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An Oxford Engineering Science alumni memoire

Memoire narrating the time of Sheikh Rafi Ahmad at Oxford and, particularly at the Engineering Department during late 60’s England. This article is related to his published book, Oxford Revisited. 

Oxford - Mon Amour

"It was love at first sight and, instantly I got immersed into its inspiring architecture and culture and remained engorged in those during my wondrous eventful days there. Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, has undergone many face lifts, but its soul remains unchanged, as beautiful as always and, still captures my imaginations for those days – it is truly Mon Amour. Even today, more than half a century later, vivid memories of the bygone days allures me to walk along the cobbled streets and, visit the book shops and cafes and, of course, stop near my old Alma mater, the Department of Engineering Science, a tall modern multi-storey building, standing out like a sore thumb in its traditional surrounding.

Despite the awkward running escalator this was, for all intent and purposes, my home for the long four years. That was during the twilight zone - end of swinging sixties and the beginning of secular seventies, a period of exciting and explosive Cultural Revolution.

I was attached to the Oriel College and my ‘digs’ consisted of a small bedsit with shared toilet and bathroom with sparse, Spartan furnishings. Complaints? I had none whatsoever. I ate the tasteless breakfast and withstood ruthless restrictions for the privilege of being at Oxford and being served by a white landlady - a menial job for lowly maid servants back home.

My idea of a monastic and austere style student life at Oxford vanished as soon as I realized that students here also had to work hard to meet deadlines for submission of essays and dissertations and preparation for examinations. It was not particularly for acquiring knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but to have good job prospect in the future.

I was befriended by an amazing and amusing character - Rolf Kosterlitz, in my early days at Oxford and I remained his closest friend and companion. His amazing and heart wrenching life stories, narrated over the time, captivated my imagination. I completed my thesis under the joint supervision of Dr Walsh and Professor Hans Motz and, successfully defended it in 1971. I got a year’s fellowship at the department. I studied the newly emerging science of esoteric applications of lasers and continued to do so for the rest of my academic life.

Amongst the new intakes, in the beginning of the new era I sensed much more interest in worldly subjects and a very few coming for pure research degrees. It dawned on to me that the ebullience and ideology of the swinging sixties were slowly fading. A new generation of worldly wise student body was in the making.

Due to an emotional outburst about a silly matter I threw Rolf out of my office at the department. This was the last time I saw him. After many years I felt an unstoppable urge to mend my friendship with him by apologizing. I rang his doorbell. The gentleman who answered informed me that Rolf was dead – killed by a drunken motorist a year ago. The news was a shell-shock for me and his death was shrouded in mystery.

I had to write Rolf’s life’s stranger than fiction story, capturing the zeitgeist of that era with many amusing anecdotes (Oxford Revisited; Pub. Amazon) for others to know the man who introduced me to a ‘brave new world’ filled with fine art, classical music, culture and a deep quest for the origin of human consciousness and, appreciation for beautiful women and, most importantly, he taught me to laugh loud under all adversity. The memories of my Oxford days in the company of this amazing and amusing man kept me captive me for five decades now."

Sheikh Rafi Ahmad; (Shrivenham, Oxfordshire)