O’ Sufi, Practice Love Because Mathematics is Difficult: Story By M. Gill

Ishq Baazi Kun Keh Sufi Mathematics Mushkal Ast

Sufi’s real name was Muhammad Afzal. I met him for the first time when I went to Islamia College, Railway Road, Lahore, for my Faculty of Science (F.Sc.) education in 1951. I met him in the mathematics class. He had registered in Faculty of Arts (F.A.) with mathematics as one of his selected subjects. For me, mathematics was compulsory because I had registered in Non-medical (Engineering) course.

He just walked over to me and introduced himself. He was a plain-looking and darkish-complexioned lad who did not have a strand of hair on his face. I was also a lad myself but I had started shaving my face a couple of times a week. He always had a broad smile, showing gleaming white teeth, spread over his face. And he had a very informal and casual way of speaking.

I don’t know why I am writing about him in past tense; he may still be alive and sharing his smiles and friendly speech with others. Maybe, the past tense is appropriate because I am reminiscing about the past. I met him in 1951 so it’s more than fifty years back. In spite of his rustic and somewhat dehqaani appearance, he had something special about him. He had a kind of nameless, magnetic, even though ever so slight, attraction for others. We used to meet at least once every college day. He had a friendly openness in his bearing while I was kind of aloof and reserve.

One day, in the mathematics class, he took my book of Trigonometry and scrawled the line ‘ Ishq baazi kun keh Sufi mathematics mushkal ast’ on the fly-leaf. I asked him why he was so lackadaisical about the teacher’s lecture to which he paid little attention. In his typical dehqaani style, he said, ‘ Yaara (my friend), it’s so boring.’ The teacher also, who was quite stern about correct form and good discipline in the class, was forgiving where Sufi was concerned. Sufi told me later that the teacher took lessons in Persian from him in preparation for his CSP (Civil Service of Pakistan) examination.

Another friend told me an interesting story about Sufi. When he went to the College Bazm-e-Adab meeting for the first time, which was attended by the college bigwigs and luminaries like Professor Ilm-uddin- Saliq, Allama Ala-ud-Din Siddiqi, who later became Vice-Chancellor of the Punjab University, and others, he was scheduled to read a ghazal in the proceedings. Since he was still a nonentity and a mere sophomore (first year student), he was placed last on the program. When he was called for presenting his ghazal, he started his Persian ghazal with complete confidence. Nobody in the audience expected a Persian ghazal from him because he was just fresh from high school and level of Persian comprehension at the high school stage was really elementary. And his poetry had weight and depth. There was a demand for re-read of each verse that he read. At the end, a professor requested him to read another of his ghazals. Sufi opened his bayaz and started the second ghazal. The audience was spellbound. After he finished reading his ghazal, there was a request for another one. Sufi ceased to be a nonentity there and then.

Time came for us to take our final examinations. He topped in the university because F.A. in my times used to be the university examination. After the results, Sufi came to see me at my house. There were several Persian books of poetry and prose lying around. One of my elder brothers was preparing for the Munshi Faazal examination and used those books for preparation, although he didn’t take the examination. Sufi could recite several ghazals in those books from his memory. And some of those books were prescribed text books in the M.A. coursework. During our conversation, he asked me about my plans. I said, I was going for the engineering degree although my heart was in mathematics. He asked me why I was not going for a higher degree in mathematics. I said, what would I do after doing my M.A. in mathematics? I wouldn’t be able to earn a reasonable and dignified livelihood teaching mathematics. My reasons for going for engineering were pragmatic and purely mundane.

I asked him about his plans. He said, ‘ You know my interests. I’m going where my heart is.’ I said, ‘ Sufi, you’ve already read all those books. You will be wasting your time by regurgitating the stuff that you know by heart.’ In the end, he went his way and I took my highway leading to a degree in engineering. Afterwards, I lost touch with Sufi; that was my last meeting with him. But I kept on hearing about him, off and on, and his mystique, which though so opaque and dull, dazzled many people.

Many years later, one of my other friends, Muhammad Ahmad, who had taken an M.A. (Sociology) and was a Lecturer at the Government College, Lahore, told me another episode about Sufi. One day, he was with his Principal in his (Principal’s) office on some official business, when he noticed a man dressed in a loose green robe standing at the threshold. On closely looking at him, Ahmad recognized Sufi and was about to greet him with a typical Punjabi gaali when he realized the awkwardness of the situation. At about the same time, the Principal (I’m forgetting his name) also saw Sufi. So Ahmad quietly greeted Sufi and inquired about him the conventional way. The Principal got up from his chair and walked toward Sufi to greet him. He walked Sufi back and sat him in his chair. He then stood beside Ahmad who excused himself momentarily and walked out of his office. Ahmad did not see Sufi after his meeting with the Principal. He described the Principal’s humble and respectful posture toward Sufi to me quite distinctly.

I had also come to know that his parents had arranged a marriage for him when Sufi was still a student and working for his B.A. without consulting him. Sufi had politely explained to his parents that he was not ready for marriage yet but the parents wanted to go along with the ceremony anyhow. He spent the night of the ceremony at a mosque. I do not know if he ever came around marrying and raising a family.

I do not know if he is alive or has merged with the unity of his creator. He was a unique person in as much as I knew him. I was quite different in my outlook toward life from him even in those days but I did not have the benefit of maturity that I now have (I think). Although I am not a poet, I would like to change his line to read as follows:

Ishq baazi tarak Sufi, mathematics khush-tar ast.

Abandon indulgence in love Sufi, mathematics is more beautiful.




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