“Butler in Public”

By Lt Col S. Riaz Jafri (Retd) 7th PMA

Lt Col S. Riaz JafriEditor’s Note:  Lt Col S. Riaz Jafri (Retd) was commissioned in a Signals Regt in Feb 1953. After the retirement, he has settled in Rawalpindi. Currently, he is the Vice Chairman of Pakistan Thinkers Forum.

During the swearing-in ceremony of the Prime Minister in June 2013 being televised live, I noticed a very senior Army officer pushing the chair for him to sit in, which took me down the memory lane back to year 1954.

Gen Ayub KhanIt was the first re-union of the Corps of Pakistan Signals, in March 1954, and the finals of the Inter Regimental Hockey were being played at the GHQ Signals Regiment Rawalpindi hockey ground. General Muhammad Ayub Khan, then the C-in-C Pakistan Army, was the chief guest. It was customary then, and may be the practice is still in vogue, to detail a local ADC from the unit for the visiting General as the unit officer was expected to be better informed of the local environs than the General’s actual ADC. I, a Second Lieutenant, was detailed to perform this onerous task and was introduced to the General on his arrival as such by our then Director of Signals, Brig Zaman Janjua (an uncle and godfather of Asif Nawaz Janjua – a former COAS Pak Army). I felt heavy over my shoulders for the task assigned but at the same time was looking forward excitedly to the best part of the job – to ride in the Chief’s car after the match, sitting in the rear all by myself, and directing the chauffeur to take it to the JCOs’ Mess where the General accompanied by the officers was to take a short cut on foot for addressing a Durbar and later attending the Bara Khana there.

Brig Muhammad Zaman Janjua, Director of Signals from 1950 t0 1955During the match I was seated immediately behind the General in the second row on an upright chair while Brig Zaman was sitting next to him on the sofa. After a while General turned his head half back towards me and asked for the cigarette (For security reasons Cs-in-C did not smoke others’ cigarettes). I cranked my body rearwards and signalled the Chief’s big mustachioed and turbaned chauffeur for the cigarettes, raising my two fingers motioning for a smoke. He immediately produced a State Express Triple Nine (999) tin and the General taking a cigarette lighted it with his Ronson lighter. I felt pleased for having performed my first task efficiently and reasonably well.

State Express Cigarettes 999 tin and Ronson Lighter

During the interval a mess waiter brought the tea for the General – a simple cup of tea and a few biscuits. While the General was helping himself with a drop of milk and half a spoon of sugar, I, without even getting up from the chair stretched myself a little forward and pushed the coffee table by the side of the General closer to him to place the teacup on it. The match came to the end and the General was chatting affably with the players when Brig Zaman started slowly closing in upon me. With a menacing look in his eyes, clenched teeth and in a low voice so that others around do not hear but certainly in a harsh tone, he chastised me stern and straight there, “Since when have you started behaving like a butler in public?”.

“Beg your pardon, Sir?” I stammered. I did not have the foggiest idea of what I had done.

“Don’t push the table yourself. Ask someone around to do it. You are an officer and behave like one”, having scolded me well and proper he melted away, leaving me aghast.

Oh my God – that was some dressing down. I forgot all about the prestigious ride in the Chief’s limo – in fact I did not have the heart to ride in it anymore. I asked someone to explain the route to the driver and trailed behind the others towards the JCOs’ Mess.

That evening we had the Corps Reunion Dinner in the Signals Officers’ Central Mess, Rawalpindi. General Ayub Khan was the Chief Guest and in his usual best. Army’s entire top brass was there and so were there many young and senior Signals’ Officers. Drinks were going rounds before the dinner and everyone seemed to be enjoying the evening. Only, I had not recovered from the reprove of the evening and was mulling over it quietly in a corner with other subalterns. Suddenly, I noticed Brig Zaman, glass in hand, weaving through the maze of the officers as if looking for someone and lo; sure he smiled as he spotted me. Seeing him making for me I lunged forward and wished him ‘Good Evening, Sir’.

Putting his arm round me he pressed it lightly and patting me on the back affectionately said, “Jaff, look after your guest (the General). Do anything you wish here. This is your home and you are the host. Go and get him a drink”. Brigadier was clearly compensating for the reprove he had administered to a subaltern earlier that evening. Oh! Blessed be the Lord, he didn’t have to do it. But, how thoughtful, how fatherly, how magnificently compassionate of him! Second Lieutenant Jafri was immediately his old jovial self and part of the crowd. Brigadier had salvaged the spirits of a young officer.

Lt Gen Amir Abdullah Khan NiaziShah of Iran and Gen Yahya KhanTime marches on. In comes January 1970. Preparations to stage the annual Horse & Cattle Show at the Fortress Stadium Lahore are near completion. Lt Gen Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi is holding one of his daily adm conferences for the final fine tuning of the event. Shah of Iran was to be the Chief Guest for the Opening Ceremony. “Who will present the Shah with the scissors in the platter to cut the ribbon?”, asks the General.

All present look expectantly towards him for the *honour*. “Who else deserves it more than the person who has worked so hard to make this show a success?” and then with a poignant pause, he announces, “ CO Signal Battalion”.

There is a thunderous applause from all. But lo and behold, Lt Col Riaz Jafri rises somberly and says impassively, “Sir, I am sorry, I cannot do it”.

There is a hush. Everyone is wonder struck at such a response. “But why, oh Shah Jee, why?”, asks Gen Niazi. (Gen Niazi used to address Col Jafri as Shah Jee at times).

“Because, Sir, I cannot be a butler in public!” replied Col Jafri calmly. Somewhere deep down in him 2nd Lt Jafri had spoken out.

