to us by Dada.
Among our teachers, there were many who gave the best of themselves in moulding our minds and character. The person who made deep impression on our minds was, no doubt, the Principal of the college, late Tayab Hossenbux. He remained very close to students. He would lecture lengthily on history, politics and world affairs. He talked exuberantly about Churchill, Napoleon, Nasser, Tito, Nehru, Sukarno, Nkruma, Gandhi, Jinnah, Henry Kissinger & his Ping Pong diplomacy, the apartheid and of course the Palestine.
The students of our college were very sensitive to the Palestinian cause. Following the setback suffered by the Palestinians in the Arab-Israel war, some local newspapers had mounted a crescendo of pro-Zionist articles to discredit the Palestinian cause. At our college, we were pained and irritated by this Zionist propaganda. Our teacher of French language, Mr Sulliman, set up a ‘reflexion group’ to refute those articles. Five of us, namely Fouad Juddoo, Sultan Sohawon, Farook Ruhomally, Zuveir Hateea and myself were given special assignment to research and collect articles, books and magazines from city libraries and other sources (Internet was not yet born). I remember our group had written a series of four articles which were published in Le Mauricien in order to demolish the arguments of our antagonist.
The exposure of our ‘reflexion group’ in the local press induced us to get more involved in literary and cultural activities of the college. We got deeply attached to the cause of the college, its progress and public image. When our group joined the form VI class, we wanted to publish a souvenir magazine. We spent quite a lot of energy in that project and were encouraged by our teachers particularly My Kamil Ramoly and Mr Boodhoo. But in vain. Not yet in the age of Internet, the dummy of the magazine was entirely hand-written. At hindsight, I could imagine that the old printing technology and lack of typing facilities were the major hurdles that prevented us from realizing the magazine. The frustration of not being able to realize this project, coupled with other grievances (shortcomings in the laboratories, library, canteen, playground) pushed the students to write a petition to the Management of the college. In absence of any response, the students held a manifestation in 1971 in front of the college. The Management was taken by surprise because never such kind of protest had happened in its history. It was purely an internal matter. Unfortunately, the intensity of our manifestation was magnified by parents of a dozen of low-performing students who were dis-enrolled from the college. Outside elements had hijacked and misrepresented our cause. They wanted to label it with a political colour. This incident was splashed in the local newspaers to the stupefaction of our parents. I recall that ring leaders of our group were convened at an urgent meeting on a Saturday morning in the Office of the Permanent Secretary, Mr Frank Richard in presence of Mr Mamad Joomaye. We were severely reprimanded. For the first time we heard the word ‘leftist’ attributed to us. From thereon, we sensed that the Management never forgave us for all the well-intentioned actions we wanted to do in favour of the college. Perhaps, Mr Hassen Heerah was the only exception who believed in our potentials….