82 and still kicking
By Amir Mateen
Chaudhary Anwer Aziz claims he is a retired politician. Well, politicians don’t retire. Chaudhary Aziz-definitely not. He may have passed on his Shakargarh constituency to son, Daniyal Aziz but politics remains the lifeblood that keeps him kicking even at the ripe age of 82. Ripe because, at 82, who else can swim 24 lengths in a row and drive from that last corner of Pakistan, Shakargarh, to Islamabad, sometimes at the speed of 120 km per hour on GT Road. Then return to Lahore the next morning after a late wholesome sitting with friends who may comprise a strange mix. You will find in his company the choicest journalists, politicians, intellectuals and then a ‘Shakargaria’ clerk or a watchman who may have dropped by to say Salaam. You can rest assure that the watchman will always get equal respect if not more.
Discussion on such evenings swings from politics to philosophy to anything that flows with the mood but one always gets up feeling a little wiser--or tipsy. One can’t tell the difference sometimes though. It usually ends up with Chaudhary Saheb, as we call him affectionately, reciting poetry and concluded by a cherry on top—a singing session of Mian Mohammad Baksh’s Saiful Malook.
I am always impressed by his zest for life. He lives a wholesome life that a few can claim. Details of the 24 hours that I spent with him to attend a wedding in Karachi should explain. He literally dragged me to swimming the moment we checked-in at Beach Luxury. A small ferry waited for us at the hotel wharf that took us to deep sea ‘crabbing.’ You could trust Chaudhary Saheb, a good chef that he is, for quality cooking. After a moon-lit breezy evening at sea we went to the mehndi ceremony. Once there, he took the lady of the House to the dance floor. The whole party, as always, revolved around him—dancing, singing and laughing at his jokes. The night did not end before he made me watch, once again, the film “Scent of a Woman,” just to prove a point of discussion that Al Pachino makes in his speech at the end—not to mention his tango as a blind man. Before we flew back he made sure that we, among other things, had Karachi’s famous Burns Road nihari. This was more than what some people do in a lifetime. And it’s always this way that he lives his day.
It’s not because of material luxuries actually. It’s his attitude. Nothing is ordinary for him. He will make a simple food seem as a sumptuous cuisine by garnishing it with a sauce, salad or a lassi and then having it on rooftop under winter sunshine. He prefers GT Road over the Motorway in travelling because it has a soul. It’s called as the ‘Royal journey.’ It has all the ingredients of a picnic; the holy water, holier music and, of course, the holiest discussion. The climax comes at Jhelum River where we eat the best Mahasher fish that his jail mate from the Martial Law days, Babbu Khan, always keeps on the side.
His modest demeanor and inquisitiveness for information can be deceptive to the naïve who often take him for a country cousin—basically paindoo. His rapt attention usually encourages the immodest variety to brag a little extra. That’s a mouse-trapper. The moment Chaudhary makes a small observation, quoting Toynbee, Gibbons or Machiavelli’s Prince that he remembers word by word, the other person realizes the vastness of his knowledge and wisdom. It’s always enjoyable for the people who know where the ‘mouse’ is headed.
The range of his interest is exceptionally vast—swinging from Beethoven to soybeans to bio gas. He is perhaps one of the few living Pakistanis who may have the credentials to claim expertise on such a broad spectrum of issues. Fewer have lived the rich life that he has led. Chaudhary saw the trauma of the Partition in his teens. He was groomed by teachers like Sufi Tabassam, Pitras Bokhari, Dr Nazir at the Government College, Lahore. His peers at the GC represented the cream of northern India. Chaudhary lived in the very hostel room where Allama Iqbal stayed. His life-long friends from Iqbal Hostel, to name a few, included Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Military Secretary, the late Major General Imtiaz, Abid Ali Shah, the guru of public relations who had the honour to introduce singer Mohammad Rafi to Bombay, scholar Dr Anwaar Syed and the famous ‘Defender of Lahore,’ Shafqat Baloch who as major deterred two Indian divisions with just two companies in the 1965 war.
Chaudhary represented Pakistan as a swimmer in 1948 Olympics. I saw his friends Shoaib and Saleema Hashmi do this skit about him in a New York ballroom fund-raiser. It describes the announcement of medals. “The bronze goes to England, silver to Canada, gold to Australia and Pakistan’s Chaudhary Anwer Aziz still swimming.” He affectionately curses Shoaib every time the joke is narrated.
