My Uncle the Intrepid Letter Writer

My uncle Muhammad Masood was the gentlest of souls. He was the kind of person who won’t even hurt a fly. They just don’t make any more like him. He belonged to the old school and had the other worldly charm. He expired yesterday at the ripe old age of 92. He will be forever missed. I met him infrequently but each time I did, I was amazed and moved by his humility and gentle kindness. He belonged to that rare breed of men, who are self-effacing and modest to the fault. He would always insist that he had nothing to boast about but whenever you had an occasion to sit and talk with him, he’d narrate stories that would make you feel proud of him.

As a young person he was exposed to the freedom struggle of India. He was studying engineering in the famous Aligarh University and his heart was more in politics than in studies. He developed a penchant of writing letters to all the important politicians in India and this included both Hindus and Muslims. A habit that he continued after Pakistan became independent. As a student he wrote to almost all important leaders of undivided India. Once he famously wrote a letter to the Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and asked him his opinion about films. Jinnah Sahib graciously responded to his young admirer in a typewritten letter. He had signed off the letter with his stylish and elegant signatures – M.A. Jinnah. Jinnah Sahib appreciated young Masood’s interest in films and said that in his opinion Muslims should join the film industry. Mr. Jinnah was an open minded man and had once toyed with the idea of playing a role in a Shakespeare play as a young man, while studying in England.

Masood Mamoon was kind enough to give Mr. Jinnah’s letter on films to me. In an age of strife and intolerance, when anything to do with entertainment is frowned upon, I thought it would be a national service to share the letter with a larger audience. I wrote a small story with the letter and it was published in the Express Tribune by a journalist nephew who works for the paper. Masood Mamoon had a treasure trove of letters with him. He regretted having misplaced some, while some had been stolen but he still had many that were his closest possession.

He once narrated how he had met Jinnah Sahib, when he had come to address the students in Aligarh. Masood Mamoon had taken the opportunity to ask a question from the great leader. The next time he was among a body of students that had gone to greet Mr. Jinnah at the railway station. Coming face to face with his hero he awkwardly asked Mr. Jinnah in halting English if he remembered him. The quick witted Jinnah Sahib, replied how could he ever forget the handsome young man like him? That was the best compliment he could ever receive and it really made his day. After partition his father a doctor in the Army Medical Corps opted for Pakistan and left him behind to complete his education. Masood Mamoon remembers Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India visiting Aligarh and telling the students that he knew that they had formed the vanguard of Mr. Jinnah’s movement for Pakistan but henceforth he’d like them to work for an independent India now. Masood Mamoon completed his education and came to Pakistan. His movement to Pakistan is another story. Somebody had fed the secret police some false information and he had to surreptitiously make good his escape.

In Pakistan he worked initially for the Military Engineering Service. He had tales to narrate about Kakul, Kalat and Turbat. He later ran his own business as a pharmacist in Quetta. He shifted from Quetta to Karachi many years ago and mostly led a retired life. He remained an active community member and was a doting patriarch, who took care of his family as his eldest son a merchant mariner was mostly away. He wrote letters in long hand to politicians, friends and relatives. Some took the trouble of replying to him. Others ignored him. None was as courteous as Jinnah Sahib. He read voraciously and made good conversation. He spoke softly in chaste Urdu. Towards the end of his life his hearing became so bad that could hardly hear anything but this was no barrier in maintaining family links. He would regularly call up my mother although he could barely hear her. The best thing about him was that he made you feel special and important. He was a very affectionate person.

Masood Mammon may Allah bless you with the choicest place in heaven.


1965: Time for Remembrance – Time for Introspection

Today we celebrate the 51st defence day of Pakistan. 1965 was the good war. It is worth celebrating. The soldiers fought valiantly and laid down their lives to defend their homeland. No sacrifice was too little to protect each inch of the homeland. The Pakistan Air Force subdued an enemy superior in numbers. The PAF airmen were able to outwit and out shoot the Indians. Ace pilot M.M. Alam shot down five Indian fighter jets in less than a minute. F86 sabres ruled the skies. The Navy sailed out and destroyed the Indian radar station at Dwarka. PNS Ghazi, the only submarine in the theater of war kept the only Indian aircraft carrier Vikrant out of action. The sea lines of communications remained open. The singers sang great war-songs to cheer the soldiers and to keep the morale of the nation at a high pitch. The common man was fully involved and backed the soldier to the hilt. The patriotic fervor was at its highest. The nation was united and everyone wanted the armed forces to perform well. The tales of valor of the soldiers of 1965 have been etched in the national psyche. In a way it is good because there is a need to build a positive national narrative.

There is nonetheless a need for deliberate introspection. It is a sad fact that the 1965 war was the result of a grand strategic miscalculation. Wrong lessons were drawn from the minor skirmish in the Rann of Kutch. False misconception gained roots among the civilian and military planners that the Hindu did not have an appetite for war and there would be no retaliation if a muscular approach was adopted in Kashmir. Infiltrators with little preparation and with little strategic direction were sent into occupied Kashmir in August with the purpose of initiating a guerrilla war of liberation. It was a lost cause from the word go. Grounds had not been prepared for a sustained armed struggle and the common Kashmiri was loath to become part of it. The men sent in to wage a successful insurgency were hunted down to the man. Very few were able to escape and return to tell the story. The Indians then launched a riposte across the international border. This move was entirely unexpected. The Army was in a peace time mode. If the soldiers had not risen to the occasion, the Indian generals might actually had been drinking the chota peg in Lahore gymkhana by the evening. A great tank battle was fought in Chawinda and the Indian juggernaut was brought to a halt. After 17 days the war ended. Both countries were bruised but not battered. Pakistan had miscalculated the Indian reactions. The Indians had not calculated the spirit of the Pakistani soldier. The two countries opted for a ceasefire. While Pakistan rejoiced that they had been able to stop a far superior enemy and defend its soil with grit and determination. The Indians straight away went to the drawing board. Their aim was simple and to the point: Defeat Pakistan at all costs. Their plan was also simple: Tear the country asunder. They had an ideal opportunity to create a rift between East and West Pakistan based on the recent war. The played upon East Pakistan’s fears that they had been left alone to fend for themselves during the War, since it had been fought within the framework of the defence doctrine based on the theory that the defence of the east lay in the west. Hatred was sown into the hearts and minds of the East Pakistanis. They were made to believe that West Pakistanis were insincere. They were using the foreign exchange through the export of jute grown by them to build their new capital in Islamabad. They had very little representation in government jobs and the defence forces. Very few of them were generals or federal secretaries. The venom spread. The result was that only six years later there was a civil war in East Pakistan. The Indians waited nine months till the small Pakistani garrison was spent and fatigued and then in November 1971 their tanks rolled in against little resistance. 16 December the Pakistani soldiers tired and humiliated surrendered to the Indian forces. This was the darkest day in the short history of Pakistan. The Indians are still conniving against Pakistan. While we celebrate 1965, we should not be oblivious of the fact that forces hostile to Pakistan are still at work. The solution lies in not only building a strong Army but also a strong nation.

Pakistan zindabad.