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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Unsung Hero

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: December 13, 2012
Original Link:\12\13\story_13-12-2012_pg3_4

If you were to flip your currency note, you will find a statement in Urdu, which can be loosely translated as, “Earning an honest living is a form of prayer.” Not many people know someone who embodies that statement in real life. I do, or I guess I am compelled to say, I did, to be grammatically correct. It was a man who rose from very humble beginnings, yet remained humble at all times, a man who gave this scribe the love for reading as much as he did.

He went through perhaps 10 to 12 newspapers, four or five magazines and radio and television news like a sponge, almost every day without fail. His early morning walks, the strict exercise regimen and the newspaper reading routine were his staples. No matter how cold the weather was, his tenacity to fight the odds was exemplary. A workaholic at all times, he was always focused on his goal of earning an honest living for his family.

If this scribe was taught how to read and write by his mother and teachers at school, then this man really showed him what to read. He was deeply passionate about his career of four decades in banking but enjoyed politics immensely. He was a social magnet who immediately lit up social gatherings with his discussions and views. He could touch on any topic and people marvelled at his keen interest in poetry, the arts and music.

I saw many of his co-workers and staff members surprised to see him so simple and humble in real life. The man who had a wardrobe full of designer suits would be clad in a simple shalwar kameez at home and whom people addressed as ‘Sir’, ‘Sahib’ or very simply ‘Saab’ would be cooking on a Bar-B-Q grill at home.

He possessed a photographic memory about people and could easily recall the genealogy tree of someone within minutes. A hearty laugh would typically follow at the end of a discussion and often as a punch line, he would quote a couplet in Urdu. Very few people knew that he did not have any formal college degree, yet he could articulate and communicate far better than most highly educated individuals could.

A young man leaving Pakistan in the 1950s for Germany was a bit uncommon in those days. He shared those black and white photographs with me where he was beaming with smiles with his group of German friends. But someone somewhere had him destined to come back home to the Lyallpur of yesteryears. Hired as an apprentice in a Pakistani bank, he managed to climb the ladder with his sheer honesty and simplicity; it was mostly unheard of someone reaching a senior level post without any ‘personal connections’ or ‘foul means’.

I heard many stories from him about the people he met — celebrities and well-known figures — whether it was the late Prime Minister Bhutto, General Zia or the present president of Pakistan. It was in the early 1980s when he met our president in Dubai, before Ms Bhutto got married to him. There are photo albums of him and many Indo-Pakistan sports and film celebrities who went to Dubai in the 1980s. Dilip Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and many others come to mind. His all-time favourite actor was Dilip Kumar and he had a special liking for ghazals. Jagjit and Chitra Singh’s ghazals on audio cassettes were often found in the glove compartment of his cars.

“The excitement in your voice tells me it is another boy,” he said to me when I asked him to guess whether it was another grandson or a granddaughter. This was my last talk with him that I could really call a discussion. A few weeks later, I found myself pacing through long lines at some busy airports of the world. Approximately 30 hours later, I found my two brothers with swollen eyes at the Karachi Airport. The ride to our house was rather sombre. I rushed to meet my mother because there was something inside me that was getting uncontrollable. The pent up emotions for restless hours finally broke at her feet. I went to his empty room where everything was intact. I even slept in his bed, hoping that I would hear something from somewhere, maybe a term of endearment that he used for me when I was a child. How he had laughed heartily when at the age of eight I told him that I wrote a movie script in the pocket diary that he had gifted me. How he would beam with joy when a five-year-old me impressed the strict principal of the prestigious Catholic school I attended by imitating the chocolate hero, the late Waheed Murad. Or how silly I was when we would get into debates about my future and my career. How I was not as successful as he was. Because an apple may not fall far from the tree but some apples are not so lucky. I consider myself one of those rotten ones.

My simplest tribute to the man I know as my father is my abbreviated first name so that his name gets to live. When people address me by his name, it gives me immense joy and pride. But at the same time I wish he was around so he could see his own offspring’s scribbles in print. To some who would think how selfish of me to attribute a column to my own father, yes, I am selfish, because without him, there would not have been a me. All I can ask all of you is to overlook my little transgression and say a prayer to God for him.

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