The first time I left home was at the age of twenty. My destination; The Pakistan Military Academy. Since that day for the next 16 years, my father and I wrote hundreds of letters to each other. His letters were a source of encouragement, guidance, inducements, pointers and true gift on military life and the way I should lead my life. His emphasis on his vigorous principles powerfully embedded in which his personality and way of life revolved, were a beacon of hope and light for me also. Most of the inspirations I drew from his unshakable principles to which he stood for all his life till he breathed his last came in form of his letters written to me. Letter writing is an old-fashioned art which I feel is gradually dying; at least in my circle of near and dear ones, its importance I only realized once I lost my elder son, who like his grandfather wrote to me, the only difference that he communicated through emails extensively. One thing which I learned from my father is to catalog and keep a record of all his prized possessions which mostly were his vast collection of books and handwritten papers and journals which he did not write very regularly but was more into writing about his childhood. The journal I so much desire to read again, but my younger brother who I have not met for over 40 years has them as he lives abroad. It is in Urdu, Farsi, and English and is in his own handwriting. One day perhaps if I live long I hope to read it all again. Much after his passing away I sifted all his handwritten letters logged and chronicled them. In this post, I will put down some of the excerpts of those letters. There are many other letters and notes which my colleagues and acquaintances wrote to me I have kept, they are not of any sentimental value but I do enjoy reading them for their style, feelings, thoughts, and choice of words. Which I pend for another time.
I watch a lot of movies and have always enjoyed listening to letters being read in a background voice of the person who wrote those letters. I find myself engrossed and consumed with the flavor and artistry of the writer when reading in his own voice which gives me the archaic nature of the passages being read and which excites me of the natural wealth the letters provide. It takes me to the point where I feel like writing my self to someone I care about. It gives me a feeling of eternal life. Letters immortalize you to a large extent. ‘Love Letters of Khalil Gibran’, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Jane Austin Letters to name a few books. The letter allows you to be conventional and informal and yet also permits you the vastness of expressions to choose from. There was a time when initially replying to my father was a burden as I could not think of anything to write. It gradually became an urge and infatuation with words and yearning to just write always no matter what, yet the urge was unstoppable. The internet and email never affected me, though I longed for the traditional fountain pen with ink and charm of the letter could not be recreated. I love my handwriting. My teachers and instructors always said that they loved my handwriting. My father had a very good hand as well. ” To write is human, to get mail is divine, love this short quote by Susan Lendroth.
I am not going to follow the first letter but randomly choose to put my own thoughts and those of who wrote to me but will start from my father, which seems natural. I have browsed through so many letters, I am beginning to feel that I would be digressing from the purpose the blog, that is, share some thoughts of all the precious people in my life. Some of these lines and paragraphs you will read today would be the first time as I have not shared these with anyone till now. So let me take a recess and try to choreograph my collections. I am sure I will be writing many more posts on this one after this one.
Excerpts from Letters from My Father
When I joined PMA on 12 May 1971 I received my father’s letter of 19 May 71. He wrote, “so far I have received three letters from you – the other day I received a letter addressed to you, I opened the same much against my wishes and principles – the day you left we remembered you almost every hour”. ” — never give in, soldiers and Pathans never give in, this is their pride. The main requirement is willpower and guts and you have them both”. “Never criticize food”. “Never try to test the ability of your instructors and remember no one knows everything about everything”. “Always remember God nothing but God, he is the only Protector, Almighty, Greatest and Merciful. What he wants is always done and NO ONE ON EARTH CAN COME IN HIS WAY. This must be your Faith”
” I have been a good walker all my life. When I was in school during Xmas holidays about 5 of us walked from Lahore to Kasur 32 miles away from Lahore. We had our beddings with us. Having reached there we played a Hockey match i.e. five of us against eleven and we won by two goals”
“Powder-cream and hair oil and perfumes are not used by soldiers”
” Suspect everything and everybody has been my motto all my life. When I was young, my friend’s father who used to be in Indian Police during pre-partition days had told me and I made it my motto. a second nature”.
“Everything BENDS before an IRON WILLED MAN”.
“ — Time passes but memories remain. I lost my mother when I was 8 Years old – It was because of the kindness of my grandfather that I passed my matriculation, of course, he was instrumental in not allowing me to give up studies. I used to get a stipend of Rs 18/- per month from the British Government as Afghan Refugee. With that amount, my school expenses were met, the rest naturally not my money. When I joined the college and when I was in FA second year this stipend was stopped. As my college expenses, etc could not be borne by anyone I had to give up studies. I was left in the lurch, till the treatment of my family members compelled me to leave home, which I left in 1933. I struggled all my life, and only by God’s grace, I was successful to get a commission during the Second World War. When these people came to know everybody started owning me. Even then I did not have any grudges against anyone because I knew that when fortune was against me no one could help me. By this time I lost my Grandfather, Grandmother and sisters were married, thrown in different hells against my wishes. And thus the time passed.”
The last quote below before I write about Moody’s letters. More on my Father in another blog another day. I have just touched the surface though. In his letter of 23 Jan 1977, over 10 years before his death, he wrote” A time will come when one feels that his entire life, this world and everything in it is meaningless. Happy moments are only those which one spends to remember God. There is no other happiness in this world. In fact, the more time passes the more wretched people under the Sun become”. ” More than Kisses, Letters mingle souls” a quote
Letters from my son Nasir Mahmood
“I have devoured my day in the usual mantle of shorts and t-shirt. The myth of rising sun for many is a globe to advent on the fresh vernacular of ideas and for some of us the stillness of night thriving thoughts on the zenith of a belated bedtime. I struggle to sum my sentences, arrange and rearrange my thoughts in appropriate drawers. I was winking and working till four in the proverbial limelight of bulb and books. Our refrigerator is loaded with bakery boxes and every now and then I plaudit my appetite with charcoal of percolating coffee and munch on crumbling biscuits underneath my carnivore edges of teeth. Often? Indeed.Free? Yes.—“
“Life is full of happiness. There is no ego because LOVE is victorious”
A prelude to his poem REASON! ” Today when I sat down to REASON with myself I thought I would never make pass one line but slowly kept reasoning and finally managed to reach somewhere. ART OF WAR and SEIZE THE MOMENT are nice books especially the former is really state of the art. Today was productive day working out my mind muscle reasoning and reading. There is a very good line quoted by Frederic the Great in Nixon’s Book ” He who defends everywhere defends nothing”. Guess, when I sit down to write my war, is with the word of topic on top of the poem.”
A paragraph from his Motivation Letter written to the Australian National University “I have a voracious appetite ecstatically devoted to reading books on history, philosophy, poetry, current affairs, magazines and on weekends a touchstone in the sand and on greens of Golf Course. Occasionally, I also muse me with a chord of words but my resolution is writing only poetry. My linguistic skills are Russian and Deutsche”.
A colleague from UNMIL Frances in Liberia wrote this for him. “IN LOVING MEMORY FOR NOW AND FOREVER MORE OF NASIR MAHMOOD. GOD BLESS HIS SOUL. THE SUN SHALL NOT SMITE HIM BY DAY, NOR THE MOON BY NIGHT”
There is so much to write which I only realized when I stacked up all the letters and many more which still lie in boxes and cupboards. I realize that I would not be able to do justice to my loved ones not only in this blog post but many more would be required. I know what I have to do now. Till then, please take pleasure in reading about the corners I touched in my life.
“If I never see you again
I will always carry you
on my fingertips
and at brain edges
and in centers
of what I am of
― Charles Bukowski