An Engineer Remembers Dr. Abdus Salam
In May 1940 the Punjabmatriculation examination results were announced. The head master of Qadian high school was holding the paper that listed names of all the (Grade 10) students. The head master was surrounded by scores of students who were eager to know their marks. The head master was replying to each student one at a time.
There was a man standing not too far from the head master who asked: Who has topped this exam? With a slight chagrin the head master replied someone by the name of Abdus Salam fromGovernmentHigh School, Jhang. The man sighed deeply and in a loud voice said: I expected this of him, Alhamdolillah, Abdus Salam is my son.
The man who asked this question was Chaudhry Muhammad Hussain, father of Dr Abdus Salam. He belonged to the Ahmadiyya community and was visiting Qadian at the time. By profession he was a Head Clerk in the department of Education, office of Inspector of Schools,Multan. My own father was a teacher in a High school in Gojra (District Lyllpur) and knew Muhammad Hussain belonging to the city ofJhang. My father used to tell me that Chaudhry Muhammad Hussain was a distant relative of ours.
In December 1945 after completing my degree in civil engineering I was appointed Sub Divisional Officer in the department of Canals,Multan. Here I got to know and frequently met Chaudhry M. Hussain which developed into family like relations.
Chaudhry Muhammad Hussain was obsessed with the idea that buffalo milk can make a child dull whereas cow’s milk can increase the brain power of a student. Accordingly he kept two cows in the backyard of his house. The cow which gave milk was kept at his house while that did’t, was sent to my farm which was located at a distance of 5 miles fromMultan. I used to keep the dry cow until such time that she was ready to deliver her calf. This accorded me many opportunities to meet Abdus Salam.
Chaudhry Muhammad Hussain once told me that once Abdus Salam developed typhoid fever in his childhood. This fever had no cure in those days, except that the patient was given soda water and lots of milk to drink. Normally this fever would have a side effect on the patient, however, this fever proved to be a blessing for Abdus Salam as his memory increased exponentially. He memorized many of the Urdu and English books. He could shell out answers to various math questions spontaneously.
Because of his exceptional memory power, he stood first in province wide Vernacular Final exam (Grade 8). When in 1940 Abdus Salam gave the matriculation exam, his teachers and parents firmly believed that not only would he top the exam but will break all previous records. As expected he received 751 out of 850 marks, thus breaking all previous records, and mind you this new record was not broken for a long time.
Abdus Salam stood first in F.A. / B.A. / and later M.A. exams. This is an outstanding record which was not set by anyone else in the history of University. OfPunjab. The point is any exam he sat in, he invariably topped it.
When Abdus Salam was preparing for his BA exam, he related to me two very interesting incidents. First one relates to the mathematical formulas of math genius fromMadras, Srinavasan Ramanujan. While studying for BA he was enrolled in Math honors. Ramanujan used to say that he devises these formulas through intuition. Accordingly many of his formulas were correct without any mathematical proof. Abdus Salam started on one of the mathematical problems and found its proof in a short time. This was an outstanding feat for any mathematician. The professors ofGovernmentCollege,Lahorewere delighted at this and informed the mathematicians ofOxfordandCambridgeuniversities. Even the professors in British universities were bowled over. Everyone was impressed with this young prodigy.
The second incident relates to Professor Siraj. When Abdus Salam was a student atGovernmentCollege, Professor Siraj was teaching English there. He
was very proud of his proficiency in English and used to flaunt about it. He had passed his BA exam with English honours. One day during the lecture he said boastfully: I set the record in English honours which no one has broken yet. One day students were discussing this on their dinner table, including Abdus Salam. Next day Salam registered himself for English honours. His fellow students reminded him that he was already enrolled in Math honours, and to study English honours on top of that will create hardship for him. Salam replied: Prof Siraj has thrown a challenge at us, and I have accepted this. In the end Salam broke his teachers record which itself was not broken for a long time. Incidentally he set a record in Math honours as well.
Professor Siraj never forgot this incident. After finishing his tripos I Cambrdige, Salam returned to his homeland now calledPakistan. Because of his extraordinary intelligence and his degrees in mathematics, he was appointed professor and head of the mathematics department inGovernmentCollege,Lahore. By this time Professor Siraj had become principal of the college. The senior professors at the college did not appreciate that such a young man was appointed head of the department, and Prof Siraj had not forgotten the incident. Soon conspiracies were hatched against Salam.
There was an international conference being held inBombay, and Salam had received an invitation to attend it. He received oral approval for leave from Prof Siraj to attend the conference. While Salam was attending the conference inBombay, he received a telegram from the Principal which stated that Ministry of Education had declined his request for leave, therefore he should report back for work immediately.
Salam did not deem it fit to leave the conference and returned soon afterwards. Upon arrival inLahorehe was reprimanded severely by the Principal. He got so disgusted with the situation that he informed his professor inCambridgeof the whole sordid situation. Then he requested someone atCambridgethat a letter be sent to Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Bogra that Salam should sent to Great Britian in order to fully capitalize his potential. When Mr Bogra visitedLahorehe was impressed with Salam and granted him permission to go toCambridge.
My travel to London
Few years after his arrival in theUK, Salam was made full professor of mathematics at Imperial College London, at age 35. This was such a unique distinction that not a single British professor had been honoured in such a way up to this time. Indeed it was a magnificent achievement for a Pakistani.
