Remembering a Unique Father on Father’s Day
By Mohammad Yacoob
Hawthorne , California
Fathers’ Day is celebrated in the US every year on the 3rd Sunday of June to express gratitude and appreciation to fathers. This year Father’s Day will fall on Sunday, June 19, 2011.
On this Father Day I would like to express my gratitude to my father for everything he has done for me. I would like to be a little biased and say my father was a unique person who did things in a very unique way, which I believe, were not done by other fathers.
My father was interested in his children’s welfare and wished us utmost excellence in life. Yet he used his commanding and do-it-now style to make us do things. He spent most of his life with military personnel as an army contractor and I believe the military traits rubbed on him.
I still have one of my father’s business cards printed in Secunderabad-Deccan, south India, more than 70 years ago. It has a beautiful pink colored rose flower with four buds and few rose leaves on the top left hand corner and next to it is his name: Mohamed Abdul Khader , R.I.A.S.C. Contractor; acronym for Royal Indian Army Southern Command Contractor.
In his young age my father was a fearless boy. My mother related this story about him, which she had heard from her mother-in-law, my grandmother. My granduncle – my father’s guardian, was not only an army contractor but also ran an eatery called the “Supper Bar” in the military complex in Bolaram, Secunderabad Cantonment. When my father was ten years old, he was assigned the task of going to the Supper Bar in the evenings and getting the day’s proceeds from the cash register. One day, the cashier asked him to stay at the cash register for a few minutes and went to the bathroom. An army private walked up to the register and asked my father for something. My father asked him to wait. After a few minutes the private got impatient and turned to my father, and looking directly into his eyes cursed him saying, “You bloody chap!” After hearing those words, my father - a young lad of ten years - got upset. Placing his left arm on the counter, he leaned on the left side, raised his right hand and hit the army private on the jaw, and then he dropped to the ground, turned to the other side of the counter, crawled under it, stood up and ran. The private gave a chase. Spying an army officer nearby my father ran and stood next to him. The private and the officer had a brief conversation, which ended with the officer telling the private to leave the little “chap” alone. My father may not have been thinking about the consequences of his actions, but at the same time he could not stand insult even as a young boy.
As a man he was very tough. Acutely aware of time, he believed in punctuality; another military trait. Besides engaging in contract work, my father and my uncle also managed a small construction company. My father would hire masons and day laborers to start work at 7 am. If a laborer showed up to work at 7:10, my father would send him home and tell him to come back the next day. Later in life, when he was sick and bed ridden, he told my mother that he was suffering from all these illnesses, including emphysema, because of the curse of the poor laborers, whom he had sent home for showing up late to work.
His association and dealings with the army made him a very time-conscious person. One day, when we were going shopping, he told us to be ready by 12:00 noon to leave the house. At around 12:00, I entered our parents room and announced the time, my father looked at his watch and remarked, ‘”Still one more minute left,” and sat down on the corner of the bed. After a minute or so he stood up after looking at his watch and said, ”It is time to go.” This incident had a profound effect on me on time management.
He was greatly interested in politics, and would often discuss newspaper editorials as well as finer points of current events with me. He would ask me to read the newspaper editorials from the Urdu daily “Rahnuma-e Deccan”. He would talk about the glorious days of Hyderabad during the reign of Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur, Asif Jah Sabih, the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad. The Nizam’s State had three big divisions or counties called Marathwada, Karnataka and Telengana.
In the 1920’s the Nizam was one of the richest men in the world and king of the largest state in India. (It appears Henry Ford later replaced him as the richest man.) In 1955 the Government of India formed the Fazal Ali Commission to restructure and reestablish boundaries of various states in India. The Commission recommended breaking up of Hyderabad State into three parts and giving them to three different states. The people living in the Telengana area, where the capital of Hyderabad was located, started an agitation for a separate Telengana State. I was in junior college at that time, studying Physics, Chemistry and Math. The university students were in the forefront of this agitation. One day while I was reading one of the editorials from the newspaper, my father told me, “Mohammad Yacoob, go with the students, who have arranged the demonstration demanding a separate Telengana State. After ten minutes tell them that you have to go to the bathroom and come straight home. You need to concentrate on your studies. A separate Telengana State will never be established.” I did exactly what he told me. My father had vision. Telengana became part of Andhra, and the State of Andhra Pradesh came into existence.
