In memoriam: Jinnah — the man that he was

Quaid-e-Azam viewing the parade at RPAF Risalpur - 1948
Privileged to be the first A.D.C. to the Quaid-i-Azam for the first seven months, I cherish the memories of many unforgettable moments of being in his service: The flight from Palam (Delhi) airport to Karachi on August 07, 1947; feelings of achievement and pride on setting the first step on Pakistani soil; the state drive on August 14; historic Royal Proclamation formalising the birth of Pakistan; hauling down of the Union Jack that flew for over a hundred years on top of official buildings and unfurling of the Pakistan flag for the first time in its place on the Sindh Assembly building on August 14. These are some of the cherished moments of my life.

When I went to take leave of Quaid-i-Azam before I left for Risalpur to serve the Air Force I took with me one of his photographs to be autographed by him as a memento. He looked at it and went to his private study and came back with his prized photograph, dressed in a three-piece suit and standing in front of the marble fireplace in the living room of his Malabar Hill residence in Bombay. This photograph was taken by the photographer of Life and Time magazines in 1945 and was their copyright. Quaid-i-Azam liked the photograph.

The government approached the magazines for permission for the photograph to be adopted as the official photograph. The magazines refused permission and sent six complimentary copies. Quaid-i-Azam brought one of those copies for me. When he was about to ink his autograph I ventured to suggest that he may kindly autograph it on his suit leg where it would be more prominent. He looked at me with his penetrating eyes as if saying, “You fool, I do not want to spoil the crease of my trousers” and without saying anything, autographed it on the carpet that he was standing on.

He extended his hand for the first time during my service with him and said “Good Luck”. I caught hold of his hand and looked into his eyes. He read my feelings and gave my longing eyes a nod to kiss his hand, which was rare. He always abhorred display of such feelings of affection but he gave me this honour.

But the most nostalgic of all my interactions with him was my last breakfast with the Quaid-i-Azam on April 13, 1948 in the PAF Officers Mess in Risalpur.

At the flying school, Risalpur, the Governor General reviewed a smartly turned out parade and declared the Air Force flying school as the Pakistan Air Force Flying College. The parade over, the Governor General was escorted to the Air Force Officers Mess, where he was to have his breakfast. Immediately after the parade I was rushed to the Mess to receive the Governor General.

He was pleased to see me and remarked, “So you are here Rabbani, how are you?” While entering the reception hall, he looked at me with a glint in his eyes and asked, ‘Mr First, are there any more firsts here?” (There is a story behind this remark of the Quaid). I replied, “Yes sir, Risalpur is very proud today. You are the first head of state to ever visit this place.” He smiled.

I had prepared a table plan for the head table. My own seat was diagonally opposite the Governor General’s and directly facing Miss Jinnah. After serving grapefruit, cereal was passed which the Governor General refused as usual. The next dish was a surprise for the Governor General — it was ‘siri paya’. I was watching his reaction. He was pleasantly surprised and before taking a helping, he looked at me and nodded his head twice. ‘Siri paya’ was Quaid’s favourite dish and he occasionally liked to have it at breakfast. I had specially arranged for it to be served to him that morning. Miss Jinnah could not contain herself and smilingly remarked. “Rabbani, so you have been disclosing home secrets.”

Breakfast over, the Quaid stayed for another few minutes and left. I was the last to see him off. This was my last interaction with him and the most memorable moment of my life. Before departing he put his hand on my shoulder, which was rare for him, in fact very rare, and said, “It is now your turn young man to come to Karachi. Good luck.”

These were the last words spoken to me by the founder of Pakistan, which reverberate in my ears, loud and clear, and I still feel the touch of his hand on my shoulder. It was a rare honour and the joy it gave me was unbounded. I was overwhelmed.

I always long for its replay, which I know is not possible. It is history now and it will not repeat itself. I have been to Karachi many times since but alas not to the Governor General’s house but to his mausoleum to pay him my homage.

He was always a man of principle, but he was supremely a man of pride. Some people took his pride for arrogance but this was not so. It was true that he indulged no one and was always formal and correct to the point of perfection. No one dared take liberties with him.

By Ata Rabbani - Dawn News

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