Saturday, September 22, 2007

Book Review: Memoirs of a senior Ayub era bureaucrat

Book Review: Memoirs of a senior Ayub era bureaucrat
By Afzal Hussain Bokhari: Statesman, Peshawar, September 22, 2007

After ceasefire in the Indo-Pak war of 1965, top delegations from both the countries had gathered in Tashkent at the initiative of the Soviet Union. In a face saving bid, the warring sides tried working at a mutually acceptable draft. At 4am Altaf Gauhar heard a knock. PAF chief Air Marshal Asghar Khan was at the door in full uniform. He broke the news that Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had just died of cardiac arrest. Everyone saw to it that the dead body was put on a plane to Delhi. Asghar Khan told Altaf to get the story in next morning's Pak papers.

This and other important stories have been sandwiched into a readable narrative that constitutes the memoirs of retired bureaucrat Tajammul Hussain, younger brother of Ayub Khan's powerful information secretary Altaf Gauhar. Brought out into the market by Lahore's "Sang-e-meel" Publications, the 223-page hardbound book, "Jo bachay hain sung …," gets its title from the famous lines of Faiz Ahmad Faiz: "Na ganwao nawak-i-neem kash, dil-i-raiza raiza luta diya; Jo bachay hain sung samait lo, tan-i-dagh dagh luta diya!" The launching ceremony of the book was held some days back in the Academy of Letters, Islamabad, where eminent writers like Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi, Iftikhar Arif, Fateh Mohammad Malik, Kishwar Naheed and others spoke about the book and its author.

Except for being Altaf Gauhar's brother and a bureaucrat who happened to rub his shoulders with Pakistan's high and mighty, there is little that one can pen down as Tajammul's intellectual credentials.

He remained associated with economy and the financial matters in his capacity as the income tax commissioner. During the 17-day Indo-Pak war of 1965, Tajammul was one of Lahore radio's regular speakers who gave 5-minute or 10-minute morale-boosting aggressive talk daily. The only other speaker who surpassed the rest of the lot was Ashfaq Ahmad who wielded his scalpel most brutally on the raw Indian nerve under the pseudonym of "Dadoo Lohaar".

The author has divided the book into 23 chapters. Most interesting, though not necessarily 100 per cent correct, of these chapters are those relating to the personal and political life of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Afro-Asian Seminar, Government College (Lahore) days and the tales from Rawalpindi.

The chapter on Bhutto seems to have been included on purpose.

The facts narrated about the former prime minister may not have been altogether wrong but the author's tilt and the kind of details he picks for his narrative tend to dismantle, rather than build up, Bhutto's image.

Notice, for instance, the way Tajummal depicts ZAB as an emotional child when he was relieved by General Ayub as the country's youngest and perhaps the most brilliant foreign minister.

It was somehow mutually agreed that ZAB will temporarily quit the political scene at home and move on to some European capital, most preferably London. Assisted by Khalid Hassan, Tajammul arranged at his house a sort of farewell dinner in which actress Babara Sharif's elder sister Firdaus danced and sang a popular song from film "Armaan", which opened with the emotionally-charged romantic line: "Akailay na jana humain chor kar tum". Bhutto felt impressed and out of curiosity asked whose song it actually was. According to Tajammul, Khalid Hassan mischievously told Bhutto that Tajammul had written the song especially for him. At this Bhutto became emotional, drained away his drink and smashed the glass violently against the wall saying: "If that's the way my friends feel about me, I'll not leave the country!" The other guests also got the cue and one after the other smashed their glasses thus ruining half of Tajammul's expensive crockery!

When Qutratullah Shahab's magic waned and Altaf Gauhar shot into prominence, the new federal capital of Islamabad became the hub of cultural activities instead of Karachi, some men of letters got together and arranged the famous Afro-Asian seminar.

The focus of attention became the legendary progressive writer from India Mulk Raj Anand. Ibn-i-Insha and Intezar Hussain took Anand to the meeting of the Halqa-i-Arbab-i-Zauq. Written on a piece of paper, the Halqa organisers gave Anand a few poetic lines and asked him to assess the piece critically. Anand had a look at the lines and then surprised his hosts by saying that the writer of the piece was not older than 23 or 24 years.

As the co-incidence would have it, the lines were by Dr. Tabassum Kashmiri who at that time was exactly the age Anand had predicted.

According to Tajammul, Mulk Raj Anand was visibly happy with his visit to Pakistan but to his close friends he privately regretted that he wanted to see his native house in Peshawar but his visa stamp did not allow him to visit that city of his dreams. So Tajammul spoke by phone to the then IGP West Pakistan, Salahuddin, and putting his car and driver at Anand's disposal, requested the police chief to take care of the vehicle and the inmate who was traveling without a diplomatic permission. When in Peshawar, a reception was arranged in Anand's native house.

Priced at Rs300, the book ends with a collection of about 26 pictures in which the author and his immediate family can be seen with high dignitaries and writers including Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Zahra Nigah.

The book shows how an ordinary boy from Gujranwala's Koocha Noor Ahmad rises to become an important decision maker in his country. After doing his elementary education from local schools in Gujranwala, Tajammul went to the Punjab metropolis.

While reminiscing about Lahore's Government College, the author says that in those days the ratio of Muslim students in the college was about 15 per cent. Tajammul recalls how the Nobel Prize winning scientist Dr. Abdus Salam used to be his class-mate.

The author also talks of the college principal Sondhi whose illustrious daughter Urmilla later became the principal of Lahore College for Women and also the wife of Professor Sirajuddin, head of the Punjab University's Department of English.

1 comment:

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