Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Brief Note

A comment which I received the other day was: “At this stage, we need to learn more, what the True Patriotism is. Other things come later.”

Very well, then, after this series about Rashid Minhas, we can also discuss an author who lived in Karachi, wrote patriotic stories and modeled his hero after Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah but had millions of fans not only in Pakistan but also in India, where his work was also translated into Hindi. Here, his readers included President Ayub Khan, while in India his book launch was presided over by Lal Bahadur Shastri.

This was discussed in a previous post and will be repeated soon, but right now, can we consider this question:
  • Why do we consistently fail to recognize those aspects of our greatness which are without a parallel anywhere else in the world?
On a different note, those interested in the poetry of Perveen Shakir may like to read the poem she wrote about Rashid Minhas in 1971 (it’s in Urdu).

Friday, May 29, 2009

Issues (3): moral judgment

In this age, we need to redefine patriotism from a fresh perspective: we have mixed feelings about it and yet we cannot do away with it (Pakistan tried to be without it in the last two decades but it didn’t work, as we can see now).

In order to understand something, we need to be able to distinguish it from everything else, so that we know what we are dealing with. The story of Rashid Minhas is just the perfect case study if we are willing to learn something new. Clich├ęs don’t apply here: this is not a case where the hero of one country ought to be the villain of another, and so on.

Rashid wasn’t pointing a gun at anybody. He simply refused to be taken advantage of. This is the essence of true patriotism, which gets mixed up with irrelevant issues that almost always accompany patriotism in real-life stories. The value of Rashid’s story is that it lifts a veil from the soul of patriotism and allows us to see the essence.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Issues (2): Resilience

The story of Rashid Minhas is different from usual tales of patriotism in three aspects:
  1. Resilience
  2. Moral judgment
  3. Destiny
The crux of the fateful incident was timing and fast-thinking: he had to decide and act in less then ten minutes, and he did that. What elements in personality enable us to be like this? Is it also related to the fact that he didn’t think negatively, he respected not only his own heroes but also of other people and yet his love for his own country was non-negotiable? How is it related with self-respect? What is true self-respect? Teachers can encourage the students to explore these issues when they teach them about Rashid Minhas in schools.
Next: Moral judgment

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Issues: Rashid Minhas

The broad-mindedness of Rashid Minhas was very different from the so-called enlightened moderation which is now being turned down by most Pakistanis anyway. Rashid’s breadth of vision served him as a means for laying down his life for his country rather than being a deterrent to it.

In the next five posts we shall explore some of the issues pointed out in comments received about the Rashid Minhas series. Then I shall resume by sharing some more writings of Rashid Minhas (guaranteed to surprise you – for sure). Let’s discuss the following four points in the next four posts.

  • How to provide sustainable education?

“[Rashid Minhas] becomes a role model of every child when studied in the text books of primary classes but that idealism usually fades away with the growing span of time.”

  • What is realism?

“We always listen to such ideas [referring to the poem written by Rashid Minhas] but we seldom believe them, or I should say, we seldom think they are realistic. People like Rashid Minhas show us that maybe our definition of being ‘realistic’ should be revised.”

  • The importance of entertainment
“What we do in leisure, sometimes slowly, informs our quick reactions later. Rashid Minhas’ early reading and your comments here is such a striking reminder how we often become what we read, speak and do from our youngest years as well as over time. What we value and believe most deeply is not to be taken lightly.”
  • Time doesn’t come with labels
“Rashid Minhas was ahead of his time: we were waiting to go and fight for our dear motherland. But that time never came and then when we lost the war, I used to wonder often, how was it possible that our heads were on our shoulders, yet we had lost the war. I sincerely believed, having learnt it from Rashid Minhas that we should fight unto the last man and last bullet.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rashid Minhas: the fast-thinker

Rashid Minhas defies stereotypes. When you hear about a fourteen-year-old getting charged up during the Pak-India War of 1965 and promising to fight the enemy, you expect his diaries to be filled with hate speeches. Yet, here is the list of notables which Rashid presented to inspire his younger brothers: “Rafiqui, Aziz Bhatti, Gandhi…” The first two were Pakistan warriors who died fighting against India in 1965. The third was the greatest leader of Indians themselves.

On the fateful day, when his Bengali instructor tried to hijack his plane, Rashid took less than ten minutes to decide, and act upon the astonishing decision, to crash his own plane in order to prevent the humiliating defection. Was it because he had something against Bengali sentiment? You might be as much surprised as I was when I learnt that Rashid had been personally of the opinion that power should be transferred to the Awami League without delay after the elections of 1970.