He wanted his children to become engineers or doctors, and at the same time he insisted that I learn typing and shorthand. “This is going to help you in life; you can take shorthand notes in the class during the lectures”, he would say. How true it is today; now I am using a personal computer almost six or more hours a day. At that time, I resented learning typing and shorthand, because the overwhelming majority of the people who knew typing were male clerks in private companies or government offices in Hyderabad-Deccan, India. My father’s decision was final. At that time the high schools in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad did not offer any courses in typing and short hand. He instructed me to enroll in a nearby typing institute.
The digital movements of the fingers, the rhythmic strokes of the keys caused pain in my fingers but after a while it became bearable, then easy. I started to like typing. In addition to this I was learning shorthand from an instructor and finished the book written by Sir Isaac Pitman after several months. After finishing each exercise, the class would take dictation from the instructor. It would be news items or editorials from ‘Deccan Chronicle’, a newspaper published from the city of Secunderabad. The most amusing word I found during dictation was the name of the Indonesian Prime Minister in the 1950’s, Ali Shastru-me-jojo. Every time the instructor uttered the name from the Deccan Chronicle editorial, I would smile or start laughing. I have now completely forgotten shorthand, but I do typing every day and remember my father while sitting at the desk in front of my Personal Computer.
My father had a vision for me. He did not just say to me that typing would help you in life; he backed up his statement with a gift. He bought a petite portable typewriter for me. Now, in this 21st century, we know hundreds of Hyderabadis are getting personal computers from their parents. How many of us from the earlier generation got a typewriter in the 1950s from our parent?
My father was a chain smoker and developed emphysema. It became worse in the early 1980’s. He developed audible wheezing while breathing which many times became unbearable. In the 1960’s he followed the doctor’s orders to cut down on smoking in a very peculiar way. He would break a non-filter cigarette in half, smoke the first half, and pick up the second half from the packet immediately after finishing the first half. Thus he continued his chain-smoking cycle. Then, he told the doctor that he had cut his smoking by almost 25% to 50%. Still this did not help and he ended up contracting emphysema. In the 1950’s and the 1960’s he used to walk eight miles a day, two miles each way, twice a day. In 1976 when he visited us in California, he got ill. The doctor examined him, prescribed medication, later told me, “Your father ‘s heart is as strong as a 10-year-old’s”.
We believe that his strong heart prolonged his life even though his lungs became weak. In the 1980’s the doctors told my older brother, “ If we operate and remove one of his lungs, your father is going to die, because the other lung is also bad and would not be able to carry him through; however, because of his strong heart, his brain is getting enough oxygen. It is better that we leave him alone”.
He was a person who was not easily impressed. I remember that he showed amazement at only two ordinary things during his stay with us in California. In the supermarkets he would look at bottles; he loved the shape, color and beauty of different types of bottles. He showed interest in taking many empty bottles with him, but later decided to drop the idea because of the heavy luggage he and my mom were carrying back with them to India. He also showed amazement at the clocks in the house and said, “I am surprised at the number of clocks and time pieces in your home, including those in each bathroom”.
I miss three books, which, in a way, I inherited from my father in 1952. One was “Who’s Who in India - 1935”. This awesome encyclopedia listed the names of all the freedom fighters of the British subcontinent, including those who 12 years later, in 1947, became the leaders of India and Pakistan. I used to go through this book, whenever I saw the name of a leader in the newspaper, to see if he was listed in it. The other book was a blank diary 3½ x 4 inches of 1942 that was never used by my father. This diary was printed in England and perhaps given to my father by one of his military friends. It was a beautiful diary with a leather jacket and onionskin light blue paper. On each page there was a proverb. Two proverbs are still in the recesses of my memory: “One man’s experience is knowledge for others;” and “You can do anything with a bayonet but sit on it”. The third book, written in the Urdu language entitled “Tears of Blood”(Khoon kay Aan-soo) listed human shortcomings and weaknesses, and made suggestions as to how human beings can improve their lives. The author of the book was very straightforward and he had used strong words to describe the mistakes human beings make or the activities they indulge in, and later make excuses or produce rationale to justify those mistakes and indulgences. In the preface, the author’s very first sentence was, “Don’t pay attention to who is saying it, pay attention to what he is saying”.
The only time I saw my father crying was at the death of our grand uncle, his uncle and guardian. He was a very tough man yet he cried like a baby. I can’t forget his face, tears and sobs while holding his eye glasses in his hands. This indelible image always sends shivers through my spine.
May Allah give him a high place in the heavens – give him Jannat-ul- Firdous. Ameeen.