Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rauf Mamoo - How to Make People Feel Special and Close

Rauf Mamoo - How to Make People Feel Special and Close

What a man he was! What a dashing personality! Close and dear to everyone around. In any gathering he would soon become the center of attention, with his pleasing and affectionate personality, anecdotes, humor and personal attention to every one. In 1999, at his soyem, there were so many people who were remembering him in small groups, each one trying to remember his association with him. Overcome with grief, I was trying to hide the tears from my eyes as I moved from one group to another, and then I noted some thing in such rememberances about Rauf Mamoo to which I had not paid attention in all the years as I was growing up and looking up to him as a role model. That most distinctive quality that emerged from these rememberances was that everyone was highlighting how his or her relationship with Rauf Mamoo was so special and so close. People were describing those special moments, anecdotes, events and situations which highlighted and demonstrated that Rauf Mamoo was closest to them individually! And, I thought (initially with a pang of jeolousy) that I was the one who was closest to him! Rauf Mamoo had managed through his interactions with everyone who came in contact with him to give this special feeling of closeness. I was actually surprised to see even those who had not had a very comfortable relationship with him, describing trips and events where they were so close and so much loved by Rauf Mamoo.
[Remembering Maj (R) Shah M Ismail (1933-99) known fondly to people as Rauf]

I have yet to see this quality and in this magnitude in anyone else. In going over the videos of some of the large get togethers held in the late 1990s I noticed how he got this connection of a special bonding established with everyone even in such large gatherings. Rauf Mamoo would mingle with the people in the gatherings and in so doing he would have a special remark, a small nudge, a glance, a twinkle in the eye, a pinch, a joke, a demand, a comment, an appreciation or some thing intended for everyone individually. It was impossible to have an interaction with him and not get that special-only-for-me-feeling. This was what made everyone think that he or she was closest to him. The most beautiful point about such special-only-for-me-thing was that it would always be funny without being sarcastic, humorous without being incisive, some thing that would not only establish a special bond with an individual but would also provide an opportunity to make everyone share this special moment as their own. I recall this group photo session where people are being herded to complete the group as Rauf Mamoon stoops down in front and whispers some thing in the ears of the person standing in front and that person along with another erupt in laughter. While at the same time, he pinches the hairs of the person standing on his side as that person first turns with surprise and later erupts in laughter too and everyone has a jolly good time. 

Jolly good time. Yes, that was what you were assured of when you were with him. Whether you are on a hunting trip (in the wilderness around Jamshoro in 1980), whether you get the prey or whether you are returning empty handed. Whether you are thirsty, having tracked the entire day in the sweltring heat of summer in Kharian (1969) in search of fakhtas and pigeons. Whether you are fishing in Rawal Dam with no catch during the entire day (early 1971). Whether it is the 40 days of companionship during Haj (1996) when he would not let us settle down to rest as he would always have this or that errand that we were supposed to run; going to the Mualim's office for the umpteenth time to verify the arrangements for Madinah, Arafat, return etc, or looking after the food or logistic arrangements. He had this wonderful ability to involve everyone around him in one task or another without making them feel worked out and at the same time making the entire experience a fun experience to remember. Whether you are woken up in the middle of night at 2am with so much loud commotion that you along with everyone had to come out of their warm beds in the cold and freezing night of Islamabad winter (early 1970s), [and whether you like it or not], and then huddle together in the cold drawing room only to be told that now you can go back to your beds, if you want. With sleep long gone, who would then leave the wonderful opportunity to spend the night listening to his adventures and dreams. 

Dreams of that wonderful close knit community of his dear brothers and sisters living in that mythical farm in Joharabad where he had been alotted some land. Small, very economical, basic housing units built around a large circular central courtyard. The elaborate brainstorming being done by his brothers and sisters sitting around in that drawing room of Islamabad (1975) of how to make this dream come true at a minimum cost as all of my mamoos and khalas at that time were having difficulty in trying to get their two ends meet. I remember these sessions where brothers and sisters were discussing starry eyed to that wonderful time when they will again be together, self sustaiable and held together with the binding force of Nani Jan. Even as daydreams that were the most enjoyable experiences I can recall.

As I travel by road from Karachi to Hyderabad I never fail to notice that little round hill with a narrow top that was pointed out to me by Rauf Mamoo on a motor cycle journey that we took in 1980 from Karachi to Tando Allahyar. Rauf Mamoo mentioned that he always wanted to have his abode at the top of a hill like this one with a road winding up to the top in a helical circular trips around the  hill all the way to the top. I think the house with the bamboos on the roof that he built in 1980s with his meagre resources on that raised hillock on the plot of his entreprenurial steel mill venture in the SITE area of Hyderabad was his first attempt to approximate his dream of having a hut on the top of the hill. His second approximate attempt were the makeshift-rooms he had in Sonda across that pond [yet another of his entrepeneurial venture into fish ponds]. More on this in a later post.

