Army Officer: Butler in Public
During the recent swearing-in ceremonies of the PM and others being televised live, I noticed a senior army officer pushing the chair for a dignitary, which took me back to an event in1954. Allow me to narrate it in some details.
It was the first re-union of the Corps of Pakistan Signals in March 1954 and the finals of the Inter Regimental Hockey were being played at the GHQ Signals Regiment Rawalpindi hockey ground. General Muhammad Ayub, then the C-in-C of Pakistan Army, was the chief guest. It was customary then, and it may be the practice is still in vogue now, to detail a local ADC from the unit for the visiting General as the unit officer was expected to be better informed of the local environs than the General’s actual ADC. I, a Second Lieutenant, was detailed to perform this onerous task and was introduced to the General on his arrival by our then Director of Signals, Brig. Zaman Janjua (an uncle and godfather of Asif Nawaz Janjua, later General and the COAS of Pakistan Army).
I felt heavy over my shoulders for the task assigned to me but at the same time was looking forward excitedly to the best part of the job - to ride in the Chief’s car after the match, sitting in the rear all by myself, and directing the chauffeur to take it to the JCOs’ mess where the General accompanied by the officers was to take a short cut on foot for addressing a Durbar and later attend the Bara Khana there. During the match I was seated immediately behind the General in the second row on an upright chair while the Brig. was sitting next to him on the sofa. After a while General turned his head half back towards me and asked for the cigarette. (For security reasons Cs-in-C did not smoke others’ cigarettes). I cranked my body rearwards and signaled the Chief’s big moustachioed and turbaned chauffeur for the cigarettes, raising my two fingers motioning for a smoke. He immediately produced a States Express Triple Nine (999) tin and the General taking a cigarette lighted it with his Ronson lighter. I felt pleased for having performed my first task efficiently and reasonably well.
During the interval a mess waiter brought the tea for the General – a simple cup of tea and a few biscuits. While the General was helping himself with a drop of milk and half a spoon of sugar, I, without even getting up from the chair stretched myself a little forward and pushed the coffee table by the side of the General closer to him to place the teacup on it. The match came to the end and the General was chatting affably with the players when Brig. Zaman started slowly closing in upon me. With a menacing look in his eyes, clenched teeth and in a low voice so that others around do not hear but certainly in a harsh tone, he chastised me stern and straight there, “Since when have you started behaving like a butler in public?”. “Beg your pardon, Sir?” I stammered. I did not have the foggiest idea of what I had done.
“Don’t push the table yourself. Ask someone around to do it. You are an officer and behave like one.”
Having scolded me well and proper he melted away, leaving me aghast. Oh my God – that was some dressing down. I forgot all about the prestigious ride in the Chief’s limo – in fact I did not have the heart to ride in it anymore. I asked someone to explain the route to the driver and trailed behind the others towards the JCOs’ Mess.
That evening we had the Corps Reunion Dinner in the Signals Officers’ Central Mess, Rawalpindi . General Ayub was the Chief Guest and in his usual best. The Army’s entire top brass was there and so were many young and senior Signals Officers. Cold drinks were being served before the dinner and everyone seemed to be enjoying the evening. Only I had not recovered from the reprove of the evening and was mulling over it quietly in a corner with other subalterns. Suddenly, I noticed Brig. Zaman, glass in hand, weaving through the maze of officers as if looking for someone and lo; sure he smiled as he spotted me. Seeing him making for me I lunged forward and wished him ‘Good Evening, Sir’. Putting his arm round me he pressed it lightly and patting me on the back affectionately said, “Jaff, look after your guest (the General). Do anything you wish here. This is your home and you are the host. Go and get him a drink”. The Brigadier was clearly compensating for the reprove he had administered to a subaltern earlier that evening.
Oh! Blessed be the Lord, he didn’t have to do it. But, how thoughtful, how fatherly, how magnificently compassionate of him?! Second Lieutenant Jafri was immediately his old jovial self and part of the crowd. The Brigadier had salvaged the spirits of a young officer.
Time marches on. In comes January 1970. Preparations to stage the annual Horse & Cattle Show at the Fortress Stadium Lahore are near completion. General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi is holding one of his daily adm conferences for the final fine tuning of the event.
The Shah of Iran was to be the Chief Guest at the Opening Ceremony. “Who will present the Shah with the scissors in the platter to cut the ribbon?”, asks the General. All present look expectantly towards him for the honor. “Who else deserves it more than the person who has worked so hard to make this show a success ?”
and then with a poignant pause, he announces, “ CO Signal Battalion”. There is a thunderous applause from all. But lo and behold, Lieutenant Colonel Riaz Jafri rises somberly and says impassively, “Sir, I am sorry, I cannot do it”. There is a hush. Everyone is wonder struck at such a response. “But why, oh Shah Jee, why?”, asks General Niazi. (Niazi used to address Col. Jafri as Shah Jee at times). “Because, Sir, I cannot be a butler in public!” Replied Colonel Jafri calmly. Somewhere deep down in him Second Lieutenant Jafri had spoken out.
And, up above in the heavens. Brig. Zaman nodded his approval with an understanding smile. May he keep smiling ever there in the heavens. Ameen.