I was a very unconventional student. Throughout my academic career I had a feeling that I was going through the motions of being one.
I read books of all kinds. Literature. History. Fiction. Even poetry which was not one of my strong areas.
Apart from Allama Iqbal, I could hardly recite a couplet from my memory. But gradually I developed some liking for Shakespeare’s brilliance, Shelley’s romantic imagination and Keats’ love of beauty.
I read almost all of Hardy. Though none of his novels was less than a classic it was “Far From The Madding Crowd” that captivated me the most. The character of Bathsheba Everdene was Hardy’s master stroke as was Gabriel Oak the uncorrupted country boy.
It was however the Bronte name that became an inspiration for me. Charlotte’s Jane Eyre was a great novel. But Emily’s Wuthering Heights was simply majestic. In my reckoning it is the greatest love story of all times. The two Catherines, mother and daughter, were studies in contrast And Heathcliff’s journey of revenge was so absorbing it got ingrained in my psyche.
I also read Zola, Maupassant, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostovesky, and Balzac—the French and Russian masters.
Ibsen’s Master Builders was my favourite drama, as was Spanish masterpiece Cyrano de Borgrac.
It was in those years that I cultivated friendship with Mohammad Ali the actor —-who used to live opposite to the Firdous Cinema that was owned by Qazi family. One of the sons of Qazi Akbar, Qazi Jameel had become a friend.
As the said cinema was situated close to the Sindh University Campus (the old one) its cafeteria used to be our favourite meeting place. Mohammad Ali used to come there occasionally and we used to make fun of him because of his long hair and lean tall bony frame.
“Bharat Bhooshan—Bharat Bhooshan”, was the chant with which we used to greet him. We here means me and my friends Tariq Khan, Roshan Zamir Rizvi, Zafar Masood and Dadan Khan Jatoi. The last named was younger son of the famous Hari leader Haider Bux Jatoi.
We had no idea at that time that the tall bony young man, we used to make fun of, would in the years to come become Pakistan Film Industry’s star personality.
Let me state here that alongwith my other friends I was an avid cinema-goer. And that was the era of Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, William Holden Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Tyrone Power, Stuart Granger, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Andrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and many others who lifted some memorable Holly wood movies with their stunning performances.
The movies that I remember with special fondness are Vera Cruz, Roman Holiday, Ben Hur, Bridge on the River Kwai, Blood And Sand, Duel In The Sun, Gone With The Wind, and Love Is Many A Splendoured Thing.
After the arrival of General Ayub Khan who was soon to become Field Marshal, it became virtually a passion for the young ones of that era to opt for the Civil Services.
Practically every boy of my age who regarded himself above average wanted to become a CSP officer. Most of my friends including Roshan Zamir were already rejoicing in their fantasies about a future of power and affluence.
A rebel as I was, I hoisted on the front door of the two-room modest accommodation that I used to share with Roshan Zamir and one other friend Sagheer Ahmad Butt, a card that read: “Dogs and CSP candidates are not allowed.”
Roshan removed it twice only to find it reappear.
“This is not fair Akbar,” he used to say protestingly” We have a right to go for a career of our choice.”
“You surely have it,” I used to reply. “But I too have the right of self-expression. You can however hoist a card of your choice side by side.”
I have mentioned this incident only to emphasise upon my extreme dislike for civil services which I used to identify with the colonial traditions of the British Raj.
As I haven’t ever maintained a diary or taken notes, I am relying very heavily on my memory while writing these memoirs thus I may skip or fail to remember some interesting incidents, events or moments. For example I have failed to recall my utter disgust at Hussain Shaheed Snharswardy’s remark at the Beirut Airport on a proposal regarding joint Arab Action against Israel.
He had famously (or notoriously) said: Zero+Zero+Zero+Zero+Zero = Zero.
This sad remark had been seen in the Arab World as a U.S lackey’s mindset.
In the year 1959, I went to Abbottabad to pass my summer vacation with my Uncle Nasim Jijazi. His eldest son the late Khalid Nasim Hijazi had been my childhood friend. His younger brother Javed was to get tragically drowned a year later in a pond near Uncle’s Rawalpind residence in Sattelite Town. Uncle had a third son too- Ahsan who too has passed away.
I remember the summer of 1959 quite fondly. In the company of my cousins, I had learnt a bit of mountaineering. I had become habitual of getting up early in the morning and climbing up some of the easier hills close by. I remember having written my name on a hilltop with medium heavy stones just for fun. Some years later when I was to go there again just for remembrance’s sake I was to find my name intact.
