That historic evening, with the children away at a Christian camp, the house was very quiet.
Elizabeth Lal Din, the pastor’s wife and Libbo to her friends, reached out for the aubergines. The eggs were on the boil and the broiler glowing. The open kitchen drawer rammed into her side and she swore in Punjabi.
Ammi-jee was such a loving mother. Her visit had lasted longer than the butcher’s opening hours. It wasn’t just the samosas and tea, but their delicious gossip of two impending marriages, a divorce and a funeral. Besides which, she wouldn’t dare cut her mum’s visit short.
Determined to give Charles, a confirmed carnivore, the best default vegetarian meal of his life, she was not to know that it would exceed her hopes.
Discreetly undulating her hips to the kehrwa beat, she sliced a couple of aubergines length-wise, zebra-striped them, sprinkled salt on the inside and put them next to the bowl of finely chopped tomatoes.
She turned the radio off and slipped a disc of Punjabi hymns into the CD player. To the sound of khushi khushi manao — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ensjWNHwd2M — she rinsed the aubergines and then scooped out the soft part over the chopped tomatoes, adding half a grated onion, a garlic clove and two inches of grated ginger. And of course, green chilies, coriander and mint.
She brushed the aubergines with her home-made organic ghee and put them under the broiler. To the sound of yesu ke naam mein hum fatah patay hain — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6wwQuyTI1o — she put ghee in a thick bottomed frying pan, sprinkled salt, added a few cumin and mustard seeds, let them sizzle, then with her wooden spatula, slid in the mixture of the scooped out aubergine, tomatoes, onion and garlic. She stirred it, added her home-made garam masala spice mixture, put a lid on the frying pan and lowered the heat to a simmer.
She peeled and chopped four tomatoes, crushed them with a potato masher, added salt, pepper, red chillies, sliced ginger, crushed garlic and white and black cumin, chucked it into hot ghee in a pan and then reduced the heat to very low.
The inside of the aubergines under the broiler was golden brown. She got them out, sprinkled salt and pepper on the inside, took the frying pan off the gas flame and filled the aubergines with the mixture. Some of it was surplus, which she diluted with water, added fenugreek powder, and added to the simmering sauce.
The eggs were hard-boiled to perfection. Mum’s Christmas egg-slicer gave her perfect cuts. She pressed a slice of egg into the middle of each aubergine half.
Taking her frying pan off the flame, she gently put the aubergines into the sauce, covered the frying pan and put it back on the flame.
The phone rang.
“Oh yes, yes mum. I do remember your starch-free basmati rice recipe … pardon?
“Ok – wash a cup of rice five times or until the water in which it’s soaked is clear.
“After thirty minutes, chuck it in boiling water and wait for a rolling boil.
“Drain and rinse
“Put the rice in my thick-bottomed pan — yes, the one you gave Charles for his birthday — and add a cup of water — yes mum, not two cups, one — let it come to the boil with the lid on, then turn the gas off and it’s done in twenty minutes of steaming.
“thanks mum …. yes, bet it’s so delicious, he faints!
And actually, as history records, when Pastor Charles Lal Din finished his dinner after a prayer meeting, marriage counselling and the church accounts, his eyes suddenly started glazing, his fleshy lips parted, Libbo appeared to be undulating, breathing hard and the floor rose to meet the ceiling.
Azam Mairaj’s three finely penned English articles and Urdu book Dharti Jaey Kyun Paraey (links below) are a timeless gift that position him as a selfless historian of Pakistan’s Christian community. Without provoking or whinging, Azam Mairaj brings into focus the input of Christian warriors to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. He does this at a time when Christian minorities within Muslim lands are undergoing discrimination and persecution as a misconstrued extension of the West.
There are mindsets that presume a Christian counterpart to the transnational political Ummah, supposed to be a faith community, which has now assumed political dimensions that put Muslim minorities in a conflict of interest. The absence of a Christian Ummah and a fundamental belief in the separation of church and state, ensures the integrity of the national loyalties of Christian minorities.
