The other evening, I was sitting with a friend at a roadside tea stall in Karachi, sipping gurr-coloured milky sugary tea in a cheap glass tumbler and watching rickshaws and trucks pass by. My friend is an educated fellow with well-manicured hands, which reflects his refined nature. Taking a pause from his exasperated monologue about job worries, he looked into my eyes and asked, "Do you know what I do whenever I am in some sort of quandary?"
I was puzzled.
He took a deep breath and said, "I sit in a quiet corner of my house, close my eyes and let the disturbing thoughts settle down. After a while, I think of my father and assume that he is still alive. I seek his guidance. I contemplate: if he were alive, what would he advise? It is no more a surprise that I can soon feel him near me."
His voice cracked.
"Whatever his advice, I follow it blindly and never once has it happened that my dad has made an error of judgment."
"When did he pass away?" I inquired.
"It's been more than a decade..."
I glance back at my life.
"I think of my father and assume that he is still alive"
Hassan was a smart teenager, a classfellow of my younger brother at Lahore's Crescent Model School. My brother and he were the closest of friends in person but vicious rivals in studies. Both of them vied for the top slot in class. Mostly he topped the class and at times my brother surpassed him. He spent his time in my house having joint study sessions with my brother. Soon he became a part of our household. At times he would confide in me: "My father wants to make me an officer." I had developed a brotherly affection for him. Hassan's father was a provincial civil servant who had risen from the lower ranks. Hassan was the only son. His father was a dedicated parent and meticulous teacher. His dream was to see his son grow into a DMG officer, many notches above his own stature. To materialize this dream Hassan's father would spend many after-school hours tutoring his son. He was such a perfectionist that during summer vacations he would teach his son the whole curriculum, many months before the final exams. The rest of the months were spent in revisions.
Time passed swiftly. Hassan grabbed a position in the Lahore Board's matric exams. In those days most students who excelled in academics chose a technical field that guaranteed a secure financial future. Hassan's father had already laid down a roadmap for his son. Ultimately, he was to appear for the CSS exams. So his father chose a social science subject for his son in which he was to compete many years later. It was a very daring decision. If Hassan flunked the exams there was no option for him but to become a petty schoolteacher. Subsequently, Hassan did his Masters in that Social Science subject. Many of his previous years were spent in thorough preparation for the competitive exams.
His dream was to see his son grow into a DMG officer
The first paper tested the candidate's essay-writing and language skills. When Hassan came out of the exam hall he was jubilant. He had performed exceedingly well. He told his father whatever he had written in the paper. During this ecstatic account, his father suddenly realized a few grammatical and spelling mistakes Hassan had committed. It was like a bombshell on the perfectionist father, who could suddenly see the certainty of his son's failure in the compulsory subject. Such a mistake was unacceptable. The father was so devastated that he called off the whole thing and returned home without letting his son continue in the exams. He was convinced that his son had lost his first lifeline.
A few months later the postman delivered Hassan's result card, which remained unopened for some days. One day his father reluctantly opened the envelope and was astounded to see that his son had scored exceptionally well - in the only subject for which he had allowed Hassan to appear. The mistake had not been stressed by the examiner.
That fact of the result came as the final blow to this father who had been overzealous in carving a bright future for his son as a well-respected Civil Servant.
Hassan's father died a few months later. It was only then that Hassan availed the second chance and successfully made it to a top slot of the civil service.
He wept like a baby upon hearing the news of his exceptional performance in the exams.