COLOMBO: Few in Sri Lanka or Pakistan would know that the man who taught high school level science and mathematics to the present Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was a Sri Lankan and a Jaffna Tamil at that.
Brother Emmanuel Nicholas, who taught Gilani at the La Salle High School in Multan in 1966 and 1967, belongs to Karampan, a village in the island of Kayts, off the Jaffna coast.
“I came to know Gilani in the very first year of my service. I was teaching Grade 9 and Gilani was one of my students. I remember him as a pleasant young man who was also very hard working. My association with him continued into Grade 10 because I too moved to Grade 10 along with him,” Emmanuel told Express. Looking back, the 73-year-old Emmanuel felt that Gilani’s subsequent rise to Pakistan’s pinnacle was due to the values imbibed at La Salle.
“At La Salle we inculcated the feeling that despite differences of various kinds, we are all human beings. I now see Gilani forging unity in a divided country, overcoming anger and hatred,” the teacher said.
Emmanuel found his way to Pakistan because La Salle Multan was run by a group of De La Salle Christian Brothers from Sri Lanka. He had also taught Anwar-ul-Haq, one of the sons of Gen Zia-ul-Haq. Zia was a Colonel in Multan then.
“Zia was a close friend. He asked me if I could coach Anwar in Maths and Science. I did, and Anwar went on to become a doctor. Zia was generous and a wonderful man,” Emmanuel said.
The teacher went on to become principal of St Vincent’s, a school for very poor Christian converts from the Chura (Dalit) caste at Mianchennu, near Multan.
Emmanuel left Pakistan in 1967. But he was destined to meet Gilani some 40 years later during the SAARC summit in Colombo in 2008.
“Gilani himself invited me to come over and see him, and sent a vehicle to pick me up. At his hotel suite, he introduced me to his colleagues as a very strict teacher! In October 2011, he recommended me for the award of Tamgha-e-Pakistan (Medal of Pakistan). The medal was given to me this year on Pakistan’s National Day,” Emmanuel said with a sense of fulfilment.