The documentary on Abdus Salam has been eye-opening
Editor’s Note: The views expressed here are those of the author’s and don’t necessarily represent or reflect the views of MangoBaaz.
When in school, I could never get my way around science, what saved me, was when we had to do experiments in labs. Other than that, I had a difficult time around all branches of science notably physics which I flunked multiple times. This bothered me to a great extent, as being a good student in-general, what was it about science that I just could not get or perhaps relate to?
While solving equations, I wondered who came up with such theories how are these impacting the world we live in. How little did I know how science will have such a big impact on my life. I didn’t realize how for the next 20 years, it will be because of science I will question some of the most fundamental beliefs I have been raised with.
I aced Pakistan History as I grew with the ideals and struggles of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. In Literature, the likes of Shakespeare and Dickens who I had read all through my formative years did the trick, along with local heroic writers such as Manto and Ismat Chugtai whose readings at that age were considered no less than blasphemy by parents and teachers, but it gave me the kick to be interested or should I say, to be inspired.
But in science I had no one to look up to.
The latest documentary about Dr. Abdus Salam on Netflix tells the unfortunate story of many Pakistanis like myself who grew up without knowing their hero
He is, after all, Pakistan’s first Nobel Laureate who defined the world of modern physics, however till date many students, even the ones in the field of science are unaware of what the professor actually achieved for the world.
The documentary gives an in-depth look into Abdus Salam’s personality as someone being extremely passionate about his identity in terms of his faith, nationality and profession as a physicist. His love for all three made him an extremely complex man. Salam believed that both his faith and work are in complete coherence, something extremely unusual in his field where more than 90 percent of scientists do not believe in the dogma of organized religion. Some of Professor Salam’s work was produced during the time of prayers, where he would get ideas which he would quickly write down in a small note-book. Furthermore, during his study-time, he would sit with his legs covered under on a chair while verses from the holy book would play in the background. He often tuned Radio Pakistan live to hear news directly from the country
The film highlights Salam’s passion for Pakistan, which he himself was a successful product of having been raised in Jhang and attending government schools
— Salam – the film (@salamdocufilm) January 3, 2015
Salam took pride in his Nobel Prize and considered it to be a breaking barrier taking away the sense of inferiority which over centuries had come over the Muslim youth for not being successful in the field of science. For Abdus Salam, being Pakistani or a Muslim did not mean you were inferior, instead you were as good as anybody was. And this barrier was broken by someone who did not see any conflict between his faith and science.
In 1974, during Bhutto’s regime, Abdus Salam left Pakistan with a heavy heart and much anguish after the government declared his sect to be non-Muslim
Five years after that, the 53-years-old professor dressed as an oriental prince in sherwani and khusay went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics for a country which has waged a war on his sect. There was no looking back from there, as after Bhutto, Zia’s regime further criminalized his faith under various sorts of punishments. This also led to the birth of radicalization of a nation who goes from being moderate to extreme right wing.
The tragedy of Professor Salam’s story further intensified as both Bhutto and Zia exploited his work and devotion for getting acceptance in Pakistan. From using him to start developing atomic capabilities after India tested its nuclear bombs in 70’s to cashing on him for photo optics in front of Western allies to show commitment in war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 80’s. Salam did everything in his power to get accepted for what he really was, but we failed him.
Being Pakistani meant the world to him, so much so that he never gave up his Pakistani passport and despite many rejections of acceptance in Pakistan, he chose to be buried here in Rabwah
Salam dreamt in the progression of science for developing nations, as much or more than developed countries. Tragically, his vision looks grim in his own country as it gets further clutched into radicalization amongst different sects. The current government under the pressure of religious fundamentals had to let go of an internationally renowned Pakistani economist on its panel because he belonged to the same faith as Dr. Salam.
Today Dr. Abdus Salam is nowhere to be found in children’s textbooks, there is no building or institution of high significance which is named after him
As a mother I often ask myself, just like my childhood, will my son also not know about professor Salam who continues to inspire the world but not children in his own country.
For our generation, he was made controversial. For the generation after us, it seems like he never even existed. However, the documentary on Netflix is an attempt to remind to more than 200 million Pakistanis to not forget a hero who was a custodian to the narrative of development of science in developing countries. The question remains, will this film give us courage to speak up about him, celebrate him the way he truly deserves? Will the Grand Unified Theory of Abdus Salam be taught to children studying science as an achievement which can inspire them to develop better wonders?
I don’t know about others, but for me I have taken the first step in never forgetting Dr. Abdus Salam.
About the Author: Madiha Javed Qureshi, is in the field of Communication professionally. She believes in talking about progressive ideas to move forward. Madiha is a proud mother and a unapologetic feminist.
Cover image via: Netflix