Nigerian days

June 16, 2024

A record of Dr Manzar’s observations from his four-year stay in Nigeria

Nigerian days


hen a friend recently handed me Guzray Din (Bygone Days), I initially thought it was Dr Hasan Manzar’s autobiography. However, it turned out to be the pages of a daily diary he wrote during his stay in Nigeria in the late 1960s.

Dr Hasan Manzar, who turned 90 on March 4, was awarded the Kamal-i-Fann Award for 2022 by the Pakistan Academy of Letters. His novel Habs was recently in the news not only due to the ongoing Israeli invasion of Gaza but also because it has been recently translated into English under the aegis of PAL.

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is a country in western Africa, situated between the Sahel to the north and the Gulf of Guinea to the south. Covering an area of 923,769 square kilometres, it is the most populous country in Africa, with a population of over 230 million. The country has large Muslim and Christian populations. Nigeria became a British colony in 1884 and achieved independence from British in 1960. Dr Manzar spent four years in the newly independent as an employee of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. The UNICEF has been working to end disease, hunger and poverty in the Middle East, Far East, Africa and South Asia. In Nigeria, Dr Manzar’s primary role was to care for patients with vitiligo and leprosy.

Since his college days, Manzar had it in him to be a writer. During college, he had frequently visited writers and attended literary gatherings. He had also started writing a diary. Diary writers typically record the day’s events. When pressed for space, some of them use shorthand.

Guzray Din is a record of Dr Manzar’s stay in Nigeria from February 1964 to May 1968. During his stay, he observed the African culture and society and recorded his observations.

Despite unfavourable conditions and the lack of basic facilities, his passion for looking after patients with vitiligo and leprosy and serving the semi-educated and poor people of Africa did not diminish.

In parts of Africa, it is common for people - men as well as women - to go around with upper part of their bodies bare. Agricultural lands belong to the cultivators, who can grow whatever they like. Their way of peeling fruit and vegetables differs from ours: when we peel a fruit, the knife blade is turned towards us, whereas there, it is directed away from the body.

There is an interesting account of the king being summoned to a ship docked at the harbor for an agreement on slave trade. His refusal highlights the self-respect of the national leaders.

The book is full of valuable insights. Manzar recounts an incident where a Nigerian speaker at a public gathering in the city council said, “Lepers are loathsome. They should be kept away from the city.” Manzar says he stood up to say, “The loathsome thing is leprosy, not the leper.”

When a leprosy patient was found abandoned on the floor in a hospital room, Manzar personally dressed his wounds and carried him to a hospital bed. This led to his colleagues in the hospital staff to join in the treatment of the patient.

The book mentions several UNICEF nurses risking their lives for the patients.

His brief commentary on the military overthrowing the civilian government in Nigeria is particularly relevant to our own country. He writes, “Governments imposed suddenly come in this manner and shake the society for a long time.”

Manzar writes that the light of modern education brings with it an atmosphere in which a person begins to recognise people’s rights and while they may not abandon parochial nationalism, they do start seeing it as problematic. Some nations learn to live with others.

Manzar has also recorded some of his dreams and a few narrated by his wife. He has documented his daily activities, including the time spent at the hospital; events witnessed during his travels; facts and news about the Arab-Israel war and its effects on Africa; the hardship under the military government; civil war; and battles with rebels. He has also written about routines, problems and solutions of residents of small towns and described his meetings with workers from his own country and others.

Discovering that Urdu films were shown in some cinemas in Nigeria was a pleasant surprise.

He mentions Dr Oluthe who persuaded his juniors to save money and open bank accounts. This enabled some of them to build houses from their savings.

Manzar describes the immigrants’ Eid, saying most of them remember their homeland on the special day. He recalls that officers from Pakistan’s Foreign Service would meet their compatriots overseas and share meals. He notes that friendships formed abroad are enduring.

In a engaging style, Manzar narrates an encounter with a Sardar Ji in February 1968. The Sardar Ji, who enjoyed drinking and music, leaves a memorable impression.

Manzar also recounts the difficulty faced in remitting his savings from Nigeria when he left for Edinburgh for higher education.

His writing style is vivid and captivatings.

The book has been meticulously edited. It imparts valuable lessons of service to humanity, perseverance and the determination to work hard in unfavourable circumstances.

The wounds inflicted on Africa by the West during its colonial domination have not healed entirely. Many African countries continue to suffer from civil war, terrorism and economic crises. Very little has been written about Africa in our country. As a result, most people are not aware of the unbearable torment that African countries have been through.

Guzray Din

Author: Hasan Manzar

Publisher: Aks Publications, Lahore, 2023

Pages: 600

The reviewer is an award-winning researcher and translator based in Lahore and president of the Progressive Writers’ Association. He may be reached at He tweets at @raza_naeem1979

Nigerian days