Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Major Sharif, Punjab Regiment

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The story of my six and half year-long career in the army can be described in one word: Quixotic.

I never did anything right. I was always getting into mischief. And, worst of all, I had the tactless habit of talking back to my seniors. In this case this was mostly the adjutant who hated me with a vengeance.

Unsurprisingly, I was promoted captain a year later than my course-mates. That meant officers a course junior to me were also promoted, and I was steadfastly stuck in the lieutenant rut. I have no recollection now why or how I became a captain, but I did in April 1975 when I had completed three years of service.

Now, in those days there was some laxity in promoting lieutenants to the next rank without them passing the lieutenant to captain examination. The leniency was because of all the officers who had shortly before returned from prisoner of war camps in India and who had been promoted in view of their service. Though I did not have the honour of undoing East Pakistan, I had passed my exam in October 1974.

I may have the order of things wrong here, but when you passed this exam, the unit sent some notification to the Central Officers Record Office (CORO) at GHQ. CORO sent a ‘return’ to the unit acknowledging the notification and all was well.

In August 1975, the unit – like every other unit in the army – received a notification saying that any officer who was not qualified for the next rank and was holding it was to be demoted forthwith. My CO (I won’t say what a swine he was) called me to his office to gleefully apprise me of the notification.
‘But I’m qualified.’ I protested
‘You may have qualified, but we don’t have your CORO return,’ the bugger said with undisguised pleasure. ‘From today you are again a lieutenant.’

He also said that since this was only a formality, I would soon be re-promoted. I knew the man was lying though his tar-stained teeth. It was summertime and in those days we did not wear the full uniform, but only the vest and no one knew what rank one had. So I shrugged and went to my battery to tell the clerk to revert to lieutenant with my name.

Time went by and my captaincy was forgotten.

I had not been a headache only for the adjutant and the commanding officer, however. My commanders artillery loathed me with equal passion. In 1976 we got another who, I think, was apprised by the outgoing one about this rotter lieutenant in 67 (SP) Light Ack Ack Regiment who had a long tongue and who needed serious sorting out. The alacrity and vengeance with which this new commander took me on, made it clear that the briefing had been detailed. There began a veritable battle between yours truly and the brigadier.

No matter how much of a nuisance one is, a lieutenant cannot box five ranks above his weight as I was doing. And so, there came a time in 1976 that I asked my CO to give me an adverse report so that I was posted out of the regiment. The CO could hardly have been happier.

In September 1976 I got the adverse or below average report and became due to be posted out of my parent regiment for a review under another commanding officer. By army rules, I should have got my marching orders within, I think, six weeks.

Aside: a measure of my career by this time should be in order. 1973, severe reprimand for losing my military ID card during a watermanship exercise. Another officer would have got a simple reprimand which ‘washes off’ in six months if the officer does not goof up again. A severe reprimand is a permanent red ink entry in the dossier. 1975, demotion. And 1976 the adverse report.

Time went by and no posting order came. In February 1977, my course-mate Habibullah Tareen joined 6 Armoured Division as staff captain. I told him about my adverse report and still being in the same unit. A few days later, he called me to say that the report was hidden away in a safe and he was only then forwarding it to GHQ. I am certain this was no outside fluke of misfortune. I knew then that my adjutant had something to do with.

Habibullah sent it off and in March I was posted to 74 Light Ack Ack Regiment in Peshawar. I was a lieutenant with five years of service. For the first time in my colourful career I had, in Lt Col (later brigadier) Nazar Abbas a gentleman and a human being as my commanding officer. Despite whatever I may say about myself, I was in pieces after my long ordeal in Kharian and this good man put me back together again. I was upgraded after the requisite period of time. Failing that, in the event of a following adverse report, I would have been dishonourably discharged from the army.

It was either February or March 1978 that I was sent on official business to CORO. There I was directed to see Major Sharif (I hope I have not forgotten the name). I lifted the blind (chik) looked into the office and asked for permission to enter. Poring over a folder, Major Sharif gestured for me to come and sit opposite him. He had a grey head, greying moustaches and hair growing out of his ears. And he had a chest ablaze with ribbons of World War 2. I clearly recall the North Africa Star and the Burma medal.

At length when he looked up, he found me staring at his ribbons. He followed my gaze and asked, ‘Tujhay in ka pata hai?’ (Do you know about these?) I rattled out the names of all the medals he had. ‘Tera baap fauj main hai?’ (Is your father in the army?) My negative surprised him for who would expect a lieutenant to know about medals from history.
‘I only know because I am interested, sir,’ I said. And I could see the man warmed to me.

He asked my business. When my dossier arrived he looked back at my lieutenant’s shoulders a little surprised for my army number showed my seniority. ‘Oye, tu abhi tuk luftain kyo hai?’ (Hey, why are you still a lieutenant?) ‘It’s a long story, sir,’ said I. He shut the dossier and slid it to one side, folded his hands in front on the table and said, ‘Tell me.’