Yes, I was describing that motor cycle journey with Rauf Mamoo to tando Allahyar. The seat of the motorcycle had lost its foaminess a long time ago and was hard as a wooden log and the motorcycle cruising at a monotonous slow speed of just 35km/hr as there was some heating problem for which mamoo had taken along two plastic bottles with water to cool the engine off. We had to stop after every half an hour or so to cool the engine and later to get the bottles to be refilled from shanty hotels that were few and far between. It was late night by the time we eventually reached our destination, but memorable all the same.

Engine troubles and Rauf Mamoo's automobiles were two things that went together. Whether it is my first earliest and faint memory of being in that old black (or was it red) car in Nowshehra (1965) when I would be just a toddler and recall being in the lap of someone who was sitting on the lap of someone else and that someone else was sitting on the lap of yet another. Then, the car breaking down and all of the fifteen twenty people/kids coming out to see Mamoo cranking the engine from the front using the crank handle. Or whether it was the Skoda(s) of 1971 that would get heated up ever so much often and had to be cooled and pushed to get it restarted [another of his entrepeneurial venture into taxi cab service]. Or whether they were the Opel Reckords that again had a habit of breaking down and stopping at the most awkward moments in the traffic (1970-80s) as they were used more as jeep for hunting trips rather than as cars. The distinctive memory about those automobiles was that you were enjoying their pushing and repairing as much as their riding. There was never a worry in such stoppages as Rauf Mamoo would have some way and some contraption to get the fault rectified and the auto running again. And in the interlude while it is getting repaired you would have that wonderful adventure on the side. These events are memorable because they were fun. Each such breakdown would be a fun event to enjoy and remember long afterwords. We would be running around happy and enjoying all the while the car was being repaired or pushed. Rauf Mamoo had this ability to make every event a fun event. There would be laughter and joy irrespective of the severity and stress. And he would not take offense at all the frolic that went around him at such times. 

Remembering the breakdown of his cars, he made sure that we never should forget this legacy of him: We are carrying his dead body from the hospital to Malir Cantt in 1999 in an ambulance. We have reached near COD and have just crossed the Shah Faisal Base, and lo and behold his ambulance stops; engine trouble! Some of us are in the ambulance, others in cars. All of us disembark and had to push the ambulance to get it running again. Rauf Mamoo wanted us to remember him on his journey to his final resting place as we remembered him in life!

Life must be lived fully and wholeheartedly. Happiness is not about money and resources. Happiness comes from connecting with people. Treating everyone as special and with warmth and closeness. Every situation, every event, however stressful and severe, has the potential of becoming memorable ___ with fondness and love. 

Rah e yaar hum nay qadam qadam tujhe yaadgar bana diya


Rauf Mamoo once told us of his experience at Chawinda battlefied in the 1965 India-Pakistan war, where he was an OP and had to be in the no-man's land between the two armies for 2-3 days straight as the backups were unable to turn up to replace him as therewas intense fighting going on and continuous heavy tank shelling or may be they were probably martyred. His job was to spot the enemy tanks and direct the fire of tanks and the air crafts to appropriate targets using the wireless codes. This he went on to do without any support continuously while hidden in the middle of the two warring tank armies in some bush/tree cover while the shells continued to fly over him to targets in one or the other army. Eventually, when there came a lull in the fighting and he was relieved after the grueling and taxing two-three days, and he finally got chance to retreet back to the camp and rest. He put on the mosquito nets and went to sleep besides some other armymen. He was so tired that  fell like a log and slept as if unconcious. He slept so soundly that even the resumption of artillery fire could not wake him. When he eventually woke up he found to his amazement and wonder that his net had been blown away by enemy fire, there was mud cover all over the place, the camp had been blown away, the soldiers sleeping along side him had been blown away, and miraculously he had not had even a single scratch. rahay naam Allah ka.

