Hockey Olympian Zafar Iqbal treads back to his days at his alma mater Aligarh Muslim University where he honed his sporting skills

School and college days can never be erased from your memories. The concluding phase of the school and the formative period of the college are ever so exciting. I studied at the Zakir Husain College of Engineering and Technology College, which is located within the huge Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) campus. I was a student there from 1973 to 1978.

We stayed within the campus because my father (Mohammad Shahabudin Ahmed) was professor of Organic Chemistry in the AMU. He became the Dean later. We lived in the University quarters and I grew up in the finest of environment that one could imagine.

I must confess, I was a prankster even in college. I enjoyed my escapades, bunking classes, plucking mangoes, stealing lemons and guavas; the owner would not allow us and we would not relent, scaling walls and boundaries, fleeing when seen. It was great fun. The campus had many such tempting spots. It went on till I was in the second year of college. And then, we had to stop because life became so serious.

Well, I still remember the first day at college. I remember reporting in trepidation. Ragging was so furious. It stopped in the later years. I had a strict father who did not permit sports at the cost of education. I was playing a lot even when I was at college but studying too. Rising at 4.30 a.m. and training till 6.30 a.m. I had to rush always because the first class would begin at 7.40. a.m. and I had to quickly bathe, grab bread and tea and rush to college. It was a taxing routine for five years as I attended classes and hockey camps too.

I played Combined Universities and Tests against Holland (at Nagpur and Bombay) in 1977. There was a World Cup (Argentina) camp in Delhi which affected my studies. I was still at college when I played the World Cup and the Asian Games (Bangkok) in 1978. It was tough catching up with studies. My attendance fell short and I faced the worry of missing my exams. But Prof A. M. Khusro was a caring Vice Chancellor. He was a member of the Planning Commission too in later years and went on the Lahore yatra with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I was fortunate to be on that trip too. Prof. Khuso was a very dynamic person and as a special case I was allowed to sit for exams.

For three months, I put away my hockey stick and had just textbooks for company. Moinal Haq, a topper, prepared me for the exams. I got help from Prof. Zillur Rehman, son-in-law of President Zakir Husain. My fellow students also took interest in helping me because I was playing for India. I got 76 per cent in the exams which was a distinction. I was so happy not to have let down my father.

My college offered co-education and we had two girl students in our class — Sushila (from the city) and Rizv, who was a relative of a professor. In engineering, we never had girl students before our batch. We had a batch of 35 and half of them were non-Muslims. We never had any problems. There were riots elsewhere but never on the campus and I am proud of it.

There was no dress code but everyone was smartly attired, mostly sherwani and pyjama. It was normal. It has changed now. But the most striking feature today is the absence of respectful greetings (salaam or pranaam). We used to unerringly greet our elders and teachers, stop to allow them to pass; if a teacher was walking we would dismount from the bicycle. A lot has changed but the current VC (Lt. Gen. Zameer Uddin Shah) is trying to revive these traditions of respect. He loves sports and the AMU now has an astro-turf for hockey.

What a great library (named after Maulana Abul Kamal Azad) AMU has! I used to visit the library regularly. It has more than 11 lakh books. I can never forget the canteen even though it had only tea and bread to offer. The students hardly paid the canteen owner. The tea would come in a white ceramic pot and we would keep adding hot water to the tea leaves. Even the grocer would wait months for his payments.

My wife (Fauzia) studied BSc (chemistry) at the Abdulla Girls College. Her father (Saleem Siddiqui) taught chemistry at the AMU. I did not have time for cultural activities but the theatre at the campus was good. It produced Naseeruddin Shah. I loved the Kennedy Hall, without a pillar, with a seating capacity of 1400.

My lasting memory of college days is striving for milk and egg after the hockey training; one egg and a glass of milk. We would watch from the corner of the eye who would the captain pick. It was his prerogative. You don’t know how much we valued that prize of milk and egg. It was like some divine fruit, no mineral water, no juice. Water would come in a pail with plastic glasses. Those were wonderful and unforgettable days, all because of hockey or else you wouldn’t be talking to me.

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