We who are about to die, salute you…

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:

Army bashing.

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I have always considered that a folly, one other reason for ridiculing the military and its outdated system.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!

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56 thoughts on “We who are about to die, salute you…

  1. A very well written piece about Zaky. The only part I would disagree with is that Zaky had a lot of talent it was way too much sometimes. I remember the football competition and although not known for his football talents his cross from his right out position to Muhammad Sajjad Iqbal to score a goal in the Finals was enough to convince anyone of his deserving membership in our college team. Yet I always felt Zaky was driven by being part of a team instead of winning accolades. And similar was the case with his English debates. I remember he used to do parodies of Geoff Boycott with an immaculate accent that I requested him to compete in the debates competition and on that night all everyone could observe was that he was the best debater that night yet our teachers failed to recognize that. I guess people like Zaky are just such dreamers and team players that for them their talent doesn’t require accolades or a pat on the back. They just have an inner rudder and energy that keeps them going. While we wore our stars and he wore his stripes, somewhere somehow I felt it should have been the other way around. Yet I hardly saw him complaining ..Always had that big smile and that loud beautiful singing voice of him singing “Tum tu thehrai pardesi” in the corridor …God I hated that song but somehow Zaky singing it made it all ok

    • I completely agree with you Sir Fahad, ofcourse he had oodles of talent in that sense, i just meant that unlike us, he never took it really seriously..he was always more about the team and the wing than any personal glory or accolades..and you obviously knew him MUCH better than me.

  2. We , the men in uniform, are always there to defend our homeland…. All we need is trust on our intentions and a belief that you also share the feeling that we go through…
    We pray for Zaka and all the men on duty….

  3. I totally agree with you……..My all other issues went direct to drain when i heard about Zaky and his brave jawans……We all are praying for them and we all are saluting them……..May Allah protect Zaky and all our brave men in uniform..Amen

  4. Actually it augment my earlier comment the unfortunate part of the story is that no one realizes till it hits his own house, imagine the condition of a soldier sitting in that freezing temperatures and rugged mountains of Waziristan listening and reading the continuous on slot of negative media bashing of Army but even then he is ready to move ahead ready on the first order of his superior to move and face the bullet get ready you may not be coming back, remember he doesn’t wink he just moves with his officer forgetting what pain he has suffered from labeling him as NAPAK ARMY by the so called intelligentsia of the country,,,,,, think…. feel the pain …..

  5. Son,the mere fact is that u made me cry and i am feeling silly that why i cry so often NOW .As an old soldier ,i compliment you on your true feelings.Thanks buddy,thanks again

  6. Very well written dude.

    I would say that Zaky’s biggest talent was that it wasn’t obviously visible talent. It was effortless, and natural.

    But most of all, it’s his will for life that pushes him to do things others will not go through. And that is why I believe that if anyone, it’s Zaky who will come out I this stronger.

  7. A brilliant write-up…took me all the way back to the red-fortress of everlasting memories. Bhaijaan Zaka’s younger brother, Imtiaz Ul Haq, a Medical Cadet at AMC, is my entry n’ wing mate. I can say the same for him too. Amazing people all the way. May Allah bless us with a miracle so that we can see our 135 soldiers back.
    And I don’t know why, there’s a constant THING in the heart that something’s not right, and specially knowing that somehow it’s Cadet College Hasanabdal, makes it totally personal!

    49th Entry, Haider Wing

  8. I know that from depth of our hearts, every one is praying for a miracle. May Allah save bhai jaan Zaka and his fellow soldiers.

    45th Entry, Iqbal Wing

  9. V well wriiten. Even though Bj Zaka’s tenure in CCh was before i got there, but still as an abdalian I have a strong bond with him. Bj. imtiaz was my senior in Haider wing. As a son of an army officer I am proud of pakistan army, specifically, Bj Zaka; as it is a great honour to serve at Siachin. My prayers are with all who are trapped there.
    Pakistan Zindabad
    CCh Paindabad.
    Omaid 51st entry
    Haider wing

  10. Deeply moving… n so personal…Dont have words to explain… May Allah make it all better… after all for HIM, its just the utterance of “kun… fayakun”… Ya Allah, have mercy…

  11. Very well written indeed. May Allah have mercy on all those trapped in siachen and strength to the loved ones to face these difficult times…. Somehow I can never lose hope in Allah’s miracles. Indeed it is a matter of just saying ‘kun’ for HIM and it will happen.

    Long live Pakistan!
    Long live Pakistan Armed Forces!