In connection with the construction design of Mangla Dam I stayed for two years inEngland. During my stay inLondonI had many occasions to meet Salam. On the occasion of three or four Islamic festivals, he invited me to his home (in Putney) for dinner. During these meetings I was fortunate to meet some outstanding Pakistanis like Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan.
Dr Salam used to write articles on science subjects for British newspapers. His style and diction was such that even British born used to relish his articles. During my stayPakistan’s Water delegation was there as well. The Daly commission was working to resolve water issues between Pakistan and India. The Pakistani delegation comprised of Shaikh Abdul Hamid, Syed Salam Kirmani, Mian Khalilur Rahman, and Moeenuddin.
One day members of the delegation expressed the desire to invite Dr Salam for dinner at a classy restaurant. I discussed this with him. He readily agreed and we all had dinner with him. During the dinner Salam told us that in 1957 he had started work on a scientific problem (in theoretical physics) and asked his professor at Cambridgefor his advice. His professor suggested to him that his research will not bear any satisfactory results therefore he should not waste his time. Consequently Salam stopped further research but whatever work he had done up to that time, he sent his findings to a science magazine inItaly. The article was read by two Chinese scientists ( Lee & Yang) . They decided to pursue my research along the same line and were awarded Nobel Prize in physics in 1957. Later on they admitted that had they not read Salam’s article, they would not have received the Nobel Prize. Salam always regretted this colossal mistake.
Meeting with Nehru
During my stay inLondonone day I went to see Dr Salam. That day he happened to be not too busy and I found time for some light hearted talk. He told me an interesting incident. One day in 1959 the Indian ambassador toUKcame to see Dr Salam and expressed his desire that since he was an outstanding scientist in particle physics,India’s prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehur would like him to go toIndiato devise science education policy for Indian Universities. Professor Salam agreed to visitIndiaand had his itinerary worked out with ambassador’s help.
Professor Salam was warmly greeted in New Dehli. He met with Mr Nehru and told him that before he could work out a framework for any science education policy he would like to inspect and meet with vice chancellors of major universities. Homayoun Kabir, the Muslim minister in Nehru’s cabinet, assigned a protocol officer for him to visit leading universities ofMadras,Patna,Bombay,Calcuttaand Benaris. After four or five days Dr Salam returned to New Dehli. Dr Sahib belonged to Ahmadiyya faith, hence he expressed his desire for visiting Qadian. A small engine airplane took him toAmritsar, where district commissioner and superintendent police accompanied him to Qadian. Afterwards he travelled back to New Dehli.
Dr Salam had a meeting with Prime Minister Nehru accompanied by his minister Homayoun Kabir. Mr Nehru told Dr Salam that he was invited toIndiafor a very special project, and Mr Kabir will brief him about that. Homayoun Kabir told Dr Salam that the special project involved research into developing an atomic bomb and he should move toIndiawhere he will be accorded the following facilities:
- You will have the status of a federal minister.
- You set your own salary, whatever it is.
- There will be no audit of your expenses. (if you spent 10 million rupees on this project without any tangible results, no questions will be asked).
The third item was repeatedly narrated to Dr Salam. While on his way toIndia, Dr Salam had suspected something fishy. But to do research on developing a nuclear bomb was beyond his wildest dreams. Therefore he told the minister that he needs time to think through it and will get back to him upon arrival inLondon.
Meeting with President Ayub
After his arrival inLondon, he wrote down the whole incident and sent a copy to General Muhammad Ayub, president ofPakistan. President Ayub wrote the reply back to Dr Salam in his own handwriting thanking him for his patriotism. The President also said that he will be going to theUSin a few weeks, and will be stopping inLondonfor two days. Dr Salam should meet him at his convenience. Convenience was underlined.
Dr Salam showed me the letter from President Ayub. In the meeting with President Ayub everything that Mr Nehru had offered, was offered to him. Dr Salam told the president he did not wish to be involved in politics. People will always have the impression that I am Ayub’s appointee. When the president leaves office, he will have to bear the brunt of his opponent’s attacks. Dr Salam promised to do whatever is necessary in the atomic research while maintaining his residence inLondon. So he was made Chief Scientific Advisor to the president. I have no idea what role he played in the development ofPakistan’s A. bomb. I met him once after that but this topic never came up for discussion.
Dr Salam received Nobel Prize in 1979, which was an outstanding honour for any Pakistani. After receiving the Nobel Prize he came to Pakistanand was given a hero’s welcome. He went to his native town Jhang and visitedGovernmentCollege,Lahore. He was very fond of Government Collegeas it had provided him with a stepping stool for his international fame.
When Mr Z.A. Butto declared Ahmadiyya community a minority, after that he visited Pakistan only once. He used to say I don’t want to visitPakistanas a second class citizen.
Towards the end of his life, he was afflicted with a neurological disease and died inLondon(Oxford) a year after. His earthly remains were brought to Pakistanand laid to rest in Rabwah.
NOTE: This article was written by Ramiz Malik, Chief Engineer, Department of Canals, Punjab
(This is an extract from Mr Malik’s book “Yadon kee Mala” which appeared in daily Alfazl, Rabwah, page 6, 21
May 2005. Rendered into English by Zakaria Virk, Kingston, Canada)
Author: Ramiz Ahamd Malik
Name of the book: Yadon kee mala