This is the enigma of Rashid Minhas. The ferocious defender of Pakistan didn’t hate India; the first Pakistani hero of the 1971 War wasn’t against Bengalis. Perhaps what we should presume from this is that hatred may make warriors but it doesn’t produce fast-thinkers. Among military heroes, Rashid remains unparalleled as a fast-thinker. Since he doesn’t have parallels, therefore we must approach him without any preconceived notions. This is what makes him intriguing. What do you think?
Next - Issues: Rashid Minhas

Monday, May 25, 2009

A poem by Rashid Minhas

Rashid Minhas wrote the following poem in 1966. He had just turned fifteen:

This world is but a stopping place
And life but a short span
So why not through time race
And accomplish whatever we can
So that generations to come
Will remember us as great ones.

We cannot but forever live
And we have to die but once
So why not to our country give
The life which we so easily can.

Next: 5. Rashid Minhas: the fast-thinker

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Iqbal in the diary of Rashid Minhas

Here is what most readers have asked for: the lines from Iqbal which Rashid Minhas copied in his diary (apparently during a phase in late teens when he started studying Islam and Iqbal on his own).

As we know, ‘Gulshan-i-Raz Jadid’ is a summary of Iqbal’s thought, comprising of “nine questions” and their answers. The lines which Rashid copied were from the answer to the final question, “Who at last became familiar with the secret of unity? Who is the wise man that is a Gnostic [Arif – or the knower of mysteries]?” The following is what he wrote in his diary:

In this world things decay. Passage from Iqbal’s Gulshan-i-Raz-i-Jadid.

In this world things decay
And stay for a brief day.

To know what is
to have true bliss
And what gnosis is? This:
Our heart does not seek lies
It is divinely wise.

A fruitless grief
Is not our brief,
And pining after what is not
Is not our lot.

True passion,
yearning, zest,
A roaring quest—
Keep these alive:
On them your self will thrive.

The self can be immortalized
And union with God realized
Without losing your identity—
A lover’s unity.

A breath if it is burning bright
Can set a lamp alight.

There is a needle
that can mend a rent
In the cloak of the firmament.

Translated by M. Hadi Hussain

Next - 4. A Poem by Rashid Minhas

Friday, May 22, 2009

In Search of Rashid Minhas (2)

In September 1985 (I think!) PTV aired a play about Rashid Minhas. Great effort, and very well-done, but it didn’t touch upon the things which had been intriguing me about him. Then a younger friend of mine, Ahmar Kazmi, found the street address of Rashid’s family and we paid a visit.

Rashid had four sisters who were all married by now, so they lived elsewhere. Two younger brothers, who were twins, were about twelve years older than me so they were in their late twenties at that time. One of them, Rahat, became a very good friend (and one of the most encouraging people for me at that time) after I showed him some of my writings. Soon, I was planning to write a complete biography.

Rahat showed me the collection of Rashid’s books. Apparently, Rashid was one of the most voracious readers in his generation. He was mostly interested in biography but the lives spread over such diverse range from Churchill to Hitler and Gandhi to Douglas McArthur. In fiction his favorite genre was war stories: there were scores of paperbacks about WWII and almost the entire set of Neville Shute. Rahat was kind enough to let me borrow these books, one or two at a time, so I could read all of them and take notes: I wanted to familiarize myself with everything which Rashid had read, so that I may try to get into his mindset.

Then there were diaries. He wasn’t regular in writing them, but like most teenagers he liked to keep them and used them for all purposes. There were two or three from 1966 onwards, I think.

There were loads of letters which he wrote back home from the air force academy. Given his unusual passion for reading, it was only natural that he should take such pleasure in writing. His default mode of expression was English but for the sake of his grandmother and mother he started writing in Urdu as well, which wasn’t easy for him and his handwriting in that language never looked like that of a grown-up.

The family was still living in the house where Rashid had spent many of his years when they were in Karachi. It was built in the early 1950’s and as I began to frequent it – sometimes every day for an entire week – it began to feel like traveling back in time. Sometimes Rahat would play the same music for me that used to fill the house when Rashid was home: Jim Reeves, Kishore Kumar, Ahmad Rushdi. Then it would feel, really, as if Rashid was in the other room and we were just waiting for him.
Next - Iqbal in the diary of Rashid Minhas

Thursday, May 21, 2009

In Search of Rashid Minhas (1)

Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas, the youngest recipient of the Nishan-i-Haider medal, died in action on August 20, 1970. The exact circumstances remain a mystery but it can be said reliably that Rashid was taxiing for his third solo flight in T-33 aircraft when his flight instructor Matiurrahman got into the rear cockpit. Mati was from East Pakistan and had been grounded as a precaution in those tension-ridden days. Soon after the takeoff, Rashid sent message to the control tower, “1-6-6 hijacked.” Apparently, the instructor was diverting the plane towards India. Rashid was able to repeat the same line a few more times before fading out from the radar.

