TURKEY: THE FORMATIVE YEARS – IN THE LINE OF FIRE
Two years after arriving in Karachi, my father was posted to our embassy in Ankara, Turkey, as superintendent of the accounts department. My brothers and I were very excited by the idea of going to another country. Our seven-year stay there would prove to have a huge influence on my worldview.
Turkey and Pakistan have many things in common-first and fore-most, Islam. Just as Pakistan was a new country in 1947, Atattirk’s country was a “New Turkey.” With the fall of the Ottoman caliphate, Mustafa Kemal had saved Turkey from balkanization and modernized it by dragging it out of dogma and obscurantism. His grateful people call him Atati rk, “father of the turks.” As a victorious commander he was perhaps inevitably also called pasha, “general.” In fact, even his second name, Kemal, which means “wonderful,” was given to him by a teacher because he was quite remarkable as a young boy. Thus, Mustafa Kemal Pasha Atatiirk.
Much of Pakistan’s cuisine originated in Turkey. So does Urdu, our national language-my parents’ tongue. Ordu is a Turkish word meaning “army.” Two characteristics of the Turkish people have made a special imprint on my mind. One is their deep sense of patriotism and pride in everything Turkish. The other is their very visible love and affection for Pakistan and Pakistanis.
For three young boys, the journey to Turkey was filled with wonder. First, we sailed on HMS Dwarka from Karachi to Basra in Iraq. Traveling by ship was a unique experience for us. Then we took a train to Ankara, a journey of about three or four days, but very enjoyable compared with the fateful train to Pakistan in 1947, a trip fraught with fear and danger.
We found a house in Ankara and stayed in it for a year. We would move to three more houses, staying for a year each in the second and third, before settling in the fourth for the remainder of our time in Turkey. These were only medium-size houses, but comfortable and adequate for our needs-certainly a far cry from the two-room apartment we had left behind.
As a working woman, my mother joined the Pakistani embassy as a typist. She was a very good typist and won an embassy competition for speed. Perhaps that is why she is also a good harmonium player. She had a good voice too. Both my parents loved music and dancing, especially ballroom dancing. My father was a very elegant, very graceful dancer. During the coronation of the queen of England, there was a dance competition in which many of our embassy people participated. After a process of elimination, my parents won the first prize in ball-room dancing.
Naturally, the embassy staff did their utmost to help us settle down, but it was really our Turkish relatives who made us feel at home. One of my mother’s brothers, Ghazi Ghulam Haider, who became the first English-language newscaster on Radio Pakistan, was-how shall I put it?-a great romantic. He was always falling in love, and every so often we would discover that he had married again. Uncle Haider’s first wife was a half-Turkish woman whose mother was a full Turk. Her brother, Hikmet, left India for Turkey and settled down there.
On reaching Ankara my father tried to locate Hikmet, even placing an advertisement in the newspapers, without success. Then, as luck would have it, a Turkish woman who knew Hikmet joined the Pakistani embassy as a typist. Her name was Mehershan. Hikmet was in Istanbul. She telephoned him, and he came to Ankara to meet us. He introduced us to our other relatives. We would meet every so often, and we were always in and out of each other’s homes. One of those relatives was Colonel Kadri Bey. He was married to Leman Khanum. Of their two sons, Metin was extremely handsome, with a golden-brown moustache and curly hair, and Chetin is a wonderful man. I am still in contact with them.
For the first six or eight months of our stay, my brothers and I were enrolled in a Turkish school. The English taught there was rudimentary, but the school helped us to learn very good Turkish, which went a long way in enabling us to become good friends with Turkish boys. Children at that age learn very fast and very well, and our accent and pronunciation became perfect. Soon, we were so fluent that our Turkish friends couldn’t tell we were foreigners. Even now, when I speak Turkish in Pakistan, it is very different from that of our interpreters. But we needed English as our medium of instruction. My parents discovered a German woman who had a private school attended by a number of foreign boys and girls. We were admitted to her school and studied there for the rest of our time in Turkey. She was Madame Kudret-Kudret being her Turkish husband’s surname.
She laid great emphasis on mathematics and geography, and that is why Javed and I became very good in both subjects; we were especially good at making calculations in our heads. Madame Kudret had a unique ability to make us enjoy mathematics, and she taught us easy methods for mental calculations. She honed our skills by making the children compete with one another. My later marks were always the best in mathematics and geography, thanks to Madame Kudret. Even in class ten (the equivalent of tenth grade in the United States), when my grades dropped dramatically for reasons that I shall explain, I earned a perfect score in mathematics. Madame Kudret also taught us world geography; we learned how to draw and read maps and how to identify countries, capitals, oceans, rivers, deserts, and mountains. This knowledge helped me immensely when I joined the Pakistan Army.
Since Madame Kudret’s school was coeducational, there were non-Turkish girls there too. All three of us brothers were very shy around girls. They would invite us to their homes and parties, but we would invariably feel very awkward. I think they realized this and found it very amusing: ten-year-old girls are far more mature than ten-year-old boys, and they could run circles around us.