    Ameen

  12. Very well written !! I was looking at his picture and couldnt remember him v well…. but the way you described him brought all the good memories back…… !! And i aient kidding about this. May Allah be with him and he and his jawans have to show us that miracles are not mere fantasies in this age even !!
    Fahad Bokhari – 40- L/W

  13. Sir all that you’ve written moved me to the core. I myself am an abdalian, a fresh one though, of the 52nd entry and as i read about the zebites being the ‘dangarr’ ones but still iqbal wing winning all the trophies i would like to say that sir it is still the same =) all that you have written about you’re resentement towards the pakistan army and then how it turned into regard for those people, i believe this is what we as a nation are going through. after hearing about sir zaka and his fellow men, i only wish i could be the one who could lay down my life for a greater cause. all of them will always be loved and shall stay alive in our hearts. I myself didn’t go for the army just to pursue a career in psychology and now i realize that as you said, it was the fear of being bound, the fear of that daring life that tied my hands back. Apart form all this sir, it is great to see a fellow abdalian on this forum, it always is =)

  14. After going through all..I must say…Great Job Bandial..
    As far as Zaka Bhai is concerned..He is a real man..Just to share with you guys, he was my class fellow before joining CCH & he was an amazing enthusiastic guy ..every time full of energy that was immaculate. Probably he was the only man in Iqbal wing who came to me & told me about all the happenings of CCH & advised me not to call him by name..use Bhai Jan..but he proved a real bhaijan. During the championship, u know all battles are not won with the best weapons …the most lethal weapon was his devotion,motivation and courage..which was always more than anyone else ..I think Fahad Bhai will also agree on this..there was no second to him as far as his commitment is concerned..May Allah keep him safe & sound..Ameen

  15. I like the passion in your words, but I disagree with you where you had a change of heart. I think your initial feelings towards the army were more profound than the emotional change you had after you realized someone you knew has passed away. A realistic question for you to ask yourself would be: Would you have had this change of heart towards the army had there been no ‘officers’ buried under the avalanche? While we all mourn the loss of our brothers in Siachen, we shouldn’t forget that soldiers are mere pawns in a greater game. This is the same army that has sold Pakistan out to drone attacks, foreign interventions, losing half the country in 71, abducting and carrying out extra judicial killings of thousands of our own people in Balochistan and lest I forget, repeated (illegal) coups that have repeatedly stalled the democratic growth of Pakistan. Let’s call a spade a spade. The army is only a friend to its own people. The ‘bloody civilians’ are not the priority for them.

    • Some other time i would have agreed with you, but right now, the wound is too fresh, which i know is exactly what you’re saying, all im saying is that whichever way we look at it, whichever side of the army-civil divide you stand, the person on the other side is also one of our own, and so we end up hurting ourselves.Whats the use? Life is too short and fleeting… But thats just me.

  16. Very well written. Truth that we hide I our hearts has been expressed in a very simple way. Our prayers for all of them. Pakistan Army Zindabad.

  17. I saw the picture and I wept. It reminded me of his deep mischevious voice with a big hearty smile. Indeed he had the heart to take up any challenge and make it look easy. He was my dorm senior in the 3rd term when i was in 8th class. He also invented the term ‘antul ka-choori’ during ramadan while appreciating the taste of kachuri at fast breaking, those were some days 😦

    • Yaar Bakr…i can’t even imagine how hard it must be for you and the people who lived that closely with him for 5 years…I myself am still having trouble getting over it…doesnt feel any less than losing a brother…

  18. – I have never known an army person. Neither read anything regarding the army. I’ve always heard about people dying here and there but all I could say was “Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Illaihi Rajioon” and I left it that.

    Today, I don’t have the strength to say these verses. I keep hoping that someway or the other, I don’t get to say these verses AT ALL for any of the soldiers buried inside.

    May Allah bring them out of the avalanche burying them.

    P.S.: This blog made me cry. Teenagers are supposed to be pretty emotional, but only at things concerning them. But THIS, made me cry even though it’s no where related to me at all. Allah is the only one who can help them .. Insha-Allah. ♥

  19. Alas it always takes a tragedy or losing someone close to understand the real face of truth. Personally I have seen the worst of army bashers who practically have many loved ones serving in Pak Army at the moment and who would still ridicule army to the core (recently I heard someone saying that Pak Army should remove soldiers from Siachen as well as Kashmir to avoid more useless death of soldiers and trust me it had hurt real bad). The only difference is that they also need a reality check to realize the worth of Pak Army’s services and their cause. I hope this check doesnt come with another 100 plus soldiers dying. I so wish the ones among us who criticize Pak Army dont have to see soldiers burried alive under ice to get the point why they do what they do. Long Live Pak Army.

  20. Monty, that was BEAUTIFUL!!! To be honest, i had tears in my eyes!! I am too a son of a Faujy and could relate to all what you wrote!! Long Live Pak Army and Pakistan!!!

  21. Sir Zaka had a talent with people. He helped me out with my first debate — his jovial self made being away from home bearable in that first term at Cadet College. The guy was a gem and I pray for him and his family.

    Zein Khan – 47th Entry Iqbal Wing

  22. Simple writing, yet so powerful !!

    Bro lemme tell u the other side of the story ..
    After leaving CCH … Zaka joined 105 PMA L/C .. We were there to receive them … Eventually Zaka came to Salahuddin Company and I was his Corporal … We had to teach the Prelims (1st termers) all the things that we will ultimately make them an Officer in the Pak Army .. But i confess here that i learnt things from Zaka … Life, Happiness, humour …. He made me laugh when i was in the most of serious moods to Rag his platoon (I was a VERY tough Corporal) … I guess his Platoon-mates used him many a times …

    12 years down the line and before the Siachen tregedy even … believe u me … if i try to remember Salahuddin 105 L/C … ZAKA’s smiling face would be first to come to my mind !!