He went on a Fulbright Scholarship to Michigan University in the 1950s, where he met his wife Kathleen, and later became District Attorney of California. From those lofty heights, he flew back straight to his village in Shakargarh which in those days did not even have a toilet, let alone a toilet paper that Kathleen was used to. Kathy aunty, as everybody called her, laced her English with chaste Punjabi. The Shakargarhias loved the couple living in their midst—a maim helping them in daily chores in Punjabi. They expressed their fondness by voting the Chaudhary to power time and again.
Chaudhary is perhaps the only living member from the 1964 Assembly, winning against the will of the ruthless Nawab of Kalabagh, the second person being Chaudhary Zahoor Elahi. He became Federal Minister in the Cabinets of Prime Ministers Zulfiqar Bhutto and Mohammad Khan Junejo. The credit for giving Ziaul Haq his first shock by defeating his candidate for Speakership, Khawaja Safdar, in the 1985 National Assembly goes largely to the Chaudhary. Junejo’s defiance against the dictator could also be partially attributed to Chaudhary. A whole generation of journalists such as Nusrat Javed, Shaheen Sehbai, Mohmmad Malick, Zafar Abbas and myself, has learnt the ropes of politics from him. He is equally sought by the younger lot of Rauf Klasra, Arshad Sharif and Asma Shirazi and the grandies such as Munoo Bhai, Abbas Athar and Nazir Naji.
It’s a treat when he is around. His literary credentials are no less. He was the host when Mustafa Zaidi was introduced by Sufi Tabussam as Tegh Allahabadi who then recited his famous poem Tarash-i-Aazrana for the first time. Jalib considered his house as his second home. So did Jafar Tahir, whose long epic poem ‘Wapsi’ we always insist him to recite. Intellectuls Ismat Alig lived in his house for years and he was close to the firebrand orators Abdullah Butt and Shorish Kashmiri, writer Abdullah Malik, painter Sadeqain, Punjabi poets Imam Din Gujrati and Sharif Kunjahi. He discussed political theory with scholar Samuel Huntington and hosted the Kennedys, Henry Kissinger, Yasir Arafat, among others, as a Protocol Minister. If this is not enough reason to envy him, our generation particularly, what is?
But I respect Chaudhary Sahib more because of his love for the common man. He is constantly thinking about what he can do for the poor and the needy. Anybody who has ever met him will have a story to tell. Why-and-how-he-did-what kind of stories. How he always gave a hike to anybody who raised a hand while travelling; how he always paid money to every beggar who approached him; how he sat, ate or stood up--there was always this Chaudray style of doing things.
He pioneered milk pasteurization by introducing Tetrapack in Pakistan as Bhutto’s advisor on Livestock. We sometimes laugh about his passions but he is always up to something. He tried to improve the economy of commoners by distributing Angora rabbits, known for their long and soft wool. He tried schemes to promote cows, goats and vegetables. He distributed the newly arrived Broiler chickens among his people hoping they will return eggs, thus starting a chain to boost their economy and poultry. Some did and most did not. But this did not stop him from bringing sacks full of new seeds that he distributed for free. He spent years promoting cheaper soya milk as he believes the ‘robber barons’ will let the price of milk come down and that normal milk cannot fulfil the nutrition requirement of Pakistan. Many of his may not have worked but this has not deterred him. He is now busy devising ways to cure brackish water through solar energy. How do you draw your energy, I asked him once. “From the poor people in Shakargarh,” pat came the response.
“Shakargarh, Shakargarh, Shakargarh—I am sick of hearing this from Chaudhary Anwer Aziz all my life,” this is how Abbas Athar started his column on him. And this is what defines him. I have not seen a politician who is as much in love with his voters—actually people he considers as his extended family--as Chaudhary is. Last time when I we had the ‘royal journey’ he was so proud to show me the trees on both sides of the road that leads from Narowal to Shakargarh. The only time I ever saw him bragging, spark in his eyes: “I grew them, many of them literally with my own hands.”
I had the privilege to play cards with the exclusive club of his childhood mates on Eid for many years. A stage came when we missed a member or two every year because of their death. Age, I suppose. We stopped praying for them as it turned the game into a condolence meeting. We had to stop the practice as the club came down to little, very little, two years ago. It has been my honour knowing him for almost a quarter of a century. May you live for 182 years, Chaudhary sahib. No retirement!
Edittor: Chaudhary Anwer Aziz has consented to do a blog for us where he will share his ideas with our viewers. This article explains the vastness of his expertise. We have named the blog as Baabay Di Gall. Considering his vigour, he is the last man to be called as Baaba but this is how people in Shakargarh address him affectionately.