| Hamid Karzai (right) receives the D.Litt. (PTI)
Shimla, March 7: He remembered the halwai where he took his meals, the “Heartiest Congratulations” telegram the political science faculty of Himachal Pradesh University sent him on December 6, 2001, when he took over as the President of Afghanistan, songs from Mausam and the langurs who used to jump across his path on his way to the university.
Hamid Karzai today kept his date with the Queen of the Hills.
The Afghan President was dressed in a pink and gold ceremonial gown to accept the D.Litt. conferred on him at a special convocation held by the university at the glittering Raj Durbar of Raj Bhavan here.
“I come here not as President of Afghanistan but as a boy and student of Shimla,” he said to a thunderous applause from a select gathering. “I know more about Shimla than most of you here do. Name it and I will tell you,” he said, to another round of applause.
Karzai said when he first stepped out of the train in the month of July, “it was love at first sight. The drizzle that greeted my arrival…. I remember everything I ate in the smoke-filled tea shop listening to the lovely lyrics from the film Mausam. I remember every walk I had in the town and I must confess that I am fit today because of the walks”.
Walking down memory lane and even choking at times, the Afghan President said his years in Shimla taught him many things in life. “When I came here with my cousin I was only 18 years old. When I left, I was 22. They are years that can either make or break people. They are the formative years. For me, they were the making years. Years that taught me to be strong,” he said.
Karzai remembered his professors in the political science department, saying that but for them, he would not have succeeded in his resolve to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. “The university and Shimla prepared me to go and fight the Soviet occupation of my country.”
When pestered to name his “love” in Shimla, Karzai said: “The family I lived with here in my earlier days had two daughters — Monica and Nita. They taught me English.”
Karzai said he had never expected that he would be bestowed with “such a great honour” by the university that had helped steel his resolve to drive out those who had annexed his country. “Shimla will always have a special place in my heart,” he said.
Earlier, Karzai had instructed his security personnel, the majority of them belonging to the US, to ensure that Shimlaites “were not troubled by his presence”. Even the hotel where he was put up had no securitymen anywhere near it. Traffic plied as usual below it, unmindful of the reality that the town was host to one of the most guarded leaders of the world and who has escaped nearly half-a-dozen assassination attempts.
Karzai, who was not allowed to speak to the media due to security considerations, was later taken on a tour of the town, to places he remembered and cherished, especially the Mall and the YMCA, beaming and smiling all the way, and alone with his thoughts in the vehicle carrying him.
Gopal Singh, the head of the political science department of the university who “lit the fire in Karzai’s eye to do something for his people in Afghanistan”, burst into tears when the Afghan President was conferred the D.Litt. “I am very happy today,” he said, barely managing to conceal his feelings.
Earlier, Governor Suraj Bhan, who is also the chancellor of the Himachal Pradesh University, praised Karzai for having accepted the university’s degree.
Vice-chancellor S.D. Sharma, while reading out the citation, said Karzai had shown great love and affection for the university and the political science department in particular for inviting them to Delhi in February last year. “It was a great honour for us,” he added.