A tribute to a fallen brother, Professor Mohamed Azeem Khan
Revisiting a Guyanese Academic Legend
By Zamin Khan, LLB
Professor Mohamed Azeem Khan (commonly called MA) was born in February 1949 to Mr. and Mrs. Sujawal Khan in the squalid enclave of Plantation Albion, dubbed “bound coolie yard,” and peddled his way to become an international academic icon.
Khan made his debut into the educational arena at the age of five when he started his primary education at Albion Canadian Mission School, which was about half a mile away from “bound coolie yard,” under the tutelage of Mr. J.R. Latchmansingh and his staff.
(“bound coolie yard” was where indentured laborers and their children were housed, which was a stone throw away from the sugar factory they were assigned to).
He and other” logi” children ( “logis” were stretches of small compartmentalized mud-walled structures ) would trek about half of a mile to school, shoeless along edgy dams, laced with patches of small blue bricks, that hugged the sidelines next to Albion sugar factory.
The factory has always been the hub of survival for most of the people. His father, Sujawal (Sujak), became a laborer at the factory at the tender age of 13, and continued until his retirement—age 60. (child labor was incidental to the indentured labor system).
Khan was soon singled out by most of the staff teachers as a child whose mental age far exceeded his biological age. He went on to pass the School Leaving Certificate of Education examination in 1962.
By this time, we have already moved about two miles away from ‘bound coolie yard’ to settle at Nigg Road, Albion, where our home remains to this day.
As the old adage has it, “the winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise your sail”. Khan spiked his sail and graced his way to Corentyne Comprehensive High School to commence his secondary education under the headmastership of Mr. Rudra Nauth, a resourceful and pragmatic educator, where he barreled through a five year program in two and half years, and netted six O’Level GCE passes. After this success, he was assigned to be a teacher at the neighborhood primary school—Belvedere Primary School. He started to teach there in 1964 at the age of fourteen years six months, at which time he sported his first long pants.
Khan taught there for seven years, and simultaneously pursued private studies towards the A’Level examinations. He humbled the rigors of the A’ Level examinations when he passed two subjects—Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics—with A grades (this was not too common at the time).
In 1972, this intellectually gifted honcho moved to 119 Pike Street, Kitty, Georgetown, and joined the teaching staff at the Technical Institute, and simultaneously weaseled through a six- year part time Bachelors of Arts Degree program in four years, with distinction, at the University of Guyana. He then embarked on Post-graduate studies and obtained his Diploma in Education (Dip Ed) two years later with distinction, and was the recipient of all the Diploma in Education accolades for that year—1978.
1) The Best Graduating Student Award
2) The Guyana Teachers Union Award
3) The Most Outstanding Diploma in Education Student Award, among others.
While Mr. Khan was receiving his awards, an old lady sitting next to our parents asked our mom, ‘’who picknee da maan’’ and our mom, flushed with pride, muttered ‘’ da me son’’ to which the lady fumed ,’’ da wan smat bai maan,’’and rightly so.
Having excelled academically, Khan was made a lecturer at the University of Guyana, in the Department of Mathematics, in 1978, and muscled his way to win a Fulbright Scholarship 1982. The Fulbright Scholarship was established under legislation introduced by Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946. It is funded, in large part, by annual appropriation from the US Congress. It can arguably be said to be a United States Scholarship sponsored by the Department of State. This provides conclusive proof that there is no correlation between one’s place of birth and what one can achieve. A man from ‘’bound coolie yard’’ clinched a coveted scholarship from one of the greatest countries in the world—the USA.
Khan departed from Guyana in 1982, and jetted to the University of Kentucky to undertake his Master of Sciences Degree in Statistics, pursuant to complying with the scholarship requirements. Here again, he further distinguished himself academically, when he graduated in 1983 with distinction, as his official University transcript unimpeachably reflects—18As’ and 1B. This made him eligible to be honored as a Member of the Boston and Cincinnati Chapters of the American Statistical Association. Khan then returned in 1984 to the University of Guyana to fulfill the practical assignment of his scholarship, where he became the Chairman of the Department of Mathematics.
Khan phoned me in 1986 from Guyana, and advised me of his intent to come to New York to join the faculty at any University. At that time, I was residing in the Bronx, NY.
When Mr. Khan arrived in the Bronx, I phoned the Chairman of the Mathematics Department at Fordham University and told him that my brother, Mr. Khan, would like to slate an interview to dialogue with him pursuant to employment. The professor informally cautioned us to go in and see him that same day. We went, we were cordially received, and after verifying his credentials, the Chairman tweeted to my brother, “you are a jewel among academics, when would you like to start, and what courses would you like to teach?’’
My brother humbly responded that he could teach any course in Math, and that all he would need is seventy two hours prior notice. He was made a lecturer at Fordhan University, where he taught for seventeen years, during which time he became a tenure professor, won a Professor’s award of excellence, and commenced his Doctoral Degree in Theoretical Statistics, but succumbed to his mortality in May 2002, prior to its completion.
Indeed, the above constituted enviable evidence that Professor Mohamed Azeem Khan is a gifted Guyanese academic legend, whose exacting academic achievements will serve to immortalize him.
Echoes from his slumber are guiding our contemplation to set up an award at the University of Guyana on his behalf, and a commemorating plaque. Both of these initiatives are in the making.
Undoubtedly, the passing of Prof. Mohamed Azeem Khan permanently diminishes the potential of the human race, as reflected above in his stellar academic accomplishments. He is survived by his wife, Farida Khan, his son, Shazam Khan, daughters Rehana Khan Garib and Shanaz Khan Roberts, among others who are too numerous to mention.