Whenever we are at a family gathering or an occasion and the conversation is starting to get stale, one of my uncles or cousins winks or prods me. And that is my cue to launch into my favorite topic:
And the target is always abba, who after some 30 plus years of following his passion and serving at all terrains in uniform, never fails to rise to the occasion, and defend ‘my second mother’ whenever anyone dares even raise a finger to it.
I follow a typical set procedure of nudges and pokes. One of my ‘accomplices’ joins in, by saying something like, ‘We sure wish the Army would take over the government, look at the haalat these days.’
Abba perks up, and then composes himself again.
These Army guys are nothing if not adaptable. He knows by now that Im just trying to provoke him into an argument for the sake of the gathering. Like a wizened and battle scarred veteran that he is, he ignores my jabs and feints, while I play for the gallery.
He chuckles and sighs, and once in a while i detect a slight sympathy for me, as if saying, you don’t know what you’re talking about son. And that condescending look ALWAYS eggs me on. Like a fool I mistook it for weakness.
I have my usual arsenal; the countless marshal law tenures , the rampant corruption in the system, how every soldier that takes the oath in the academy to defend the constitution, ultimately breaks it by coming in to power, and the other rabble rousing material that is being thrown about in the media.
Most of the time, they work, and I get what I want; a charging soldier, bayonet pointed straight at me.
My supporters, the relatives and cousins, sit up straight and order a second round tea, now we’ve got a party.
My father, a typical soldier, is easy.
He charges straight at you.
No deception, no trickery.
I have always considered that a folly, one other reason for ridiculing the military and its outdated system.
My new fangled ideas of intellect have clouded my reasoning and I mistake chivalry and bravery for simpleness. All these years, I have been ignorant, but now I see.
If my father refuses to take the bait, I always have one last card up my sleeve that makes him livid.
The defeat at East Pakistan, and how we surrendered half our country.
My father literally jumps from his seat; he gets livid and animated, all at the same time.
Its a cheap trick on my part, he always falls for it. I throw in Musharraf and countless other examples to stoke the fire.
All in all, its a great discussion, and people thank me for entertaining them. I walk away smug and content.
Abba just looks at me and smiles, its a sad smile.
‘If only you were not my son’ he says.
I shrug and tell him something along the lines of me being more educated and upto date and just pointing out the facts which he is choosing to ignore; that it is not the same Army anymore.
He does not seem to hear anything, just takes this long deep sigh and says, ‘How can you hate the army, when your father, and your grandfather served in it?’
It always rankles me, in the deepest recesses of my heart, even though on the surface I don’t let it show. I have resigned myself to the fact that I don’t like the Army that much. It seems like the simplest and most easiest answer at the time.
But sometimes, whats simple and straight forward may not be true. And if there is one thing that you can count on in life, its that sooner or later you will have to face up to the truth.
It has happened with me.
Last night, I found out that a senior of mine at Cadet College Hasan Abdal,PA-39548 Maj Zaka Ul Haq 41st entry, Iqbal Wing, has been trapped under an 80 feet avalanche at Siachen along with more than a 100 of his brothers in arms.
Since then, I have been unable to sleep in peace.
It is true that death teaches you a lot about life. This is the second one in a short span of time. First it was my cousin, Shehryar Noon. His death has made me realize the fleetingness of life and all things material.
The second one has made me question my own heart; about courage, devotion and commitment.
I remember Zaka. We were not friends. He was my senior. From Iqbal Wing, I was from Aurangzeb wing. We have always been rivals in all competitions. We tend to consider ourselves as the better sportsmen, us Zebites. It always rankled us because Iqbalians always won more trophies. We found them arrogant and aloof, just as I guess they found us.
And yet, even at that time, Zaka intrigued me.
He was not naturally gifted, yet he played all sports and was a member of all wing teams. So i got to personally know him as i faced him in our do-or-die football matches. He had no talent, but what he lacked in skill, he more than made up with a heart that was huge. You had to be willing to get your legs broken if you planned on getting the ball past him. Because he would rather die than let his team, his wing, his brothers lose.
Off the field, he was gregarious, loud and ALWAYS smiling, with a joke. I remember his debates in English. He had no prior debating experience but he shouted and he waved his hands..and the crowd responded! We were up on our feet in the Abid Majeed amphitheater, cheering him on wildly.
Thats what i remember of him.
Those are the type of people who go into the Pakistan Army.
I am reminded of this sentence in the movie ‘A few good men’ where one of the protagonist asks the other ‘why do you like them( the Army) so much.’
And she replies something along the lines of ; ‘ because they stand on a wall, and they say nothings going to happen tonight, not on my watch.’
I always figured myself to be the smart one, for choosing not to go in the Army. I was a color holder in sports at Hasan Abdal, I could do it all. I figured joining the Army to be the easy way, and I opted for more studies and a career in the Civil Services.
The truth is I was scared…
I was selfish…
I could not imagine committing myself to such a tough life, for a cause I did not understand. I was not ready to put my country before myself.
I know better now.
I don’t hate the Army, abba. I LOVE it. I grew up idolizing it through you. I was there with you when you were at Sukkur during the Anti-Dacoit operations. I watched the ‘jawans’ , putting their lives in your hand, and you reciprocating their love and devotion.I was there when you came home with blisters on your feet from the 30 mile walk.The countless exercises in the desert, when we’d sit by the phone waiting for a call. I grew up watching all that.
I have seen my room-mate at HasanAbdal and one of my closest friend Major Noman Shiekh come back from Siachen, a mere shell of his former self. And i wondered, what makes a person go through that for something so abstract as just a piece of land. I remeber him at Hasan Abdal, and I look at him now. I still see the gangly boy, but I see determination and a steely resolve now which we only saw once when he led our Wing to the runners-up trophy in the Obstacles Course competition. Those are the sort of people in the Pakistan Army; men of honor.
Men of steel.
Somewhere along the line, I grew up and saw the Army not as you had shown it to be, and I was dis-illusioned. I don’t hate the Army, I felt cheated out of my dreams. I felt that some elements were maligning the Army from the lofty place it deserves and holds in my and I’m sure every Pakistani‘s hearts.
I feel so much better now, because I finally know that I am my father’s son. An Army officer‘s son. My army bashing is infact, my anger at us, as a people, a society having lost our way.
Today as I along with my fellow Abdalians, pray for a miracle to save our friend, our brother, I also pray for my valiant Pakistani soldiers and I salute them for being more man than I could ever be.
Hehe you thought I could never say it abba, so here it is ;
Pakistan Fauj Zindabad, Pakistan Paindabad!