His aircraft was later found crashed 32 miles from the Indian border. His family was informed and he was buried with honor in the PAF cemetery in Karachi (off Sharea-e-Faisal).

It was determined through the examination of the wreckage that in order to prevent the hijack, “Rashid Minhas tried to regain control of his aircraft, but finding this to be impossible in the face of the superior skill and experience of his instructor, forced the aircraft to crash.” Nine days after the incident, he was awarded the highest military honor.

The nation heard about him only after he was gone. There was no footage of him from life, nor any voice recording (except that “1-6-6 hijacked”). Yet, his charisma outshines celebrities. I also fell captive to it in 1985.

I was a teenager then. I got intrigued by a story in the English weekly MAG, where it was mentioned that Rashid was fond of playing gramophone records of Western music at loud volume whenever he came home on vacation.

That was not the profile of a suicidal martyr. I found and read everything which I could find about him but I wasn’t satiated: the intrigue was increased. The face of the sophisticated Rashid, his mild looks and gentle gaze kept haunting me. Excerpts from his diary, also printed in the magazine, incensed my curiosity even further: quotations from warriors of WWII, a rather decent attempt at writing a poem by himself and – well, I discovered that Rashid and I had a favorite author in common: Allama Iqbal. He had copied an excerpt from The Rose Garden of Mystery, the English translation of Iqbal’s ‘Gulshan-i-Raz Jadeed,’ which I had not read by that time (I was still struggling with the original Persian of Asrar-o-Rumooz).

Now I am amazed to see that Rashid had chosen precisely the lines which suited the end of his story – the end which he could not have foreseen. The gist was that we are like a short-lived spark but it is not our lot to end up in smoke. We can pierce the heart of this universe and become immortal.

Destiny? Yes, destiny was the most oft-repeated theme in the few quotes printed in the magazine. “Destiny too plays a part,” Rashid had quoted from a Japanese pilot and, well, it did play a part. I’m not referring to his life, for we already know about that. I am talking about mine. Soon afterwards, I found myself visiting the house where Rashid had lived. I gained unrestrained access to all his private papers, his letters, diaries, and the entire collection of his books. I found the answers. I now realize that in all these twenty-three years I have hardly shared them with anyone. I will now. See next issue.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Case of A New Convert to Islam

This case study generated an unexpected (and perhaps unprecedented) amount of discussion and debate in the session on Iqbal Sciences this Saturday. See if you would also like to join the debate:

Rukhsana comes from the lower middle class and having joined a decent corporation after completing her education, she feels embarrassed to share her whereabouts with her colleagues. Leaving the 80 sq. yard house which was their own, she compels her mother to move to a rented portion of a 200 sq. yard house in a new middle class locality.

The owner of the house had demanded a year’s rent in advance but then suddenly dropped the condition. Rukhsana’s mother learns about this only after they have moved to the new house, and a hundred suspicions arise in her head. Just then, Rukhsana’s boss Tahir shows up along with a white foreigner woman and says that he had paid the advance to the owner without informing Rukhsana.

Sensing the resentment of Rukhsana’s mother at this, he apologizes and says, “You are like my mother and Rukhsana is like my sister.” Then he explains that in helping them rent the house, he was doing a favor to himself rather than them: the woman is his wife who has converted to Islam. His family doesn’t know about these developments and he wants his wife Rebecca, whose Muslim name is Ruqayya, to be properly initiated in the Islamic ways of life before she is presented to his family.

He tells Rukhsana’s mother that he has been deeply impressed by her upbringing of Rukhsana and would very much like her to train his wife in the mores and values of Islam as well. For this reason, he would like them to keep her secretly until she is ready.

What do you think Rukhsana’s mother should do, and why?

Friday, May 8, 2009


Here is something which Iqbal wrote in the early 1930s. I am wondering if we can replace "England and India" with "West and the East" in general, or "US and Pakistan", and would it still make sense?

I am looking forward to the day when the disputes between England and India will be settled and the two countries will begin to work together not only for their mutual benefit but for the great good of mankind.

There is no need for pessimism on either side. There are people who seem to be overwhelmed by the strength and apparent universality of the bad feelings which exist between the two countries today. I am not one of them.

In my judgement they are normal and inevitable accompaniment of an age of readjustment and will pass away without irremediable disaster to anybody, if we keep our heads and our sense of humour and have the self-control to resist the appeal to hatred or pride, violence or intolerance to which they are always trying to allure us.

The periods of readjustment are the common-places of history. They have been going on ever since time began. The history of Europe deals with little else. And readjustment is no less inevitable between the East and the West though the transition there has naturally taken longer to work out.