There has been much written about my father, Professor Abdus Salam, so rather than simply repeat much of that, I thought it may be interesting to narrate some of the private moments of my father for those who did not know him or meet him, may not have heard about and may give the reader more insight into the character of Abdus Salam.
I have highlighted just a few of memories which will be of interest and, I hope, inspiration to the readers of Al Hakam.
It was clear from an early age that this child was, by the grace of Allah, an exceptionally gifted child. He went to school at the age of six and was admitted into the fourth class, where he stood first in all the exams; he had already memorised the multiplication tables up to forty and was a prodigious reader of books of all subjects which lasted throughout his life. There was no subject he did not at least glance at throughout his life.
I recall later in life looking through his bookshelf and seeing as diverse a collection as one could find; subjects such as physics, mathematics, biology, history, biographies, comedy, language books, medicine, Islamic history, Islamic art and culture; there were even books such as Teach Yourself Air Navigation and Russian Made Simple!
I recall as a child one of the many lessons my father taught me was to read; he always encouraged me to read as many books as I could. There was never a limit on the amount and variety of books I could have, provided of course I read them. But what was more relevant is that my father would then ask me to précis each book I had read. This made sure I read the book carefully and perhaps more importantly, showed my father’s continued interest and involvement in my education.
Much of my father’s inspiration and guidance came from his father, especially in his formative years. While he learnt the Holy Quran initially from his mother, it was his father who instilled in him a great sense of duty, discipline, humility, hard work and, above all else, a total belief in the submission to the will of Allah and the teachings of Islam Ahmadiyyat.
When my father won the Nobel Prize, he used the prize money to set up a charity in memory of his parents to offer scholarships to young bright students, in Pakistan and India in particular.
My grandfather had been told in a vision that he would have a son and he was to name him Abdus Salam. In another vision, my grandfather was informed this son would be a great achiever and so he knew that he had to help and encourage the young Abdus Salam to reach the highest standards in both his work and his moral character. An example of my grandfather’s influence was when my father came home from school; my father would complete his homework and then my grandfather would sit and prepare the next day’s lesson so the young Abdus Salam was always ahead of the class. This was a lesson my father remembered throughout his life: to work hard and to always be prepared ahead of time, and not to just do the minimum. My father would tell me “To fail to prepare meant prepare to fail”.
My father would teach me science and maths from a young age. He was not that successful as I chose to follow the arts rather than science. He would also spend time talking to me about great Islamic scholars and the wonderful tradition of education and innovation we have in our Islamic history. He would also talk to me about the great battles and great warriors of Islamic history. My father would also talk to me and teach me about my family’s cultural history as Rajput, of which he was very proud.
Another lesson my father taught me, which he had again learnt from his father was, “Early to bed and early to rise makes man healthy, wealthy and wise”. So my father would sleep by 8:30pm and rise at 3am to pray and work. This was the best time for him as he would awake refreshed and then be uninterrupted. He would work from 3:30am to about 7:30am, then breakfast, shower and dress and go to Imperial College or the Centre when he was in Trieste.
My father worked incredibly hard: literally seven days a week, never taking a holiday. He simply did not see the need for a holiday. When we used to visit him in Trieste during our summer holidays, he would arrange for me to have lessons in Italian, Maths or Physics from one of his students, who he paid of course.
This capacity for hard work came from my father’s father. My grandfather was a very disciplined and hardworking man. He had a great influence on my father, and my father’s wish was always to be buried at the feet of his parents. I am pleased to say we were able to fulfil my father’s last request.
There was also another figure who guided and inspired my father, and that was the late Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khanra. I was only witness to the incredibly deep and affectionate relationship between these two men for a short while, but I knew that my father learnt a great deal from this wonderful man. He was a wonderful teacher, mentor and guide to my father throughout his life. When my father was in London, Hazrat Chaudhry Sahibra would always be kind enough to come for breakfast on Sunday mornings at 8:15am until 10:30am. This was a most valuable time for my father as Chaudhry Sahibra would guide him on how to deal with certain people and situations. This was most valuable advice and guidance which, undoubtedly, was of great benefit to my father. My father’s very close relationship with Chaudhry Sahibra also inspired Chaudhry Sahibra. In Chaudhry Sahib’s book The Prophet at Home, there is a dedication to my father who gave Chaudhry Sahibra the idea to write the book.