    Hoping to see the ever smiling Zaka again … As miracles do happen, thats why we know of its existence

  23. good piece of work……but nobody can acknowledge the sacrifices made by these guys….
    may ALLAH ALMIGHTY have mercy and bless all the souls (ameen)
    proud to be a part of both institutions..
    CCH ZINDABAD
    PAK ARMY ZINDABAD

  24. Being an Abdalian and AMColian, feeling the sadness, pain, agony of nears and dears and praying for all brave soldiers especially Maj Zaka and Capt Haleem (both from my own deep in heart institutions – CCH and AMCol)

  25. I am from 27th entry iqbal Wing and being Abdalian do feel unbreakable bond with all of you. I seldom find time to comment but this piece is really written from the depths of the heart and on one hand it took me to nostlagic feeling of my times at CCH and on the other did make me cry and feel the pain for Zaka all his friends. As human beings we are all slaves of our destiny; whatever Allah Almighty has written for us. we can only play our part and then pray very humbly to Allah; thats what we are doing. but at the same time as Muslims we do believe in the eternal afterlife that is full of pleasure, peace and countless blessings. I do pray for their safe rescue and if Allah has written shahadah for them pray for their best afterlife

    Dr Muhammad Abid Bashir
    Associate Professor of Surgery
    Nawaz Sharif Medical College, University of Gujrat

  26. Its to the valient sons of soil like those buried under feets and feets of snow at gyari that noor jahan so generously dedicated all her melodious intonations,”ae watan k sajilay jawano meray naghmay tmharay lye hain”. . .as i watchd a siachin soldier on tv saying”amma ab may ja rha hoon. . .fiamanillah. . .”to his mother just bfr rising to the inhospitable glacier to protect it with his life,my eyes welled up on their own accord for those dauntless brthrs who were protecting us. . . .may that “amma”find peace of heart and mind and i beseech to God to let a miracle happen . . .plz God , save my brave,unselfish brthrs. . .cz”agar wo mar gay tou unhaen maut ka nahi ,is baat ka afsos hoga k dushman un par sabkat le gya. . . . ” HATS OF TO THE FEARLESS DEWELLERS OF ICE AND BLIZZARDS. . .the whole nation is proud of u. . .v r praying

  27. A very well written entry. I didn’t expect to read such a long post. If I knew it was this long I probably would have been discouraged, I admit. The title of the post, your writing on this subject and the fact that your voice was personally narrating something that is close to your heart really kept me reading. I was intrigued, and I found myself caring about where your opinion wanted to rest at the end about your father.

    This army subject and the frustrated view that you had regarding it, I go through the same thing from time to time. For the longest time I didn’t know what to think of soldiers. Of the army. Of nationalism. Sometimes I wish the army didn’t exist; I think to myself, these soldiers could be at home with their loved ones in stead of on war zones. They are just pawns in the game of politics, while in reality they are valuable people who have families, people who have dreams.

    Whether or not I am undecided about what to think of the army, at the end of the day, it’s hard to not respect and appreciate soldiers. They are the ones risking their lives for us, doing what we can’t do. They are the “men of the country” the same way they are “the fathers of our families.” Protecting us, willing to put their lives on the line to save us the way only real heroes can.

  28. Completing the first three paras I realized it’s some “know-too-much”, brainwashed brat of a rich society who doesn’t know the harsh ways of Army life, a guy trying to talk about something he doesn’t know about… but the title gave me something to carry on reading.
    By the end of the whole I had the “almost” tear in my eyes, of pride not of sorrow, that I was a daughter of a man who has served his land not for money but for everyone else’s peaceful life.

    How much has he suffered along his life effecting his own family and time to time being in the middle of my family gathering and looking at my cousins’ dads being there with them and especially the moments when they asked me sympathetically about how I feel of him not being here, I would feel a clutch in my throat to cry that I miss my father but I am proud of him not being here but being at the border fighting for YOUR lives to be safe.

    Proud of you dad. I’ll always be honored to know that I have been raised by someone responsible of our “freedom” that we call ‘azad sansein’.

    • Courage is the creed of servicemen and their families, wives and relatives. Being son of a service man, its easy to understand the bravery, courage and valor the men showed, (RIP you all), in fact we are indebted to them. I remember Shakespeare’s “Cowards die many times before their death, the valiant never taste of death but once’, I salute all the martyrs of Army either here in Ghiyari or in other areas of our country. Have no words to express gratitude but only prayers

  29. I dont know the writer although I triedbhard to find the name some where. But really touching. We lost our entrymate Azhar Iqbal Shaheed 33rd L/W in Siachen and I guess zaka shaheed and azhar r exactly carbon copies. He was my dorm mate and then room mate for 4 out of 5 years. The first person I ever met and spoke to in CCH.

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