Postcards from San Francisco | Ode to Daddy – VIII
Samina Masood: The Post, Islamabad, October 22, 2007
It was in the late 1960s that Professor M. Rashid was offered a job in the UN. A few years prior to that he had been offered the position of Finance Minister by General Ayub, but had declined the offer saying he wanted to remain a teacher at the Government College rather than pursue a more worldly important position. After he declined the offer, he was transferred by the then administration to Rawalpindi for two years, a position he did not want to take up, but was forced to by the bureaucratic forces of the then Pakistan. Pakistan now is no different, perhaps even worse in its treatment of true intellectuals who are cast aside to the peripheries of society for their lack of obedience to the powers that be.
Those who are corrupt to the core, whose values include plunder and the accumulation of personal wealth regardless of the suffering of the larger humanity around them, succeed in financial terms. My father did not want that success and indeed kicked it every time it reared its ugly head to tempt him to forgo his ideals and become a man of the world. Disillusioned with the then state of affairs he reluctantly accepted the position abroad and left Pakistan for a number of years, which meant our family became severed, a huge price for a little girl to pay in terms of being apart from her father. Had he not left my life, it might have turned out to be quite different, but one cannot go back and erase or rewrite the past.
Upon his return to Pakistan, he assumed the position of the Education Secretary Punjab. It was offered to him by former Prime Minister Z. A. Bhutto whom he had met, literally ‘by accident’. During a political rally at Gol Bagh near the principal’s mansion in Government College, there had been an attempt on Bhutto’s life, who had been electrocuted by his enemies during a public speech. A rickshaw driver had helped Bhutto into the back of his rickshaw and driven him to the nearest house he could find, which happened to be ours. I remember the scene succinctly. I was about five or six years old and my father had been out for his college rounds.
He walked five miles a day as a constitutional, well into his 70s. The rickshaw driver knocked on our door and my mother opened it. He described Bhutto as lying in the back of the rickshaw, semi-conscious, in a state of shock. My mother summoned our chowkidar to help Mr Bhutto and scurried around, getting cold water to soak Mr Bhutto’s feet in, applying cold water patches to his forehead in order to help him regain consciousness. Mr Bhutto came to and was able to take some refreshments. My father returned home to find a reluctant Bhutto almost passed out on our simple living room furniture consisting of some cane chairs and a small wooden table, no rugs! The two men, both great minds, talked for a long time. They talked about the state of politics in Pakistan, the retrogressive forces who wanted to kill Bhutto even before he was elected, the fact that the liberals and the educators were a threat to the powers that be in Pakistan. They talked about the inception of Pakistan and Jinnah’s vision, which was trashed by the Mullah element, how instead of becoming secular, Pakistan was becoming a fundamentalist society dictated by the Mullahs and the Army. Both these men are dead now, and their worse fears are growing in unimaginable proportions every day. The Pakistan of the 1960s is much worse than the Pakistan of the 2000s. I wonder if it will ever turn around. My mother asked Bhutto sahib that day a very prophetic question. She said, “Bhutto sahib, yai log apko maar daingay, aap politics chorr dain.” His reply, “Begum sahiba, politics meri zindagi hai, mai issay kabhi nahin chorroonga.” And kill him they did, indeed.
My father died serving his country too, but at least he was not murdered.
(to be continued)
The writer is a reputed Pakistani journalist, currently residing in San Francisco, USA