Another mentor and sage to my father was the late Mirza Muzaffar Ahmad, the grandson of the Promised Messiahas. Miyan Sahib was a very senior figure in the World Bank in Washington and for a while served as the Finance Minister for Pakistan. Miyan Sahib also advised and guided my father immensely.
Both Miyan Sahib and Chaudhry Sahibra had great regard and respect for time. Just like my father, they hated anything which wasted time. My father would repeatedly warn me against the “Sub-continental” habit of idle talk, or gup in Punjabi. He would warn me in the strongest terms about the destructive nature of such a practice and also how it was un-Islamic and to be avoided at all times.
My father was always very punctual and believed it was important to try and be early rather than late. My father would tell me that being late showed an arrogant lack of respect for other people as it suggested that your time was more valuable than theirs.
However, the greatest influence on my father was the Holy Quran. He would carry a small copy of the Holy Book in his jacket pocket and would always read it when he had a free moment. Indeed, he admitted that his finest works were achieved when he was alone in a room and could listen to one of the many records and tapes he had acquired of the recitation of the Holy Quran in the most melodious and harmonious voices. This would give him great inspiration. His favourite qari was the Egyptian, Abdul Basit, and I recall my father listening for hours to the recitation of the Holy Book.
Allied to this love of the Quran and Islam of course was his total devotion to Ahmadiyyat and the Khulafa he served. I know from my own experience, how highly he valued and treasured their advice and guidance. He would also encourage me to write to the Khalifa just as he had done at an early age to seek their advice and request for prayers. This was extremely important to him throughout his life. I was too young to really appreciate the relationship with Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh; but I know how Huzoorrh would always meet my father with great affection. Indeed, we were so blessed that Huzoorrh visited our house in London and I have photos of my father serving Huzoorrh with mangoes.
I witnessed first-hand the love and affection and relationship between Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh and my father.
My father had great humility and always remembered his simple roots. There are countless examples of this, but one which always stick in my mind was when he had returned from a long overseas trip and had come into the house and we had greeted our father, my job was always to ensure my father’s driver had been given food and drink, and only when I had done this and come back into the house would my father then eat himself. He was more concerned about the driver than himself. My Aunt in Karachi would tell me the same story. When my father visited her on his trips to Pakistan, her son would have to give the driver refreshments before my father would sit down and eat with the family.
Another example of this humility was when my father visited India in December 1979, just after he had attended the Nobel ceremony in Sweden. He asked the Indian Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, to try and find his old primary school teacher, and when he had been found some 50 years after he had taught my father, my father visited him. He was bedbound and could not sit up to greet my father, so my father took the Nobel medal and placed it in his hands and said that that medal was a tribute to his teaching and my father shared it with him.
My father was a simple man who had simple tastes and simple requirements. He was very keen on cleanliness in every way. He did feel the cold badly though and would always keep his head covered; he usually wore an overcoat and sweater even in the middle of summer. He would always keep his room where he would work hot. He would greatly enjoy my mother’s wonderful cooking, be it pilau, roti or simply dal. He liked simple, well cooked meals; one dish was all he wanted. He did not want extravagance or many dishes.
He was also a great one for desserts and had a very sweet tooth. Every meal would be followed with a dessert; usually tinned or fresh fruit if it was in season. He would love tinned lychees, pears, pineapple or peaches. His favourite fresh fruit was Pakistani and Indian mangoes.
I remember in his bag he would always carry some chocolate biscuits, bars of chocolate, nuts and sometimes some dried fruit. He would say that those snacks would give him energy.
Another lesson my father taught me was to always have the upper hand and always be the one to give rather than to take. He would always take gifts for those he would visit.
He gave me a very valuable lesson when I wanted to buy my first car. I have always been interested in cars and I had found a BMW I wanted to purchase. I asked my father if he would lend me the money and said that I would pay him back. He refused and said that if I wanted something, I should go and get a job, save the money and buy a car with my own money; so I did. I got a job as a cashier at a petrol station and earned enough to buy a Fiat 500, one of the smallest cars you can buy. But the point was that I had worked myself to make the money. I was not indebted to anyone and that was a very valuable lesson for which I am ever grateful; not to borrow money to live beyond my means. This is lesson I have followed throughout my life and I hope I have passed it on to my children.