Azam Mairaj’s writings on Christian contributions to the defense of Pakistan performs this unparalleled service of bridging a credibility gap between his community and the rest of the nation without making any but the most positive of waves. In the light to his creativeness and consequent experience, it is now time for him to start a foundation to finance a collective of writers to continue the remaining stages of his initiative.
The artist Zulfikar Bhutto might want to set aside his apparently Marxist-Leninist analyses of society, appreciate that communities in Pakistan are identified by their belief systems and come on board such a project. He and other mainstream intellectuals have this opportunity to go down in history as Ralph McGill, Virginia Foster Durr or Joel Elias Spingarn did for the American civil Rights Movement.
There are enough well-filled Pakistani pocket books to compete with the patronage extended by the White majority of the United States to its minority communities. The moral high ground on which Pakistan stands should be at the same altitude as that of the United States of America to freely brandish anti-American rhetoric!
Mahatama Gandhi said: “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” Accordingly, before quantitatively expanding the subject of minority participation in Pakistan’s defense and development, two dust devils need to be vacuumed.
The first one is about the inversely disproportionate number of Christian officers to Christian Other Ranks (OR s), Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs) and Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs). The second dust devil is the swearing-in of Christian officers whereas Muslim officers only ‘solemnly affirm’.
Unless things have changed in the last three decades, the Pakistan Army had no provision for Christian applicants as combatant ORs. Their state of scholastic, medical and physical fitness notwithstanding, they were only employed as sanitary workers. Most of them were strapping lads from Christian villages representing martial castes deridingly amalgamated within the C-word reserved for the Christians of Pakistan. So, every regiment had its contingent of ‘Masihs’ as they were known and, occasionally, the odd Christian officer. But no combatant ORs, NCOs or JCOs, which is perhaps why only two of them are mentioned by Mr. Mairaj. And it is telling that the author has not been able to unearth any information about Lance Naik Yaqoob Masih from 21 Punjab. This is a subject of study worth a research grant.
Now to the second dust devil.
The stirring ritual of the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul’s Passing-Out Parade, commissioning officers of the Pakistan Army, is solemnized within the framework of military precision and pomp. Muslim Gentlemen Cadets (GCs) ‘… solemnly affirm …” their loyalty to their profession and nation to become commissioned officers.
Then the Adjutant raises his sword and orders Christian GCs to take one step forward, triggering a moving display of Silent Drill.
The GCs step out.
A splendid looking Havildar Major in full regalia including a curling moustache and crimson sash marches across the parade ground carrying a silver bound Holy Bible on a solid silver tray.
The exact second that he slams to attention in front of the GCs, their palms go over their Holy book and they start reciting the lines of the oath pronounced by the Adjutant, ‘I … swear by Almighty God …’.
The ceremony leaves no spectator or participant unmoved.
Yet, the Muslim GC only needs to affirm his fealty but the Christian has to swear by Almighty God.
The consequences of this difference were brutally brought to my attention by the Head Clerk of my Punjab Regiment battalion.
Prime Minister Bhutto had instituted a new oath in which we all had to promise not to take part in politics. So, I once again had to swear by Almighty God. Then I had to affirm my men, as Company commander and Adjutant. The men were lined up and waiting when a deeply embarrassed Head Clerk, who is also the unit’s legal advisor, hurried up. With great embarrassment and, unable to look me in the eye or actually say anything, he handed me the open section of the Manual of Pakistan Military Law (MPML) to read. It unequivocally stated that only an affirmed officer (and not a sworn officer) could administer the affirmation to junior ranks.
I was stunned.
I could lead my men to hell and back but not affirm them?
Another officer had to replace me.
The men looked sulky.
I was a popular and respected officer. The embarrassment of my troops’ and most of my brother officers took a while to settle down.
This, too, is a subject of study worthy of academic scrutiny.
The unifying consequences of Azam Mairaj’s initiative on inter-communal harmony cannot be underestimated in this time of communal alienation and strife.
Mahatama Gandhi’s contemporary, John Dewey, philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer offers food for thought: “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”