Mohammad Afzal Guru’s last 10 years in Tihar jail and his secret hanging might have grabbed headlines, but not many know about Afzal’s college days. For most of his batch mates in Jhelum Valley Medical College (JVC), where he was pursuing an MBBS degree, Afzal was an affable person. In 1989, Afzal’s education was cut short as he decided to take up arms. Afzal’s first year in JVC coincided with Kashmir witnessing a change in situation, with thousands of young people deciding to go to the other side of the border to get training, to be part of an armed rebellion against Indian rule and most of the year was lost due to shutdowns and curfews.
Whatever small time Afzal spent in JVC created a good and ever lasting impression on his batch mates. Dr. Maqsood Khan, one of the batch mates of Afzal says that he met him for the first time in January 1989. He remembers Afzal as a soft spoken and humble person. “Afzal was fond of poetry, literature and was frequently found singing ghazals,” Maqsood remembers.
Afzal’s stint in JVC didn’t last long. A seven-month break, thanks to shutdowns and curfews, resulted in Afzal quitting the MBBS degree and signing up to the armed rebellion. When his batch mates returned after a lengthy break, there were seven faces missing. Dr. Vikram Handa, Dr. Bashir Veeray, Dr. Suleekha, Dr. Leena Jad, Dr. Annu Amla, Dr. Sachin Verma and Afzal Guru – most of them Hindus.
Maqsood says Afzal’s love wasn’t confined to studies and ghazals. He would also regularly play football in the college campus.
Dr. Sofia, recalls her days with Afzal in the college campus. She says that being from a rural area, Afzal was a little shy and most of the time remained busy with his studies. “I remember when one of our most respected and beloved teacher Dr. M.L. Koul was retiring from his service, he was feeling sad, as he never in his service had celebrated annual day with his students and wished to celebrate with our batch last time,” she says. “Then we decided to celebrate the annual day in a canteen of the college, that day first Dr Koul sung an old song and it was Afzal who followed him by singing a ghazal on the stage,” she recalls.
Dr. Niyaz Jan, another batch mate of Afzal says that besides concentrating on his studies, Afzal was influenced by Allama Iqbal, a revolutionary poet. “Afzal was deeply influenced by Iqbal. He had even kept a big portrait of Allama Iqbal hanging on his room wall in the Bemina hostel,” says Dr. Jan. He also says that Afzal was fond of nature.
Even one of Afzal’s batch mates remembers that when Afzal returned from Pakistan, he again joined college for a week. “Dr. Munshi Lal Koul humorously said to Afzal in the class that all the Pandits had fled from Kashmir because of fear and he would also leave. Afzal replied to him that as long as Afzal was alive nobody would touch him,” he recalls the moments, saying much about Afzal.
Another batchmate of Afzal was Dr. Suhail Ahmad Khanday, who says that the little time Afzal, he left an impression in the class, as he used to beat the desk in the classroom while singing.
“After we all left for our homes when the college was closed, there was no contact with each other and after eight months someone told me in the class that Afzal had crossed the border and was back recently,” he says.
This story originally appeared on Kashmir Thoughts, a weekly published from Kashmir, in 2013.
Mir Iqbal is a Kashmir based journalist and can be reached at [email protected]