Dr. Aisha Anees Malik shares the memories of a martyred father and brother, and courageous mother, who all stood unflinchingly for the love of the Motherland.
My grandmother saw her firstborn and her favorite son off under the shade of the holy Qur’an. Wife of a soldier herself, she made dua as he walked out of her door under the Qur’an that may Allah protect her son but that may he never show his back to the enemy.
The earliest memory I have of my childhood is my mother smiling down at me – the kind of smile that warms the insides of your bones on a cold winter morning. Even the memory has a warm glow about it. My world of happiness contained in an old colonial military barrack turned into a house, Hut No. 2 Powel Lines, Abbottabad. The beautiful home overlooking the idyllic Shimla hills, grooved in apricot, mulberry and sufaida trees, was a wonderland of happiness and adventures on tinned roofs and winding tree branches. But what made it truly special was the presence of my mother Mrs. Kahlida Anees, widow of Major Anees Ahmed Khan Shaheed. Popularly known as Anees Auntie to all – young and old, she was the pivot around which not only my entire world revolved but also that of the small army community that dwelled in the neighborhood. A messiah to all in need, we had a constant flow of visitors who came to her for advice, for moral support or just a sympathetic ear. What had turned this young woman into a sage? Of Kashmiri decent, she was beautiful - tall, fair skinned, big bright green eyes, dark curly hair. But what people saw in her was the beauty of her soul – the simplicity of her heart and demeanor, her chaste appearance, her sincerity and above all the purity of intent and deed. Was she always like this?
This life of hers starts form the day my life starts – June 16, 1971. A week before she went into labor for her second child, i.e. me, my father got his movement order for East Pakistan in the newly raised 38 FF Regiment. And when a fauji gets his movement order nothing gets in the way of the call of duty – not a young pregnant wife, not a year old son, neither an unborn daughter nor the ageing parents. My grandmother saw her firstborn and her favorite son off under the shade of the holy Qur’an. Wife of a soldier herself, she made dua as he walked out of her door under the Qur’an that may Allah protect her son but that may he never show his back to the enemy. Her son lived up to her prayers and expectations. Commanding a rifle company from 38 FF, he came face to face with an entire brigade of the 9th Infantry Division commanded by Major General Dalbir Singh in Jessore. The Air OP (Air Observation Post) spotted them and shouted at them to drop their weapons and surrender as they were outnumbered and surrounded on all sides. My father valiantly responded that they would not surrender and would fight to the last drop of their blood. Fight to the last drop of blood he did.
This was our favorite bedtime story. My elder brother Tariq and I would request a passionate retelling of the story every night and our mother would oblige. We would glow with pride as she would tell us how our dear father had boomed back at the enemy with, “Hathiyaar phainkna mussalman ka sheva nahin; hum khoon ke akhri qatray tak larrain ge!” And then there was gunfire and smoke everywhere. A soldier who was with my father had recounted how they saw Major Saab being hit by an entire burst from a machine gun on the left shoulder but they never saw him fall. The last his men saw of him was standing tall before the gunfire smoke hid all from view. He was initially reported as missing in action. Later reports came of how heroically he had fought despite being outnumbered and how the enemy had honored him with a military burial even reciting kalimah at his grave. He was only 26 years old at the time with five years of commissioned service. My mother was only 22.
My mother took it upon herself to be a father and a mother to both Tariq and I. She became the son to her father-in-law and mother-in-law and a loving elder sibling to the brothers and sisters of her husband. She celebrated her husband’s life with all of us, and shed her tears in private. I have always remembered her with laughter that was full of life. It’s only now that when I look at her pictures from that time, I notice the dark circles under her eyes. Though herself from a civilian lower middle class family, she became the fauji of our house raising us in the exact atmosphere that we would have been raised in with a dad in the service. She kept in touch with both my father’s parent unit 1 FF and his last serving unit 38 FF. My father’s brothers in arms responded with the same care. We were included in all activities of these illustrious regiments as well as the Frontier Force Regimental Centre in Abbottabad, where all successive commandants ensured that the Centre was a second home to us. She schooled us in dedication, honesty and loyalty towards service by giving us examples of our grandfather, Major A. D. Khan, whose stint as the SRO at FF Centre Record from 1950-1958, can be written in gold because of his impeccable professionalism. She was an active member of the Frontier Force Regimental Centre ladies club all her life and participated actively in all its undertakings.
With such an upbringing, it is no wonder then that my brother Major Tariq Anees Shaheed followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Army with 1 FF as his parent unit, too. He was born with garbar unath blood in him. A fauji to the bone, he volunteered for an extra year of hard area to stay three years with 9 NLI. He loved his men and spent hours every day playing basketball and other games with them. Once I, as a young girl, was snarky to his buddy from 9 NLI, he reprimanded me by saying, “This boy will take a bullet for me any day, you won’t.” I immediately said sorry and remembered how my mother would pass by a sentry on duty and teach us to be in awe of him as he stood guard to ensure our safety. My mother would also often say, “mujhay iss wardi se piyar hai.” Both her children lived up to the love of the ‘wardi!’ The love of the uniform drew me to my husband who is in Pakistan Air Force.
It takes a heart of steel to send your only son on a path your husband didn’t return from. From the day my bother joined the Junior Cadet Battalion to the day he was commissioned in service, my mother sat every day on her prayer mat and prayed for her son to show the same courage and loyalty to his country as his father had and that Allah may grant him the honor to stand among Ghazis. Little did she know what Allah had in store for him. Ammi passed away at age 54 of ovarian cancer. Three years later, Tariq also paid his dues to his country and service. Just like Abbu, he too stood ahead of his men to face the enemy. He embraced shahadat with three others in Miranshah while defusing IEDs.
Father and son share the same month, 36 years apart – November 16, 1971 and November 29, 2007. Like my mother, I have lived to tell the tale of this exceptional heroism and loyalty to duty and motherland. But it is not story of these heroic men alone, it is also the story of exceptional women like my mother that keep these men alive even after they are long gone.
Dr. Aisha Anees Malik is Ph.D from the University of Cambridge in Development Studies. Currently she is an Assistant Professor at the Centre of Excellence in Gender Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. She comes from an illustrious Armed Forces family.HH
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