On the 29th of January 1926, Chaudhry Muhammad Hussein and Bibi Hajira Hussien had a baby boy at their two-bedroom abode in Jhang. They named him Abdus Salam; ‘servant of peace’.
“I was born in the country town of Jhang, then part of British India, now Pakistan, in 1926. My father was a teacher and educational official in the Department of Education and my mother was a housewife. I had 6 brothers and 1 sister. My family was by no means rich.
Salam had his early schooling in Jhang city.
“When I was at school in about 1936 I remember the teacher giving us a lecture on the basic forces in Nature. He began with gravity. Of course we had all heard of gravity. Then he went on to say “Electricity. Now there is a force called electricity, but it doesn’t live in our town Jhang, it lives in the capital town of Lahore, 100 miles to the east”. He had just heard of the nuclear force and he said “that only exists in Europe”. This is to demonstrate what it was like to be taught in a developing country”
At the age of 12, Abdus Salam was admitted to Jhang’s local college for his intermediate education.
In the following article, published in the Urdu monthly magazine `Tahzeebul Akhlaq’ in January 1986 (translated by Mr. Zakaria Virk), Salam narrates his account of the time he spent at Jhang College.
“I was admitted to Jhang College, Pakistan in 1938 at the tender age of 12. I spent four years there. In those days it was an intermediate college, grade 9, 10, first year and second year classes were taught there. The majority of students in the college were Hindu. It was my good fortune that I had some of the exceptionally learned and most affectionate teachers assigned to me.
The foundation of my academic career was laid in this college. I believe that I owe all of my later accomplishments to this institution and to its hard-working teachers. I firmly believe that a teacher’s affection and his proper attention can make or break a student.”
Right from the start, Salam was deeply invested in his academic growth. At 14, he scored record breaking marks in Punjab university’s matriculation entrance exams.
I remember returning home around 2 p.m. in the afternoon on my bicycle from Maghiana to Jhang city. The news of my standing first in the exam had already reached Jhang city.
I had to pass through Police Gate district of Jhang city to reach my home in Buland Darwaza. I distinctly recall that those Hindu merchants who normally would have closed their shops due to afternoon heat, were standing outside their shops to pay homage to me. Their respect for me and their patronage of education has left an indelible impression on my mind.”
In 1942, Salam joined the Government College University at Lahore. He enrolled to study Mathematics A and B, and English. Apart from being somewhat of a prodigy at mathematics, Salam was also seen as a highly able student of the English language by his mentors. It is recorded that some of his tutors thought he would make a great English teacher.
In Mathematics, Salam published his first paper in 1943. It was titled, “A problem of Ramanujan”. He graduated next year with jaw-dropping scores: 300 out of 300 marks in Mathematics, 121 out of 150 in English Honours. He stood first at his university, breaking all records in the B.A examination. As a result of Salam’s high scores, he secured a scholarship for further studying mathematics at Cambridge University’s prestigious St John’s College.
“I wrote my first research paper when I was about sixteen years of age which was published in a mathematics journal but I wasn’t actually hooked on research till I went to Cambridge University.