A DAUGHTER'S TRIBUTE
My father died on the 29th of July 1991.
These words were not easy to write. The finality of death strikes with its full intensity, only when a loved one passes away, and my father was dearly loved by all who knew him.
Muhammad Yusuf Khan Khattak, my father, was born in Ooghi, (District Hazara) on 18th. November 1917. His father named him `Yusuf' because he said he was the most beautiful baby he had ever seen. My Grand-mother remembers that within minutes of his precipitous birth, he followed the lantern-light as it moved around the room.
All his life he had the same attitude of following the light, whether of truth, beauty or destiny. He was an optimist, and his optimism never failed him, even in the darkest hours of his life.
My father is on record as an honest and principled politician, who never wavered from his party, The Muslim League, in his fifty years of political life.
Yet, he was a difficult man to understand and to really get to know, because he was complex in his simplicity. I always found it hard to understand how a man of the world, could not comprehend why people are often liars and sometimes evil!
He was the worst judge of character, often trusting people and frequently making the wrong choices; as he was blind to the wickedness in others. When he put his trust in anyone, that person could do no wrong; and when he lost faith, that person could do no right!
I believe that like King Lear, he eventually died of a broken heart; when he could no longer deny the truth that was forced on him so brutally; that the hand that had stabbed him in the back, and sold him for `thirty pieces of silver' belonged to none other than the one he loved best and had put all his faith and trust in. They call it Senile Dementia in the medical books.
My father fought the last battle for his dignity, when the doctors put a catheter on him and forced a feeding-pipe down his throat. They held him down, screaming obscenities, and did to him what they had to do. The fight went out of him after that, and he waited quietly for the liberation of death.
Almost two years before he died, quoting Pushkin, he told me that he would rather die than lose his mind. His wish was not granted, as the tragedy of the disintegration of a great mind was already in progress.
He was brave and rash in his fight for The Right and The Good. He fought on, unconcerned and uncaring, when his closest comrades deserted him in the thick of battle, the battle for democracy. My father was unwavering in his principles, supremely impervious to the forces unleashed by political oppressors. He was a Statesman, with none of the smallness of mind and vision that mark many politicians of our country today.
Next to his family, the country that he had worked and fought for was his greatest passion. I have yet to come across anyone who could match his patriotism. When he was bed-ridden and very sick we spoke to him of Pakistan's need of him, her most distinguished son. We knew that if anything, his country's need of him, could pull him out of the apathy that he had sunk into. We were not wrong, "Pakistan Zindabad" was always his reply; even though, by then, he did not know his own children!
One of my earliest memories of my father of him gathering us around him, (with the first one to get there on his lap), to read poetry aloud to us. He often had us in tears when he read Stephen's poem of `The Rabbit in a Snare', or `The Last Testament of a Dying Soldier'. I still have the Bang-e-Dara from which he used to read out Iqbal's poems to us. Listening to his rendering of Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa was an experience in a class of its own!
My father was in the habit of writing out verses and quotations that caught his fancy, he christened the notebook with Urdu and Persian verses `Atish-Qada'. Going through the earlier `Atish Qadas' is like reliving his emotional history. All the pain, the heartbreak and triumphs of his sensitive soul are laid bare by his choice of verses. He bequeathed all his `Atish Qadas' to me as he said I would value them the most.
He was always gentle and caring. I remember, once when my brother shot a squirrel and showed it proudly to my father. The hurt and pain on my father's face, and the lecture on the right-to-life of all God's creatures ended my brother's short-lived career as a fearless hunter!
Though a kind master, he once landed a well-deserved box on a servant's ear. He couldn't sleep that night for the guilt. The next day the servant was almost in tears when his Khan begged his forgiveness. His humility had won him a slave for life!
My father had a passion for plants. The ever-blooming bougainvillea was his favourite. I remember once when we were walking in the garden, an old gardener was pottering around, watering the plants. In passing, my father remarked that the old man had just got out of prison after serving a 14-year sentence for murder. I was horrified to hear that he had employed an ex-convict, and a murderer to boot! When I remonstrated, my father gently explained that the man had worked for him before he had committed the murder, and then, almost absentmindedly he added,
"It was a good murder", as though to exonerate the man. This description was too much for me!
What do you mean by a good murder? A murder is a murder, there is no such a thing as a good murder or a bad murder,' I said. Thoughtfully, looking into an archaic, primeval distance, my father answered that the old man had taken revenge for the murder of his brother, which was why it was a `good' murder. Aghast, I stared at him and realized that the Oxford education had not eradicated the Pathan code of honour. The soft spoken, sophisticated Gentle-man before me was not all that he seemed to be!
I think that was when I was first confronted by the contradictions in my father's character that made it so hard for anyone to really understand him.
Yes, he was gentle and kind; but, he could also be unforgiving to the point of callousness. Yet, it was not callousness that kept him from seeing another person's point of view, it was simply a blind spot in an otherwise intelligent and compassionate man.
I never heard my father raise his voice in an argument. He simply put forward his point of view. When he realized he was wasting his time, he would put an end to the discussion, as good natured as possible; but his opinion of the other's intelligence took a nose dive. After that, nothing could convince him that the other was not a complete idiot. But, when he was angry, even a full-blooded African lion could take lessons from him in cowing down its victim by a single, mighty ROAR!
To call my father an aesthete would be an understatement. He loved beauty in every shape and form, and filled his house with beautiful things. He had a great collection china, Gardner, Iranian carpets and of paintings by Gulgee, Safdar, Chughtai, Zubaida Agha, Raheel, Laila Shahzad, and many, many more. Safdar's painting of a Mohenjo Daro dancing girl was his favourite. It always hung on the wall opposite his bed, as he wanted it to be the last thing he saw before going to sleep, and the first when he awoke. He often said that he felt she was about to dance right out of the painting.