I was still reluctant and said the story I would tell would be my side. If he were to ask the commander artillery or his brigade major in 6 Armoured Division, there would be the other side too.
‘Oye, tu un ko chhor. Tu mujhay apni kahani suna.’ (Forget about them. You tell me your story.)

After the full narration and after several questions about my first couple of years and how I worked with the men, he said, ‘Tu unit pohanch. Chahay meri zindagi ka akhri kaam he ho, main tujhay back date say captain banata hoo.’ (You go back to your unit. Even if this is the last thing I do in my life, I’ll promote you from the date you were first promoted captain.)

I did not give much weight to Major Sharif’s words. Mainly because we say a lot of things we never mean. But the strangest thing happened when within two days I received a ‘signal’, as army telegrams were known, saying I was promoted captain with effect from March 1975 with full arrears of pay. That was not very much, but it took care of the Peshawar Club bills for my remaining period in the army.

About ten days later, en route to Lahore on leave, I stopped at Rawalpindi to thank Major Sharif for what he had done for me. I lifted the chik to peek through and looked upon an empty desk and office. I went to the clerks’ room and asked about my benefactor. The clerk asked how I knew him and I reminded him that only a few days earlier Major Sharif had signed the documents for my promotion.
‘Ah yes.’ Sir, major sahib passed away two days after that,’ said the clerk.

Major Sharif had kept his word.

Postscript: In January 1978, two months before I saw Major Sharif I had put in my resignation much to Lt Col Nazar Abbas’s dismay. He wanted me to stay, promising me training courses and better appointments in due time. I had only one argument: my career was sufficiently ruined for me never to rise above major. And that was rank I would hate to retire in.

The good man relented. On the twentieth day of September 1978, my CO met me outside his office. ‘Salman, you shouldn’t be wearing the uniform. You’re out of the army!’

He handed me the papers with my number, rank and name and the date of being Struck off Strength as 10 September 1978. Nothing I had done in the army was ever right, except always being on parade on time. Now the army was getting even with me keeping me in without ten days’ salary by sending my papers late. 

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 14:24,

14 Comments:

At 26 March 2020 at 07:43, Blogger Saidul Amin said...

Sir,a very mesmerising story it is,ups and downs are part of life but they haven't killed a very encyclopedic man..

 
At 26 March 2020 at 11:08, Blogger Salman Rashid said...

Thank you very much for the appreciation, Mr Amin.

 
At 26 March 2020 at 13:29, Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 26 March 2020 at 15:56, Blogger Deepak khandelwal said...

What a story - mesmerized - good one as usual by GURUDEV - and it's 5th day of quarantine

 
At 26 March 2020 at 15:57, Blogger Deepak khandelwal said...

Wah GURUDEV wah

 
At 26 March 2020 at 20:29, Blogger Brahmanyan said...

It is said life is a chain of experiences. The course of our life is destined at the time of our birth. No one knows or understand the course that we have to follow. However when we look back we find all that happened are good.
Yes Sir, Because of your ordeals in the Army we got a wonderful travel writer in you.

 
At 27 March 2020 at 06:57, Blogger vandy said...

A typical blog. Maza aaya pad ke.

 
At 27 March 2020 at 09:00, Blogger Unknown said...

Excellent Sir.
please keep writing about the post Army Masrufiyaat to becoming a travel lover.

 
At 27 March 2020 at 12:40, Blogger Jawad said...

What a blessed day that twentieth day of year seventy eight was.Had that day not come,we won’t ve known the splendour of Salman.RIP Maj Sharif,u truly kept your words
Write about your girl friends u made in Army,sometime.

 
At 27 March 2020 at 14:45, Blogger ِجنبشِ خیال said...

Beautifully narrated

 
At 27 March 2020 at 20:04, Anonymous akash said...

U have had a great life. Well done sir.

 
At 27 March 2020 at 20:55, Blogger Sushi Singh said...

Dear Sir,

Your stories has the magical touch of binding the reader to the extent of visualization that its feels like reader was right there with you when it all happened.

Someday, one day I wish I will sit with you under a beautiful evening to learn some life-lessons and hear old stories. Single malt will be on me if that happens. God bless you. Keep writing. Keep reminding us how beautiful were those yesteryear's that have been long forgotten a long ago.

Best,
Sushil

 
At 27 March 2020 at 23:13, Blogger Saroj said...

Bhai Saab, I have read a couple of paragraphs. Cannot stop myself laughing endlessly! Cannot feel that it is in your part. I feel, it is happening with me! The demotion pale Bajwa's reappointment to COAS!!

 
At 30 March 2020 at 11:40, Anonymous Arif Bukhari said...

Very well sir! Amazing and "inspiring" for a few! One feels thankful to your commanding officers for helping you get out of khakis and giving Pakistan one hell of a Traveller and writer. May the the vagabond live long to keep the spirits of us Travellers up! Bravo!

 

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days