Piffer Potpouri – A Book of Anecdotes
Review by C. Naseer Ahmad
“A thing of
beauty is a joy forever, ” said John Keats.
Piffer (Punjab Irregular Infantry Frontier Force)
Potpouri – a book of anecdotes edited by retired
Lt Col Nasir Ali Khan – is a thing of beauty
too. Like a properly infused cup of tea or an aged
spirited drink – depending upon one’s
palate, the book is to be enjoyed with each sip.
It is definitely not a decoration piece.
Piffer Pitpouri takes the reader through the country
roads and alleys of history. One gets to enjoy snippets
of visits by famous – and infamous –
military leaders of the South Asian subcontinent
as well as the British Raj. This book is not for
those seeking instant gratification in the age of
the Internet or adrenaline rush through speeding
on boring wide highways of history, tinged with
the victor’s revisionism.
With rigor and imagination, Lt. Col. Nasir Ali Khan
has leveled the playing field where majors, colonels,
brigadiers and generals have narrated the events
and stories as they best remember – just like
they would have performed on the battlefield. Occasionally,
Lt Col Nasir has added some editorial comments.
There is humor – sometimes only for the locker
room or the bar – and there is originality
in this book. Through the language used, the editor
takes the reader to the times when life was not
It seems that the book percolated through the mind
of Nasir Ali Khan, with each step of the early morning
(before sunrise) walks in Lahore’s Polo Ground.
The banter with his buddies that followed the walk
probably refined the material further.
The lack of pomposity in this book is refreshing.
It reflects the 81-year- young editor’s humility
who returns home from the Polo Ground walk to serve
a cup of tea to his wife of six decades. A vivid
example of his humility is a personal anecdote about
driving by the Buckingham Palace and informing a
visiting friend -during his years as a diplomat
in London – that his friend was never likely
to live there. Apparently the colonel had to eat
his words because his friend ended up living at
Buckingham Palace for three months at Queen Elizabeth’s
invitation. The book contains some wisdom of the
editor gained though age.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “In the end,
it's not the years in your life that count. It's
the life in your years.” So it is about life
in the years of so many Piffers – past and
present. In the end, these anecdotes are about men
who had sworn to defend their country even if it
cost them their lives. The reader will find out
about the real character of such men in a story
– narrated by Lt Col Shamsher Ali Khan --
of Driver Mohammad Khan (nicknamed Kallo), who jumped
over and lay over a grenade, which later turned
out to be a dud. When asked by his officers about
the reasons for such bold action, Kallo said, “If
I had died, if would be of little consequence but
if you officers had died, it would be a national
(C. Naseer Ahmad, son of a Piffer, lives in Washington
D.C. area and writes for Pakistan Link. He is president
of AZI Consulting Inc. He is a graduate of Forman
Christian College, Johns Hopkins University School
of Advanced International Studies and George Washington
University’s School of Engineering)