My mentor, Azfar Rizvi

Posted: November 22, 2012 in Education, Teachers
Tags: , , ,

(I had the idea to do this on Teacher’s Day but then I forgot. I’m going to write a series of blogs about teachers that have impacted my life in a significant way.)

The first time I met Sir Azfar is quite comical. I was exiting class when I narrowly avoided running into a –tall-extremely tall- guy. What struck me about him was that when I apologized, he mumbled it away in a  rather preoccupied manner, which is not something you see every day in a university with an abundance of creepy men. And thus, I noticed him. When he was gone, I asked my best friend,

“Dude, who’s that hunk, omg is he studying with us, is he a transfer student, do we have any classes with him?!”

Eyeing me in horror, she responded,

“Ghausia, that’s the new creative writing teacher everyone is talking about!”

Disturbing as it may sound, the man was in his early 30s, had long curly hair, and was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Trust me, in my university, that’s quite the anomaly.

Two years later, I can hardly believe that I actually had the chance to be under the tutelage of that mythical being. The new creative writing teacher, they all said. He’s so cool. He’s so funny. He’s so smart. He’s a really good writer. He actually teaches.

(Of course, they all hated him after mid-terms when they found out what a stern grader he was)

It wasn’t till the next semester that I too, studied creative writing with him. Sir Azfar remains, to date, the only teacher who actually taught me to write. Others had encouraged me, yes, but never precisely taught me. The highlight of that particular class was when he gave us a descriptive writing assignment, in which I crashed so badly, that he never forgave me for it. No matter how many donuts I brought for him.

He would energetically scrawl across the whiteboard, and it was always a challenge to read his writing.

I still remember that one assignment, where he asked us to write about any event that had changed our lives, changed us a person. I titled my submission “Why I’m So Loathsome.” To date, it remains one of my favorite pieces, despite lacking the finesse that I now possess. And that assignment opened up the floodgates to some of my best writing, as I learned from Sir Azfar, how to draw from personal experience and write. I had kept a diary since I was 13,  yes, but it was nothing compared to what I began writing then. My personal life was in turmoil that semester, and I had no adults to talk to about it. Until I started writing about it in my assignments. I actually did not realize until after a while, that my mentor had easily figured out the truth in my writing, and once I did, he made it clear that he didn’t judge me in any way. That was my greatest fear; to have everyone turn away from me because of my mistakes. He didn’t. He still hasn’t.

Every time my thoughts are muddled, I sit down and make up a cluster/mind map to sort out my ideas for whatever it is I’m writing. I always recall his lessons every single time I write.

It’s funny that as I attempt to write about the man I feel so much regard for, the man who was, is my mentor, I find myself at a loss for words. But then, that’s Sir Azfar for you. Beyond words, beyond descriptions, he simply is.

What makes a teacher really stand out is when he teaches you beyond the course requirement, and that’s exactly what Sir Azfar did. With gentle mockery and quiet, almost non-existent encouragement, he continuously pushed us all to do more than we were capable of, more than the best of us. In one class, seeing the almost extremist mentality of the students, he set them to work on a project promoting interfaith harmony. In another, he supported me in doing a project on LGBT Pakistan even as he mocked (and still mocks, to this day) my efforts and the end result.  In another class, I was working with a group of friends when they rudely kicked me out for no reason. Sir Azfar was the one who, in that very class, quietly said, “This is  your chance to prove a point, and prove that you’re better than every single person here.” You have to understand, I suffer from lack of confidence and low self-esteem for a reason. I have never, ever, ever had the kind of encouragement that I need and crave to be comfortable in my own skin. On the contrary, I have always felt as if there is something wrong in the way I am. A manufacturing default, as Wasio would say. To have someone put so much faith in me was quite overwhelming, and the biggest morale boost I have ever had.

I snickered throughout this entire lecture. He never scolded me, even once.

He was a harsh instructor, but never unfair. It’s funny that a lot of students hated him because he said words like puberty or absent-mindedly cussed sometimes, other students complained that “all Sir Azfar does is come and talk, and never teaches anything”, and yet, it was those same students who not only wanted to study with him later, but remembered him fondly, saying, “At least Sir Azfar would teach us something, he would answer our questions.” Another student once said, “Sir Azfar taught us how to work on impossible deadlines otherwise I could never have finished my work.” There was one semester when even I was angry with him for his workload, but astoundingly enough, when we confronted him about it, he actually eased up on it. He made fun of a friend of mine because I told him he made her cry after being a bit mean to her in one class, but when he realized I was serious, he apologized to her immediately, then and there. My experience with Pakistani teachers is that they are extremely arrogant, and have the lowest opinion of students. Thus, they are often quite offensive and abrasive. After the horrible teachers we had all studied with, it was almost an honour to have a teacher not just acknowledge his mistake, but actually apologize for it.

I think the best part of my life in the past four years were those creative writing mornings when I would stop at Dunkin Donuts before class for an egg&cheese sandwich and coffee. I was allowed to eat in class only if I brought donuts for Sir Azfar. I would always sneak them in the rostum before class, simply because of how amusing it was to see him putting his things in there, and looking up in delight at me when he found his paper bag. To this day, every time I see a Boston Kreme donut at DD, I find myself wistfully saying, “Man, I miss Sir Azfar so much.”

Amusingly enough, though he claimed I was his favorite student, he was the meanest to me. I got the toughest grades, the harshest treatment, and don’t get me started on how he found it amusing to continuously send me up and down the stairs on errands, knowing I was out of shape enough to get easily winded. But he was my teacher, my mentor, my friend. I could quietly go up to him, tell him some problem, embarrassed and waiting for him to mock me, only to be met by kindness and understanding. I could whine about juvenile issues, only to hear, “Just get over it, move on, and get back to your writing, because you’re much better than this.” I could let things slip about my problems, or infer to them vaguely, and have him quietly pull me aside later, ask me if I was okay, if anything was troubling me, if I needed help.

We never had to follow any rules with our work. This was something my friend made for her project, a rough mockup I believe, and it was untidy, vague, and the people looked like fishes, but he just wanted to make sure we understood what we were doing, regardless of our methods.

Of course, I’m going to block him from seeing this blog when I share it on my FB. He’d never let me hear the end of it, after all. And he wouldn’t be Sir Azfar if he didn’t mock me relentlessly even when we both know he appreciates the gesture. That’s Sir Azfar for you. He taught us to write, he taught us to think, to value critical thought. He pushed us to become the best person we could possibly be. He told us that we would never be all that we wanted to be, but it was okay. What we wanted to be, was nothing compared to what we could be, and what we could be, we would not have been without his guidance and support.

Doesn’t make sense, does it? It isn’t supposed to. You can’t understand, if you haven’t been taught by Azfar Rizvi. You won’t understand the myth if you never experience the man’s company.

He didn’t give us wings to fly, or any other sentimental crap. He clipped our wings, and forced us to manage life hopping around without wings. And who needs wings, when you have Sir Azfar?

This is from the second session of the last class we ever had with him. Obviously, it makes me quite nostalgic.

  1. washalkhan says:

    very true… he really was a great teacher…

    • Ghausia says:

      And specially considering how most of our teachers aside from Sir Farhan were terrible human beings, his classes injected new life into all of us.

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