Bad Times for Ex Servicemen

A few day ago I received a call on my mobile phone from an unknown number. The caller introduced himself as a retired senior officer of the Pakistan Air Force, now in his nineties. Oh yes I remembered Mirza Sahib. He was an aeronautical engineer and had done a stint in China as a technical attaché. He had been a contemporary of my father and a friend of sorts. At one time we had been neighbours but that was after I had left to join the army. To strike a sympathetic chord, he told me about how proud my late father had been of me and how he had given him a photograph of me being awarded a gold medal on my graduation day. He was being awfully nice and he didn’t need to do that, I would have listened to him in any case.

I remembered clearly that the Mirza family had medical problems. One of the sons was night blind and the daughter had died very young. The mother had died brokenhearted after losing their only daughter. The eldest son was my class fellow but we hadn’t been very close and it was quite natural that we didn’t ever meet after leaving school. Years later – in fact decades later, we would almost meet. About eight years ago I received a text message from Sikander asking me if I we would care to meet after Eid. He had got my contact from one of my sisters, whom he had met professionally, while working for an advertisement agency. I am still wondering how Mirza Sahib got my number. Anyhow, I had responded positively to Sikander’s invitation but alas we were not fated to meet. Shortly after exchanging messages, Sikander died of a fatal heart attack. I went to the Mirza family house to offer my condolences. I met his father and his eldest son. The son had not completed his education and I could see a long struggle ahead of him. That was the last that I saw of Sikander’s family until I got this call from the elder Mirza.

Mirza Sahib had fallen on bad times. His younger son had gone blind and had injured a spine in a bathroom fall. He had four orphans to look after and he wanted his son to be sent abroad for surgery. He wanted me to talk to one of the services chief’s to help him out. He also sent me an application for financial aid. The sum that he was asking for was an astronomical and I knew that nobody would give him that. Nonetheless, I was able to convey the distress of the old man to the people, who mattered. I felt extremely sorry, why should an air commodore be reduced to begging? Why shouldn’t his legitimate problems be addressed by his service and the state that he had served so honestly and diligently? I have no answers. After his first phone call Mirza Sahib, started calling me regularly and asking me if there was any progress. I could only advise patience. One day I told my wife that the least I could do was to visit Mirza Sahib and find out why things had come to such a pass. So today on a hot June during the month of Ramzan, we reached Mirza Sahib’s house in Chaklala scheme I. This is an upscale neighbourhood and the house we visited was large with a good lawn. There was no car in the garage. Perhaps Mirza Sahib was too old for it or worse he couldn’t afford one. One of his grandsons greeted us in the drive way. His grandfather had been waiting for us. He ushered us into the drawing room. Soon Sikander’s widow joined us and was followed by Sikander’s blind brother, who greeted me warmly. Mirza Sahib was interrupted from his late breakfast. He was old and diabetic and he could not fast.

It was a sorry tale but more of mismanagement than anything else. The family lives on Mirza Sahib’s pension. The bills are paid by the eldest son, who works for an advertisement agency like his father. I can only presume that he has a modest pay. Sikander’s widow is not keeping good health and has no skill set. So she is pretty much confined to the house. Sikander’s younger brother of course can’t work but is most anxious to go abroad for surgery to have his injured back repaired. Two of Sikander’s youngest children, a son and a daughter, don’t go to school but tend to their grandfather. For their education they’re enrolled in distance learning courses being offered by Allama Iqbal University. One son with a B Com degree is looking for a job. Mrs Sikander informed us that the eldest son has been married to a girl in the UK. So of course he’d be leaving as soon as his paper work is complete. What would happen once the sole bread earner leaves them and once Mirza Sahib passes away?

The opinion that I could make after seeing the dismal state of affairs of the Mirza family was that it was more a case of mismanagement than anything else. First and foremost, the family should stop feeling sorry for themselves. Secondly, the children should resume school – a real one and not one which teaches remotely. Thirdly, the big house should be sold or portions of it like the basement and the upper story be put on rent to generate some real income. In case the house is sold and it should fetch a good price, the family could move to a smaller house and the blind son can be sent for treatment abroad. The only thing is who can help the family take such a big step and also manage their affairs? The service, the state or concerned citizens?

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