The way it was: Benefit of state awards

Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

The Islamic Summit was the highest moment of our foreign policy initiative. When King Faisal led the prayers at the Badshahi Mosque, there was not a dry pair of eyes around

Shahnawaz Khan Niazi is a man of diverse interests. At Government College he was member of the GCDC (Government College Dramatic Club) and captain of the college shooting club. He studied law at Grey’s Inn. He has been a subscriber to the Tatler, a gentlemen’s magazine for those interested in the sartorial arts and The Field, a country magazine about life and affairs of the English counties. He wore detachable Gieves cuffs and collars for his shirts, when it was rare for anyone in the Punjab mafussals to have heard of such accoutrements.

Now after the amalgamation Shahnawaz tells me Gieves has become Gieves and Hawkes of Seville Roe. Thanks to Khan Sahib, many of his contemporaries were introduced to the shops on Germyn and Bond Street. It is not possible to present a gentleman of his substance in a vignette. It would require a bigger canvas to brush in all the facets of his person. For the moment it would suffice to confine myself to the weekend I spent with him in Islamabad.

Due to erratic desi planning I drove in from Lahore an hour late for lunch. I was doubly embarrassed to learn that there were two other visitors who had also been asked to stay on. They were both generally modest and quiet but I soon gathered they were political entities of some consequence. Fareed Ullah Khan the taller of the two was more restrained than his companion who expressed himself briefly but in a robust manner. You must have noticed that most of us don’t lose a moment in announcing who we are, how much we weigh and count. Fareed Ullah didn’t volunteer a word about himself.

It was only after lunch when we were sipping green tea that Shahnawaz coaxed him into conversation. Fareed Ullah, in addition to having been an MNA and senator had also been federal minister twice. He was a recognised and notified Chief of North Waziristan, which is the largest political agency in Pakistan. The agency stretches all the way from Bannu, Razmak and Miranshah (headquarters of the political agent) to Thall often pronounced Tal. Fareed Ullah Khan had an equally illustrious father by the name of Khan Bahadur Nasrullah Khan, the recipient of MBE, OBE and Sitara-e-Pakistan.

Fareed Khan divulged to me that when his father was receiving the award from Field Marshal Ayub Khan, he not so innocently enquired of him, ‘aida kee faida’. The Field Marshal had no answer. I have ever since wondered what indeed is the benefit of state awards. There was a purpose why Fareed Ullah recounted this. He was obviously leading up to something.

He then narrated the story of the British High Commissioner who drove all the way to his (Fareed Ullah) house in Waziristan to deliver in person an invitation to his father for the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. When Fareed Ullah informed the High Commissioner that his father had been dead for sometime, he was first baffled and then embarrassed beyond description, not knowing what to say. How could Her Majesty’s Government not know of it? The matter was put right at the very first Royal Notification, formally commemorating the demise of Khan Bahadur Nazrullah Khan in England. Does anyone ever bother about what happens to our citizens who are recipients of a state award?

I have ever since often wondered for instance about the significance of the president’s award for Pride of Performance, in a country where the presidents themselves are ignominiously shunted out. In most cases, I must confess, with a considerable sense of relief. Chaudhry Fazal Illahi was an exception. Being a harmless gentleman, most people sympathised with him. Some even wrote on the walls of the President’s House, ‘Chaudhry Fazal Illahi ko raha karo.’ In those days the president had not yet moved to the present building, which architecturally has an appropriate aura of fascism. It seems that there should also be a few strollers hanging down with black crescent and stars outlined in a bold red colour.

Chaudhry Fazal Illahi definitely deserved a Pride of Performance for standing the whole day on the tarmac, receiving Muslim Heads of States, who were intermittently landing at the airport to attend the Islamic Summit Conference, at the behest of the Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Don’t forget he was an old man who could barely balance himself with a stick.

The Islamic Summit was the highest moment of our foreign policy initiative. Everyone came – monarchs and princes and distinguished heads of states. No one batted an eyelid on being asked to stay in private homes vacated by some Lahore residents. There were no complaints. When King Faisal led the prayers at the Badshahi Mosque, followed by the dua for unity, prosperity and the well-being of all, there was not a dry pair of eyes around.

It makes me cry to think how times have changed. There are not many heads of state today who would willingly like to touch us with a bargepole. Even our neighbours and close friends, who stood firmly by our side in 1965 and 1971 wars, would rather just send a polite message of greetings while flying over Pak territory to Delhi in their state jets. We are pompous, arrogant, vain and full of ourselves. We grovel to money and muscle, we wear pips and address our countrymen, we cuddle up to patrons abroad and mock our nation.

This year the President’s Award for pride of performance was given to Sami-ur-Rehman for excellence in photography. Sami is not only a capable and sensitive artist, but has also been instrumental in organising the community of photographers, holding group exhibitions and promoting and propagating photography as a legitimate art form. Incidentally Sami is a former DIG police. If more policemen were to take up photography, it may do more for the police than all the reforms being envisaged to improve the service and its image. I wish Sami had not asked for retirement, but I suppose police and art cannot be married for long; the divorce was inevitable. Samee is a mild person and would not have done anything at the behest of Kala or Bugga to hurt even a Dhagga.

On Sami’s retirement all artists, including painters who called photographers ‘Push-Buttons,’ grieved. They all felt suddenly exposed to our native Force in Blue. Thank God the Khaki Force mostly confines itself to the constitution. It is the Blue force, which breaks bones. At least this is what Major (retd) Kamran Shafi who writes a weekly article for an English newspaper told me. Personally, thank God, I have no knowledge of the matter.

Kamran Shafi, affectionately called Mikki by his friends, is a character beyond excellence. Our own Tom Jones, the hero of the Major’s Tale, narrated by Chaucer in first gear, which unfortunately got censored by that prudish Tudor King Henry VIII, for its bawdy content. To call a spade a spade definitely verges on the pornographic. Having been trained on the parade ground, banging heels, left, right and centre, naturally shakes the brain.

Mikki doesn’t mince words, even when he is asked not to comment. A splendid fellow he is, speaks in the accent of her Majesty’s personal adjutant, and writes straight off the hip, strikes straight from the shoulder, has a ruddy face, which can potentially explode at the next moment. He is a patriot but not a hypocrite. Having said all that I must add that Mikki can be terribly amusing but is not easy company. But I do wish he would refrain from employing his middle finger to type, spasmodically using an innuendo, an analogy or whatever.

No harm in not calling a rat, a rat, instead of letting one’s blood pressure rise, which cardiologist Dr Ahmed – Mikki’s own nephew – tells me should remain within 70 and 120. But is that possible living in our motherland?

Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is a painter, author and a political activist