By Farooq Shah
SRINAGAR– Mehran coincidentally shares his birthday with Neil Armstrong, the American astronaut and aeronautical engineer. However, Mehran’s birth in the strife-torn region of Kashmir presents significant challenges to living a normal life. In 2003, the year Mehran was born, Kashmir experienced one of its bloodiest periods in history, including the tragic incident of 24 Kashmiri Pandits killed by unidentified gunmen in the village Nadimarg of Pulwama district. This further accentuated the obstacles Mehran had to overcome in his pursuit of excellence.
As a father, his last resort to secure an honourable personal escape from such a quagmire was to educate his children in the most exemplary manner. However, amidst an extremist environment nurtured by the vested interests, the challenge to protect the children’s future was remarkably daunting. As an educator, I knew how crucial the formative years were in determining a child’s future, especially when young children were targeted by “hawks” during this precarious age.
In a poignant tale, a school principal found himself facing a heart-wrenching situation when his son, who was pursuing a B.Tech course, abruptly dropped off-grid one day. Much to their dismay, the son resurfaced as a militant and tragically met his demise soon after picking up gun. In a state of profound shock, the father took to Facebook to reveal how his beloved child had fallen victim to the exploitative clutches of “vested interests.”
“Eisa your innocence is being exploited by some vested interests you are being used as a pawn or a poster boy,” his father, Naeem Fazili, wrote on his Facebook page.
Unfortunately, Fazili’s desperate appeals failed to reach his son, who continued to “play with fire”, ultimately leading to his tragic demise.
Eisa Fazili’s prospects for the future were tragically sacrificed on the altar of the Kashmir conflict, where vested interests fuelled extremism and lured countless young individuals into an inescapable cycle of violence. This situation finds resonance in the plight of Abhimanyu, a character from the Mahabharata, who entered the intricate Chakravyuha (a complex and impenetrable formation of defensive walls) but was unable to find a way out.
Mehran, from an early age, developed a keen interest in folklore from different faiths and cultures. I would often read heroic tales from Arabian Nights, Mahabharata, Panchatantra, and other fictional works as his bedtime stories. These stories might have instilled in him a sense of heroism and helped shape his formative years.
One particular anecdote from the Mahabharata stood out to Mehran. It recounted the story of Arjuna, the most accomplished student of Dronacharya, who displayed unwavering focus by shooting the eye of a toy bird perched on a tree with a bow and arrow.
With similar determination, Mehran embarked on his educational journey, attending local schools with the sole aim of studying Physics at an IIT. Eventually, he achieved an exceptional all-India rank of 5891 in the JEE Advanced Test, earning him admission to the prestigious IIT Kharagpur last year.
As a father who valued science, I understood that for Mehran to succeed in life, he needed to dedicate himself to his studies in a focused manner and avoid distractions that could hinder his progress toward a professional career.
Mehran initially attended an all-boys school near our home, where a strong emphasis was placed on learning about Islam. However, I noticed some peculiar behaviours in him, such as his refusal to shake hands with girls and his preference for wearing a skullcap, which I personally disliked.
I often wondered why the school placed such a significant emphasis on religion. Mehran was required to study additional subjects, including Arabic. Despite my trust in the school management, I realized I had made a grave mistake in choosing that school for Mehran. It wasn’t because I couldn’t answer his questions about topics like the Taliban and ISIS or that they were irrelevant, but rather because these discussions were entirely inappropriate for Mehran at his young age, with potentially far-reaching effects.
Instead of stifling Mehran’s curiosity or discouraging his questions, I responded to him in a reasoned manner, which helped calm him down. I explained that there is an appropriate time to explore such complex topics, just as the Prophet of Islam declared his prophethood when he turned forty.
However, I didn’t stop there. The following day, I visited Mehran’s school and requested his discharge certificate, determined to find him a new school.
The school administration was perplexed because Mehran was an excellent student loved by his teachers. They couldn’t understand why I wanted to remove him from the school. I explained, “I am not comfortable with how you teach religion to young children.” After a brief argument, I obtained the discharge certificate.
Mehran’s new school wasn’t fundamentally different, but being co-ed brought certain advantages, such as the disappearance of the skullcap. I had no issues with the more moderate teaching of Islam at this school. Mehran found the new school more interesting because it supported and encouraged music programs, art, and painting.
One day, Mehran expressed his desire for a guitar. As a father who had also wanted one during his own childhood but couldn’t have it, I immediately decided to buy him one. He quickly learned how to play the instrument using online tutorials and discovered that it was a wonderful stress reliever, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic when the world was in lockdown.
By the time Mehran completed his grade-10 board examination, he had transformed into a tall and happy young man ready to face life’s challenges head-on. He had already made up his mind about his professional path and field of study, with a strong desire to secure a place at an IIT due to his early focus on Physics.
As the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world, Mehran had just finished his higher secondary exams. While everything was shutting down, Mehran’s self-study journey was just beginning. He saw the pandemic as an opportunity to create his own world with minimal external influences and distractions, dedicating long hours to studying late into the night.
Mehran’s perseverance and hard work paid off when he qualified for the JEE MAIN test. He improved his percentile from 99.24 to 99.44, qualifying for the advanced test. A month later, he cracked the JEE Advanced, securing a national rank of 5891 and earning a place at the prestigious IIT Kharagpur.
As a father, I made it my priority to instil in Mehran the profound wisdom of life by immersing him in first-hand experiences and the compelling narratives of influential individuals. I organized exclusive soirées at our home, where distinguished figures from diverse backgrounds were cordially invited.
One individual with whom I shared an exceptionally close bond was the former Governor of the now-defunct state, N N Vohra, who graciously extended invitations to both myself and my children to the Rajbhawan on various occasions. On one such occasion, Vohra gifted Mehran a pen as a symbol of motivation, urging him to diligently toil for his own betterment and the welfare of humanity.
Likewise, in our interactions, Professor Amitabh Mattoo, former Vice-Chancellor of Jammu University and former Head of the India Australia Institute, along with the distinguished British author, Victoria Schofield, bestowed upon Mehran priceless wisdom, unveiling the fundamental principles that lead to a successful life.
The environment in which Mehran was raised played a crucial role in his success, although he deserves all the credit for his unwavering perseverance and hard work. Believing in internalizing discipline rather than imposing it, I granted Mehran a great deal of freedom without rigid supervision, and he thankfully embraced it without misusing it.
Knowing countless IIT Kharagpur alumni have achieved remarkable success in their journeys, Mehran is poised to follow in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong. While I celebrate his accomplishment, a deep, lingering pain cuts through me like a knife, knowing that precious lives like his were wasted for nothing.
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