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Lesser known dimensions of US Universities - Archives of history and literature

Harry Ransom Center, UT Austin

Lesser known dimensions of US Universities - Archives of history and literature

During my seven years at the University of Texas at Austin, I went a few times to Harry Ransom Center (HRC) which is an archive and a museum of art, literature and other historical documents. I now think, given what I have to say in the latter part of this post, that I should have gone there more and explored it in greater detail. When I first stumbled in there to discover the treasures it was holding, I was surprised why many students are not aware of this museum although this huge magestic building sits at a very busy interesection, located right on the busiest street of the university (the Drag, Guadalupe St) and across the much frequented 27 stories high Dobie Mall/Dorm and a few paces from the oft-visited central library (PCL). As mentioned in this wonderful article on Harry Ransom  Center in the New Yorker: 
"Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the literary archive of the University of Texas at Austin, contains thirty-six million manuscript pages, five million photographs, a million books, and ten thousand objects, including a lock of Byron’s curly brown hair. It houses one of the forty-eight complete Gutenberg Bibles; a rare first edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which Lewis Carroll and his illustrator, John Tenniel, thought poorly printed, and which they suppressed; one of Jack Kerouac’s spiral-bound journals for “On the Road”; and Ezra Pound’s copy of “The Waste Land,” in which Eliot scribbled his famous dedication: “For E. P., miglior fabbro, from T. S. E.” Putting a price on the collection would be impossible: What is the value of a first edition of “Comus,” containing corrections in Milton’s own hand? Or the manuscript for “The Green Dwarf,” a story that Charlotte Brontë wrote in minuscule lettering, to discourage adult eyes, and then made into a book for her siblings? Or the corrected proofs of “Ulysses,” on which James Joyce rewrote parts of the novel? The university insures the center’s archival holdings, as a whole, for a billion dollars."
Lyndon B Johnson Presidential Library, UT Austin
Universities like UT Austin not only define their mission as teaching, research and creating impact through the creation of new knowledge, but also consider preservation of history, arts and literature as part of their vision. UT Austin also boasts the LBJ (Lyndon B Johnson) Presidential Library housing over 20 million documents from the LBJ era. I remember not only the moon rock from Apollo mission on display inside the lobby, but also the beautiful lawn and the LBJ fountain next to the stadium and the Bass Concert Hall, where I would often go with my kids who used to immensely enjoy running around the open spaces and the green field slopes of the park.

Main Building, UT Austin
Another of my favorite haunts was the South Asian Collection which during the late1980s was housed in the intriguing tower of the main building. The watch lobby of the tower was closed to the public because of the infamous massacre by a student in the late 1960s, however, the climb up the tower that housed not only the old clock, but also the collection of books from South Asia was a mystifying experience.

I believe the collection of Urdu fiction books here may have been bigger than many of the libraries in Pakistan. I remember searching in 1988, the name "iqbal" in the titles held in the UT online catalog. The search  returned over 1025 results showing what a treasure trove the sixth biggest educational library of USA at that time can yield. How many libraries in Pakistan can boast of over 1000 titles having the name "Iqbal". Most of the books from Pakistan were obtained as part of the PL480 US aid program during the Ayub Khan era. I remember reading many books on urdu literature from this collection. Thanks to my friend Nasir Rahman for introducing me to this wonderful collection.

It is so unfortunate that so many students who go and study in universities in USA, especially those from Pakistan, often do  not take time out to go and visit such wonderful museums and collections that are there at all major universities. 

We in Pakistan destroy history. I am trying to get some good recordings of the classic PTV dramas of the 1970s by Hasina Moin, and am unable to find good quality recordings. The first drama serial Khuda ki Basti (based on the book by Shaukat Siddiqi) aired during the late 1960s is lost. The latter remake done in the early 1970s has a pathetic recording. Recording of Shahzori (based on the story by Azim Baig Chughtai) and other plays written by Hasin Moin are incomplete and have pathetic recordings [please guide me from where I can get some good recordings].

The point I am trying to make is that we can't even preserve the arts and literature of forty years ago. How are we going to safeguard the manuscripts, writings and historical documents of hundred years ago of the times of Ghalib, Zauq and Sauda. They may already be lost. I know of the effort during Hakim Said's time at Madinat ul Hikmat library at Hamdard University where they are trying painstakingly to safeguard handwritten manuscripts of hundreds of years ago. But, such examples are few and far between. I think this is a task that should be taken up by our universities. Lack of such preservation of historical records has led to the incorrect interpretations of history and concoction of narratives related to the creation of Pakistan as seen in the Dawn Supplement of Aug 14, 2013 masquerading as scholarly.

Preserving history is tedious and requires resources and manual effort. I know how difficult it is because in trying to safeguard some of the letters, correspondence and old books of my parents, I have learned that this requires patience, resources, time and dedicated people. Without this, my preservation  effort some times appears to be a loosing battle.
We have already lost many rare and invaluable manuscripts stored for the last ten centuries in Tumbuktu libraries during the recent violence there. I hope many of them may have slipped through to the West and I wish they get preserved in collections there.

A nation that has no history, has no future. Those who forget history are then forgotten by the history. Ah! Would we be able to learn?