Every year as the 23rd day of March approaches, I take stock of where we stand as a nation. Regretfully enough, I come up very much short of where we should have been, had we imbibed and then clung to the virtues that were corner stones of our Founding Father’s vision.

It was somewhere around 1946 that a senior government official from the Indian Civil Service was posted to Delhi to head the War Risk Insurance of India. This posting somehow coincided with a call by Muhammad Ali Jinnah asking all Muslim government servants to return honors and awards conferred on them by the British Raj. I am sure that every one of those addressed by Quaid e Azam must have done so, but what I do know with absolute certainty is that the man in this story wasted no time in obeying his hero and went to the extent of cutting out the words ‘Khan Bahadur’ from his luggage and then covering the spot with a blank piece of leather. A few weeks later, our Founding Father met this civil service man and the meeting was recorded for posterity in a photograph showing the two standing close together. I should know because the bureaucrat in the picture was my maternal grandfather and the picture is the family’s most prized asset. In later years, I often queried this unique individual as to how the momentous meeting came about, but beyond stating in an emotion filled voice that it took place at the residence of Mian Manzar Bashir in Lahore, the man kept this most treasured memory jealously close to his heart.

There is another story connected to my grandfather as narrated by some of his close friends – one of them being the late Agha Ahmed Hassan Khan, maternal grandfather of Imran Khan and the other - Dr. Muhammad Khan father of the celebrated writer and intellectual Ashfaq Ahmed. A very senior British official once criticized my grandfather for wearing the ‘pugree’, while coming to work. “My head dress is a symbol of my cultural heritage and honor. If you find that wearing the same at work is unacceptable from a regulations point of view, I shall tender my resignation from the Service without a moment’s delay”, came the response. Needless to say, no one dared raise the ‘pugree’ issue thereafter.

When given the choice to continue serving in India or migrating to the newly born state of Pakistan, my grandfather opted for the latter and travelled with his family to Lahore to take up his new and challenging assignment. As far back as my memory serves, he never spoke about professional affairs, nor did he exhibit an iota of arrogance in his dealings with all and sundry. This fact was amply highlighted after his retirement (and till his death in 1966) by the crowd of his subordinates that included office peons, drivers and janitors etc. who always found time to visit him without any other motive except the fact that they respected and loved him.

As I moved on in life, I began lecturing senior government servants attending courses at professional schools that qualified them to rise to highest grades in Government Service. Many of these officers came from the elite District Management Group and had to face my inevitable question – “How many days of the year did you spend in the Mofussil?” For those of my readers, who are not familiar with the word, ‘Mofussil’ denoted the field area under jurisdiction of a Divisional or District Administration officer. The answer to my query was in most cases was an embarrassing (sometimes scathing) look, followed by the excuse that their category of Civil Service was so overloaded with office work and protocol that they did not find time to visit villages in their area. When I told them that if representatives of a foreign colonial dispensation could spend a better part of the year camping in the field, resolving issues and giving relief, why couldn’t they do so - given the technology and other communication facilities at their beck and call. I walked away from these lectures a thirsty man, who could not come to terms with the arrogance, aloofness and apathy of the administrative machinery. It is perhaps for this reason that I cling to the memory of the old man, who considered his heritage and honor more important than the perks and power of his job.