It was in 1959 that I met Field Marshal Ayub Khan in person for the first time. Mamoon Jan had an appointment with the Field Marshal at Nathiagali.
” I want you to accompany me Akbar Shah,” he said to me with a smile. “You should have the feel of big things early.”
I have vivid memories of our drive on the narrow road between Abbottabad and Nathiagali. The road then was used for one-way traffic only.
It was at a stop on this road that I met Nawalizada Nasrullah in person. He was coming back from Nathiagali—obviously after meeting the Field Marshal. Some pleasantries were exchanged between him and Mamoon Jan which were quite enjoyable.
It was the 30th of June 1959 when in Mammon Jan’s company I found myself in the presence of the man who had adorned the role of Pakistan’s Messiah, and was seen, alongwith myself, by millions as this Nation’s great hope.
The fact that I was allowed to sit there in their company had a special significance for me at that point of time.
It gave me a feeling that destiny had a role for me to play in the future.
The meeting had been requested for by Mamoon Jan. The objective was to secure import licence for offset printing machines for Daily Kohistan which was published simultaneously from Rawalpindi, Lahore and Multan.
The Field Marshal was quick to instruct his Military Secretary to do the needful on top priority basis. The whole matter took barely ten minutes to be settled. Thereafter there was some political talk. I specially remember Mamoon Jaan’s strong recommendation for Jamaat-i-Islami.
“Manalana Maodoodi is a great seer and sage of Islam President Sahib. His services should be utilized fully,” I remember Mamoon Jaan saying. To this the Field Marshal’s response was a grim look followed by a measured reply: “Though I share your Islamic longings Nasim Sahib, I believe that Maulana’s party should focus more on reforming the Society than the Politics.”
At the end of the meeting I remember the Field Marshal saying: “In my view your services to the Nation are more valuable Nasim Sahib than Maulana’s”.
I remember Mamoon Jaan blushing at this remark.
While shaking hands with me the Field Marshal asked Mamoon Jaan: “Is he your son?”
“My nephew, “was Mamoon Jaan’s reply. “I have high hopes in him.”
I’ve not forgotten those words of Mamoon Jaan. He did see in me his extension. This awareness was great to savour, but it was also to sow the seeds of hidden discord between me and the late Khalid Nasim, that were to play in the years to follow a key role in the destruction of Daily Kohistan.
1959 was to be a tragic year for me in the sense that my retired father lost his eye sight to a mysterious disease. Even though one of his eyes was operated upon, he was not to recover his vision for all those seven years he lived subsequently.
Whenever I remember my father, I can’t help crying. There was nothing I could do to undo his agony.
His pension was just not enough to sustain the expenses of a household and my education.
I was in my twenty-first year then. By and large life for me till that moment of realization had been a bed of roses. I had known no hardship. But quite suddenly I came face to face with the reality that not only was I on my own now, but also had the responsibility of sustaining a household that consisted of a blind ailing father, an ailing mother and a young sister. I had also to support my own independent living and education at Hyderabad.
My parents were living in Shikarpur Sindh. But they were to move to Jaranwala Punjab.
In 1960 Mamoon Jan’s middle son Jawed got drowned in a pond.
I also travelled from Hyderabad to Rawalpindi to share Mamoon Jaan’s grief. I met Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Chaudhry Mohammad Ali there. He too had come to offer his condolence to Mamoon Jan.
I remember having a very pleasant discussion with Chaudhry Mohammad Ali who had probably been the only politician whom I had harboured some regard for.
“Pakistan needs the kind of leadership Germany got in the early 1930s, “I remember telling Chaudhry Sahib. He was not particularly displeased with this observation of mine.
“I understand you young man. And let me admit our generation has failed in its responsibility to the Nation-State the Great Quaid had in his mind. Otherwise this Martial Law wouldn’t have come.”
There was genuine pain in Chaudhry Mohammad Ali’s voice as he had said it.
On my journey back to Hyderabad I had a brief stopover and stay in Lahore. Here I met the Late Enayatuallah the Managing Director of Kohistan Private Ltd and Managing Editor of Daily Kohistan. He had been Mamoon Jan’s friend for years. And Kohistan had been his brainchild.
Enayatullah Sahib was to become my teacher, my mentor and the only boss I ever had.
In our very first meeting we developed an instant mutual liking. He was a man I genuinely respected and admired. Even when we were to get pitched against each other my respect for him remained boundless.
He was truly the Father of Urdu Journalism in Pakistan.