By Aown Ali
Tucked away in a quiet narrow street of Mohalla Chain Pura inside Bab-e-Muhammad neighborhood of Jhang in Southern Punjab a small 400 square feet house is designated as a national monument. This is the family home of Dr Abdus Salam the first Nobel Laureate from Pakistan in theoretical physicist where he was born in January 1926.
The locality of Bab-e-Muhammd gate is known as Jhang city. In fact, it is the old city of Jhang, which is gated like old neighborhoods in many other cities and has its particular architecture and life style. Bab-e- Muhammad leads into a straight lane called Bazaar Noor Shah.
Walking a few steps in this cluster of shops, looking for the true picture of life in old Jhang, you can ask some passerby or a shopkeeper about the house of Dr Salam. Turning to the left at first U-turn which separates the Bazaar Noor Shah in two parallel streets, and walking a few more steps in this direction you would come across a small house having a small inscription on its brown painted main door.
The house is not different by any physical mean to the houses in its surrounding. But from this 1.5 marla house comprising two small rooms, a breakthrough comes in physics, a new page of science begins and the whereabouts of Muhammad Abdus Salam is found.
Before reaching this place, I was wondering it might be a crumbling structure, abandoned and left to its fate with its permanently closed entrance. Surprisingly, there was a sound and properly conserved building, paved like government schools and hospital buildings.
As I knocked, a middle-aged man promptly came to open the door with a welcoming smile on his face. That was another surprise. Muhammad Ismail is deputed here by the Archaeology Department, Punjab and he is serving here from the last 10 years.
There is nothing special about architectural characteristics in this small house. It’s a building of a very basic style with two rooms side by side and a staircase in front of a room beside the courtyard.
According to Ismail, the main structure of the house was intact but the wooden roof wrecked some time ago, so the archaeology department restored it with a new roof in late 2016. No major alterations were done inside except plaster and paving the walls.
Ismail told that around 10 to 20 people daily come to visit the family home of a great scientist. Most of the visitors are from Jhang or surrounding towns. Local school teachers often bring their students here for visit. But one thing, which I noticed missing here was an inscription. Although there was an iron board put down inside the house but there was not any printed or written material available on Dr Salam and his family.
Close to this locality of Mohalla Chain Pura, the elementary school of Dr Salam is located outside Bab-e- Muhammad. The Government High School Jhang City was a middle school in 1934 when Dr Salam, a son of Chudhuary Muhammad Hussain took admission here in class four.
The alma mater has rewarded the genius of its old student by preserving his classroom and an old register of admission and withdrawal, which shows the record of those four years, which he spent at this school.
Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar, the principal of Government High School Jhang City very pleasantly showed me that old building where the great teachers of the time developed the brilliance of a small boy named Abdus Salam. He studied here from 3 April 1934 to 31 March 1938 from class four to class eight.
At the time school education was up to middle standard and for matriculation, students had to take admission in college. So, after completing his middle school Abdus Salam went to degree college Jhang for FSc.
But the Government High School Jhang City played a vital role in the honor, which Dr Salam secured through his exceptional career. As a token of honor, the governor of Punjab bestowed upon this school the replica of Nobel Prize of Dr Salam, which is placed on the principal’s table.
The principal told that he was in graduation in 1979 when Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Dr Salam. “People of the city were immensely delighted. The first time when he stood first in matriculation exam in 1940, the news of his achievement was carried by local newspapers with his pictures and cheering crowds escorted him on the way to his house,” he told.
“It was the second time when the people of Jhang were proud of the great achievement of Dr Salam, who made Jhang famous overnight,” he added.
There are a few relatives of Dr Salam, still living in Jhang. One of them is a nephew of Dr Salam, Muhammad Naeem Akhtar who has a history to tell about him. According to Naeem, Abdus Salam was born at his maternal home in Santokh Das village District Okara. He also told that after receiving Nobel Prize when Dr Salam came to Pakistan, he also visited Jhang and came to his home where he first time met him.
The time moves forward but for some people, it’s reversing in the case of Jhang. Hakeem Muhammad Sulman, a teacher at the Government High School Jhang City is one of those Jhangwalas who witnessed the success stories of the past but feels outraged amid glooming picture of the present scenario.
He laments that Jhang is in decline by all means, “This is such an ill-fated district that other districts and divisions which were carved of Jhang have got universities, medical colleges, industrial estates but Jhang continues its downslide. We have not even basic infrastructure. What is abundant in rural areas of other districts, we are lacking even in cities” Sulman maintained.
Awon Ali is a photojournalist based in Lahore with interest in cultural heritage.
All photos by the author
Edited by Hasan Khan