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.