LAHORE: Since 1981, a small 400-square foot house comprising two rooms in Mohalla Dawood Nagar in Jhang tehsil has been designated a ‘national monument’. This is the house where Pakistan’s first Nobel Laureate in Physics Dr Mohammad Abdus Salam was born in 1926.
Today marks what would have been Dr Salam’s 89th birthday. However, the house will remain quiet today as its former resident’s birth anniversary will pass by unnoticed by many in the country. “There have never been any commemorative ceremonies for Dr Salam at this house as long as I have lived here,” said one neighbour Nadeem. A signboard outside the house informs that it is a protected property under the Antiquities Act 1975.
Nadeem says the outer wall of the house fell in some time ago, and was repaired by neighbours before the Archaeology Department took the property into its custody and deputed a caretaker for the site. The keys to the house remain with another neighbour, Yasir, who opens the house for the occasional visitor. The caretaker reportedly visits once or twice a month.
“We do not have any plans for repairs or maintenance works for the house in the near future,” Archeology Department Deputy Director Maqsood Ahmed told The Express Tribune. He said the government has deputed two caretakers.
Dr Abdus Salam’s father was an official in the Department of Education in this farming district. According to the Nobel Prize committee, when Dr Salam “cycled home from Lahore, at the age of 14, after gaining the highest marks ever recorded for the Matriculation Examination at the University of Punjab, the whole town turned out to welcome him.”
Dr Salam won a scholarship to Government College, University of Punjab, and took his MA in 1946. He was then awarded a scholarship to St. John’s College, Cambridge University, where he excelled in mathematics and physics, awarded by Cambridge University in 1950 for the most outstanding pre-doctoral contribution to physics. He obtained a PhD in theoretical physics and his thesis, published in 1951, contained fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics which had already gained him an international reputation.
Dr Salam returned to Pakistan from England in 1951, to teach mathematics at Government College, Lahore. In 1952, he was appointed head of the Mathematics Department of Punjab University. He left Pakistan for Europe in protest against state-sanctioned discrimination and in 1979, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking research in theoretical physics. Subsequently, Dr Salam’s work was celebrated as an estimated 42 honorary doctorates were bestowed upon him by institutions across the world.
When Dr Salam travelled to Pakistan in December 1979, he was received in Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad by the military secretaries to the governors and president at the time Ziaul Haq. When protestors from a politico-religious party threatened to disrupt a commemorative event at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University, the institution was compelled to shift the event to the National Assembly Hall. Similarly, protests disrupted an event at Punjab University, while Dr Salam’s alma mater Government College Lahore chose not to invite him to the institution.
Dr Salam passed away in 1996 and was buried in Rabwah, without a state funeral. The epitaph at his grave reads, ‘First Nobel Laureate’, as the word ‘Muslim’ has been deleted under court orders.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2015.