My wife often asks me as to why do I peer at passing scenes with so much interest during our intra and intercity travels. I tell her that even the shortest of journeys unfolds a medley of scenes and events, which may inspire a story for my columns. Take for example the time when I, along with my family was travelling from Islamabad to Bhurban for a well-earned rest. It was perhaps providence that prompted us to take the old Murree Road instead of the Expressway. Halfway to our destination, we stopped at a ‘restaurant’ for a breather and found a wrinkled ‘baba’, bent double under a load of firewood, working his way laboriously down the steep goat track. On an urge I left my boisterous relatives busy with their ‘Lays and Pepsis’, to meet the old character at the point where the track joined the metaled road.I stepped forward in order that I may help the old man unburden himself – and found my story.

The deep blue eyes that had lost none of their ‘fire’ looked at me amusedly and a benign smile appeared on a visage seamed with years of earning a hard living. In a voice that belied age, the object of my endeavors put his hand on my shoulderwith the words, “Son, I shall carry my own load, while you must carry yours. If everyone follows this principle, this world would be a much better place – would it not?” Totally humbled in the presence of such wisdom, I requested him to join me in a cup of ‘doodhpatti’ and then spent the next twenty minutes in one of the most instructive encounters that I have ever had in my life.

Baba Allahdad turned out to be a retired soldier, who had served the country faithfully for two decades and then retired honorably somewhere in the early sixties. He talked of old times while loudly sipping his tea and I hung on to his words for fear that I might miss them and would then be unable to reproduce them for my readers.

“I do not wish to tell you much about my time in the Army because I have no words to describe it. I tell my grandchildren, one of whom is following my footsteps that there was honor and pride in what we were doing. We were a family, where our officers stood with us through thick and thin. It was because of this camaraderie that we were willing to lay down our lives for them. One morning in early September 1965, which was about one year after I retired, my son came running to me to tell me that India had attacked Pakistan in Lahore and the City had fallen. I threw down my ‘pail’ (a digging implement akin to the ‘Kahi’ of the Punjab Plains) and ran down to my neighbor’s house to listen to the radio. I found the house locked so I simply caught the first Murree Hills Transport bus that passed my way and presented myself at the recruiting office in Rawalpindi. Never for a second did the thought come to me that I had left my home with only the clothes on my back and without telling my family where I was going.” I looked at my ‘baba’ with increasing reverence and saw that his eyes were glistening with tears. These were perhaps tears of pride for being there when his country needed him or maybe tears in memory of lost friends, who had laid down their lives so that we may survive.

I spent the rest of the drive to our destination in a somber mood thinking of the frivolity, callousness and corruption that hallmarks our lives. Perhaps this sixth of September, it would be well dear readers, to take a short trip to a monument on the banks of the BRB Canal and read the following Urdu lines inscribed in stone:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters, when you return to your homes, tell our countrymen (and women) that we sacrificed our ‘today’ for their tomorrow”.

The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.