My father was the best dressed man I have ever met. Even at home he dressed in a three-piece suit. It used to irritate him if, on seeing his sartorial elegance, anyone asked him if he were going out,
"I dress for my own pleasure!" would be his curt reply.
He had rows upon rows of shoes, stacks of shirts (mostly grey) and innumerable suits. He once said it made him feel ashamed to own so many clothes, but he always found an excuse to buy more!
My father always used the same cologne, he said he wanted it to be his `signature', always associated with him. At one time, when the cologne that he had always used was not available anymore, he set about an earnest search for a new fragrance that was `him'!
One of the earliest signs of his illness was when he lost his sense of smell and stopped using colognes. He said that if he couldn't enjoy the perfume there was no need to use them anymore.
My father could be humble, yet he was also arrogant. He fought for the freedom of the nation, yet was an authoritarian at home. I can almost feel his horror at being called `arrogant' and `authoritarian', but then, it was he who encouraged me to be objective and honest in thought, word and deed.
He once told me that a character in a novel reminded him of me, he said it laughingly and slightly apologetically. Intrigued, I borrowed the book, and was appalled! Did he see me as that horrid, opinionated, self-righteous female? I quarrelled with him over it; but, I have often caught myself (sometimes just in time) while being most opinionated and self-righteous. So, thank-you Daddy, I don't believe I thanked you for the mirror you so wisely put up for me. It still rankles sometimes, but only in my most self-righteous moods!
My father loved music, both Western and Eastern, and had a melodious voice. He made up the tunes he sang and they all sounded alike! I asked him about it once and he was taken aback, as he hadn't noticed. Then, thinking over it, he remembered that Farida Khanum had pointed out that all the ghazals he requested her to sing were in Rag Aiman. Rag Aiman also happened to be the basic tune of all his songs.
I once asked him to help my daughter with her urdu poetry. He was very happy to oblige and took her into his study, while I waited in his bedroom for the class to be over. It was not long before I heard him singing the ghazals in the Matric course book at the top of his voice, all thoughts of the lesson forgotten!
Once, during his illness, knowing his fondness for music I played a video of some ghazals for him. He kept asking if I would rewind "Nain say Nain Melai na Banay" and finally said, "I almost want to burst into song. It's the first time I have wanted to sing since Zia came to power."
So we both sat there, father and daughter, rewinding the song and singing lustily along with it. When he was going home that evening he thanked me, and said that he hadn't enjoyed himself so much in a long time.
My father was a voracious reader, and remembered every book he read, including it's position on his book shelf and the page number of a phrase that had struck him. He was in the habit of underlining his books, but woe betide any unsuspecting person who turned down a `dog ear' on a page! Any one who has been caught at such a sacrilege would be able to explain my father's disgust and anger, and the lecture about how books were to be treasured.
"Books are to be cherished, not mauled", he always said.
As a child, my father always bought me hardbound books, because he said even children's books were precious. He never failed to come home, after his frequent trips out of town, with an armload of books for me, on every topic under the sun. Without realizing it, I picked up a wide range of knowledge, often against my will!
Waking up in the morning was always a problem in his youth, yet he had made it a point to get up early to go to Foyles (London) where Enid Blyton was signing books. He knew I was an avid fan and would be thrilled. It is beside the point, and quite in character, that he was late and Enid Blyton had left by the time he got there.
He once showed me a letter I had written him as a child, it started with " My Darling Daddy, I hope you are well and happy. Please get me the following books......." and then followed a long list of books, after which I had signed off "with lots of love". Embarrassed, I laughed and said that he couldn't have looked forward to my letters if this was a sample. He answered seriously that it always gave him great pleasure to see that I had inherited his love of books.
A great failing of my father's was that he had no idea of time. He travelled frequently to his constituency, to a meeting, or the National Assembly. In those easygoing, uncomputerized days, there was only one flight from Peshawar. P.I.A often delayed their flights by 5-10 minutes when they saw his name on the passenger list. Trains were not so bad, they were always late, anyway.
Once, I remember going to Havelian to receive him at the railway station and my disappointment knew no bounds when he did not get off the train. We later learned that he and his valet had overslept, and had woken up in Pindi! We thought it was very funny and joked about it. Finally he became quite annoyed and we never dared mention the episode again!
Any description of my father would be incomplete without the mention of sports, especially tennis, which he played regularly at the Peshawar Club. He insisted on all his children playing tennis, and ordered made-to-measure rackets for us. It was his dream that one of us would make it to Wimbledon some day.
My father had perfected the art of bending us, his children, to his will. While never explicitly forbidding us anything, with great subtlety, he never failed to bring us round to his wishes. Yet he always allowed us to believe that we were the moving force behind our decisions!
He was an epicure, and only his love of tennis kept him in shape. He ate slowly, chewing his food with pleasure, carefully picking out tomato skins and other itsy bitsy pieces, and sticking them on the side of his plate. My grandmother often scolded him for being so picky, but he laughed it off. He liked to be treated as a little boy, as there was a part of him that had never really grown up.
My father was a perfect mimic, and often had us in stitches at his realistic portrayals. To hear him tell a story was to relive it! He sometimes scared us too, when he would blank out his eyes and with a strangely eerie smile he would say,
"I am not your Daddy, How do you know I am your Daddy?"
Squealing with a delicious fear, that was always an excuse for us to snuggle up to him; enjoying the cold shiver up our spine, laughing and begging him to stop.
My father was both gentle and harsh, rejecting and nurturing. He could be exasperating. He could be endearing. He could be anything but mediocre and commonplace and anything but less than larger than life.
Yes, he was not perfect, he was only a man, but ----- "the elements were so mixed in him that Nature itself might stand up and say `THIS was a man!"
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