University of Karachi (KU) is not only one of the most depressing universities of Pakistan; it is also perhaps one of the most testing. And I don’t mean that in an academic way.
If the dry, unwelcoming terrain and shabby, unmaintained infrastructure doesn’t put you off the academe entirely, the administrative staff’s cold and condescending behavior surely will. However, if you still find yourself young and exuberant enough to face the many challenges flung at you as you try to get even the simplest of tasks done on the university campus, you will probably give in to the exhaustion caused by running from one inhospitable—and usually also quite misguiding—office to another. If you survive all of this and then some, you don’t only deserve the degree you signed up for; you deserve a medal.
My relationship with the university began a few years ago when my brother and I decided to enroll ourselves in its external graduate program like many other students who do so while pursuing studies in Accountancy from Pakistani Institutions and English Associations. After all, a quick complementary degree from KU these days has got to be worth more than the education it pledges, right? Especially if it’s genuine!
The first blip came on the very first day; the day I went in to submit my initial registration forms. My confident swagger and definitive gloat as I walked into the office holding my shiny A-Levels certificates were thwarted almost instantly by a bored looking man who didn’t seem the least bit impressed by my better-than-decent grades. So an Equivalence Certificate it would have to be. I mean, other than the fact that it callously reduced my 90 Cambridge percents to 75 HEC percents, and that it is possibly one of the most pointless piece of papers I have in my academic records, the incomprehensible need for this document and the two-week delay caused by it was obviously an unfortunate episode I could have easily avoided had I not been a slave to the Brits and their pretentious board of examinations.
I returned to the University assuring myself that that was it; I was beyond the initial obstacle and things would progress smoothly now; that I will graduate with honour.
Or so I thought until a few weeks later when I found myself standing in a mile-long line, all sweat and sand, ready to fight a bunch of abaya-clad course mates for breaking queue at the infamous Silver Jubilee gate on exam registration day. And then as I gave the actual exam, in June, in a fan-less room packed to the hilt with fifty sweaty men. And then as I gave another exam under the open sky with a crow accompanying me throughout, and another in a dark, gloomy corridor with the invigilator brushing up against me every time he walked past my creaky, swiveling desk. And another time when a few of my exam mates and I had to spend the first twenty minutes of the paper sitting cross-legged near the door because the room we were assigned to didn’t have enough seats. And then the last time, when the tent we were sitting in collapsed on us, mid-exam.
All good memories though.
And the best of them, for it truly offered an insight on just how despicably rotten our educational ideals have come to be, was the one where after giving an exam, I was approached by an otherwise civil looking man in his mid-thirties, who after casually introducing himself as an experienced teacher from a well known chain of tuition centers, offered to give my next exam for me at a “very reasonable” sum of ten thousand Rupees. A ten grand someone had paid him to give his exam that very day. A ten grand he had been charging crafty students with rich, resourceful parents for years on end. A ten grand that would include the oh-so-deserving pay-offs of at least four other respected abettors inside various University departments.
But what can you say, really, when you live in a country that hasn’t a Higher Education Commission and some very smart, very influential people walk free and proud with distended chests and fake degrees in their pockets. At least my exam-giving friend from outside the exam hall knew what a university looks like. And to be honest, nothing teaches you how to be thankful for small favours better than being a Pakistani civilian standing on the wrong side of the official desk these days.
My brother and I learned that lesson, perhaps for the gazillionth time, standing in a certain Karachi University department’s chairperson’s office the other day—our emotions proliferating for we had only recently received our amusingly satisfying post-graduation results after eight months of nail-biting anticipation—where we were told with a heartless shrug that according to some godforsaken new policy, we’re no longer eligible to pursue a doctorate in our chosen discipline from the university we were finally beginning to grow a soft spot for. The chairperson was kind enough to offer her invaluable advice though, and for a minute I was actually going to listen to her and enroll myself in the English department instead, for a PhD in 17th century Irish poets! After all, when you go to school in Pakistan, it’s not education you’re after, but a degree to frame and flaunt. And if you earn a medal or two along the way, well…there’s nothing like it!