It was in Turkey, too, that I developed my lifelong fondness for sport. I trained in gymnastics and played volleyball, badminton, and football. Badminton is not a Turkish sport, but it was played in our embassy. Turkey is a soccer-crazed nation. Of course we also played marbles, as little boys do the world over, but this made my mother very an. Our hands would be chapped in winter, sometimes to the point
of bleeding, making it obvious that I had been playing marbles. I would bandage my hands and hide the marbles from my mother by putting them in socks.
I was a precocious but naughty little boy, always good at my studies, but not brilliant like Javed. I was not very studious; Javed was. Those who are familiar with Mark Twain’s works will understand when I say that I was something of a Tom Sawyer, with the difference that I went to school happily.
The orchard in the Lebanese embassy in front of our house had many fruit trees. I observed the guard there and noticed that he would take a short round of the embassy building in one direction, and then a much longer round coming back. It was on the longer round that I would get into the embassy compound and pluck fruit from the trees.
Since I got involved in boyish games and pranks and often did things that other boys wouldn’t or couldn’t do, I became very popular in my neighborhood. Sometimes my mother would discover my antics and get very an. She would even get angry with my friends when they came to collect me. “Go away,” she would say, “let him study.” This would upset me, but there was little I could do except bide my time and wait for an opportune moment to steal out to play with them.
One outdoor activity that my mother could not keep me from was accompanying my father on duck shoots. He would go with the embassy staff to a lake called Gol Bashi, which is now in a crowded part of Ankara. I found these shoots most enjoyable and adventurous. The most exciting part was the silent, motionless wait when the ducks would fly in, and it was even more exciting when occasionally I was allowed to shoot. I can never forget my first successful shot, when I got a duck in the water. I must admit that I never succeeded with flying shots.
Like neighborhoods the world over, ours had boys’ gangs. We would fight, but the fighting was nothing serious. We threw stones at each other and made shields with which to protect ourselves. Each gang had its own flag. Even at that age I was very good at making strategies and planning tactics to ambush and trap other gangs. We would lure them into an area, ambush them, and run off with their flag to the top of a hill. It was defeat for them and victory for us!
Being the outdoors type, I suffered torture when I was forced to stay indoors. I had more than my fair share of energy, and it had to be expended somehow. It had to find outlets outside the house; burning it up inside was impossible. Of course, in those days there was no television, which has turned many of today’s boys into couch potatoes.
Javed was very fond of books, but I read them only when I had to. We became members of the British Council Library and would take out our weekly quota of two books each. Being a voracious reader, Javed would finish his books in a couple of days and then read my books in the next two-if not sooner! Before the week was up he would want to return to the library and take out four more books. I had perhaps read one, or not even that. So I would insist that we wait until the end of the week, after which I would want to renew one of the books and take out only one new one. This would upset Javed and lead to arguments.
We had a Turkish maid named Fatima whom we respectfully called Hanim, meaning “madame”-thus, Fatima Hanim. Our parents made it a point that we show respect to elders regardless of their station in life. We were not allowed to call our domestic staff “servants”-they were employees who earned an honest living and deserved respect.
Fatima Hanim was an old, uneducated woman, quite a simpleton really, but extremely hardworking. We would tell her that the earth is flat and that Pakistan is at its edge and when you look down you can see paradise. Either she really believed us or she went along with our game, because she always insisted that we take her to Pakistan so that she could look down and see paradise.
There were two military attaches at our embassy-colonels Mustafa and Ismail-whose smart ceremonial uniforms attracted me to the army at a very young age. But a man who had a greater impact on me was Hameed, their personal assistant. Hameed was a junior commissioned officer, a very smart and handsome young man from Kashmir. He was very fond of our family and would take me and Javed out on long treks in the hills. There was a zoo very far away, and we would trek up to it and then return on foot. Hameed was very good at games and would coach us. It was he who taught me badminton and volleyball.
Across the road from our embassy was the house of a retired Turkish general who had become a big industrialist. He had a beautiful daughter named Reyan. She could see Hameed sitting in his office from her window. One day he was called and invited to have tea at their house.
Much to Hameed’s consternation, the old general offered him his beautiful daughter’s hand in marriage. They married, and it caused quite a stir. When Hameed was transferred back to Pakistan, she went along with him. He was so bright that he advanced in rank and retired as a major. He started his own business and did quite well. The last time I met him was when I was a brigade major in Karachi. Sadly, he suffered a heart attack and died suddenly. On one of my foreign trips as president of Pakistan my wife and I met Reyan in London.
My love of dogs began in Turkey. We had a beautiful brown dog named Whiskey. I loved him. He was killed in a road accident but left with me a lifelong love of dogs. I prefer small dogs, though, not the huge ones. This surprises my friends, for they expect a commando to have some-thing like a rottweiler. I think people who keep rottweilers, and similar dogs, have a need to cultivate a macho image.
Our seven years in Turkey passed in a flash. We departed with very heavy hearts, saying good-bye to a country that we had come to love, to our relatives, and to our many good friends. We were all crying. Those were among the most enjoyable and formative years of my life. Our journey back was filled with wonder, too, for my father drove his small Austin Mini up to Basra. We drove through Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. We crossed Jordan into Iraq, ending at the port city of Basra. From there our car was put into the hold of a ship and we returned to Karachi by sea, just as we had left it seven years earlier.