And, up above in the heavens Brig Zaman nodded his approval with an understanding smile. May he keep smiling ever there in the heavens – ameen.

Related Page:
Pakistan Army Blog (Retired Officers)

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  1. Col Jafri,
    You (our seniors) are very precious, thank you for sharing such a candid, memorable, thinking and learning experience.
    Your presence (and of all the seniors like you) can make a world of a difference by sincerely sharing experiences of their times with a purpose of educating young and old alike.
    I wish such a sharing of experiences continues with a sincere purpose of promoting values of their times and deliberations for our future, especially for young officers.
    I will take the liberty of sharing my humble analysis as follows:
    1. MaashaAllah! Brig Zaman reacted sincerely for teaching norms of what he was taught (like a good student), and also did make it up to you, in his own style later.
    2. Now a change in situational values from the taught norms (British). Gen Niazi Marhoom, asks for presenting the scissors for ribbon cutting.
    3. MaashaAllah! We all are born and bred, with wonderful values from our homes (thanks to our elders). These values are well embedded and embossed in all of us, and our reflex actions generated on different occasions are a manifestation of the same.
    Hence your reflex action of pulling the table to show courtesy manners to make it convenient and avoid a possible mess up.

    I feel we were not taught/told history to the extent that it could help us understand our sincere core values from the superficial man-made protocols; remove confusion and help soothe our nerves.
    I learned from a Book “Our Wonderful World” in my childhood that when you shake a hand it should be neither too hard (for the other’s hand, as if in a vice) nor too soft (to show in-confidence and indifference in attitude). Today I am confident that a soft double handed hand shake shows and gives a fully committed feeling to both the giver as well as the recipient.
    Alhamdulillah! I am no longer “Aadha Teetar Aadha Batair.” Of course, there is yet a lot to learn and improve.
    May Allah give Jaza-e-Khair to our seniors like you and help us build and take Pakistan to its highest place as it should have been. My resolve on this 14th Day of August 2015.

  2. Lt Col Masood Alam (retd) says:

    Wonderful and educative write-up. Thanks for sharing.
    When I was a captain, in a dinner (It was a buffet) which our unit was hosting my Co told me, “You don’t have to stand and look at the other officers, you must also join them. There are enough waiters to look after the guests”.
    This is one way to look at it while there was another CO who would say, “You all are hosts, you should hand over plates to the guests and also see that if they require some thing or not?” This is normal practice now-a-days and called as courtesy and manners. I think one should stay on the balanced path.

  3. Maj Khalid Saeed Shah (R) says:

    Very well narrated PIR SAHIB. it shall be disseminated to Senior Officers as well to refrain from degrading their officers.

  4. Lt Col Haider Yar Khan (Retd), Sigs, 49th PMA says:

    If confront a senior officer; even on principles, the choice is limited…. take a stand and career is gone. I believe Col Jafri sir, you were also victim like me.

  5. Maj M. Ejaz Baig (Retd) says:

    Col jafri,
    Sir the decline began from 1971 onward and continues to this day and may carry on in future. Generation’s gap may not be parted easily or ever. New traditions have become part of a new dictionary. Surely painful for old timers.

  6. Lt Col Muhammad Akram Abbasi (R) Signals says:

    Thank you Col Jafri for sharing such an interesting event. May God bless you.

  7. Major Khalid Hyder (Retd) says:

    Times have changed. Maj Gen Abdul Rahman Khan, Director Signals, appeared in a TV ad for Philips in the 1970s, recommending the use of Philips products. It is said that property tycoon Malik Riaz has hired over half a dozen retired generals for his Bahria Town project. Army officers are driving Taxis and working as security guards in the USA. There are only a few general officers like Gen Waheed Kakar or Gen Shamim Alam Khan who have stayed off the radar after retirement. Times have changed.

    • Lt Col Moaziz Syed (R) 1st War Course says:

      Driving taxies or working as security guards is better than begging or going on welfare. As some thinker wrote somewhere; all work is noble and work alone is noble.

  8. Maj T. Yasin (Retd) 56th PMA says:

    I think this need to be hammered into heads of the battalion commanders. Almost all of them demand that sort of behavior from youngsters.

  9. Col Shah Alam (Retd) 34 PMA, Canada says:

    Excellent narration indeed, and thanks for sharing it.

    Pardon my saying but pushing the coffee table to bring it an edge closer to a visiting guest was not such an ignoble act to invite such wrath. To me it looks like a simple and plain act of courtesy—an inadvertent and instinctive act of 2/Lt Jafri—and not an act of stooping low to earn a commendation. On the contrary presenting scissors on a plate to a visiting dignitary by a Lt Col would be truly demeaning the rank.

    With what lens one views it makes the difference. There was a time when an officer’s stepping outside of the sleeping quarters wearing a Qamiz-Shalwar without a night gown was considered an un-officer like behavior: later the same Qamiz-Shalwar was accorded status and recognition, and permitted as a dress in the Officers Mess.

    The cause of these aberrations are the values (British) we have inherited. It will be a long time before we can scrub off these aberrations and converge to values that we can truly call our own—Pakistani.

  10. Lt Col Shahbaz Thuthaal (Retd), 32nd PMA says:

    Gone are those days!!

  11. Lt Col Abdul Waheed Bhatti (R) says:

    Excellent narration and values of Army. Sir for interest sake how did Gen Niazi respond to your reply, and in the first place why did he nominate a Col for the duty? Unfortunately these true values and virtues have vanished.
    Sir, remain blessed with health and happiness.

  12. Capt Rizwan H Naqvi - 49er says:

    Wish the spirit resurrection. Present Chief is exception. Lets’ pray the Lord to have more like him in all red tapes and flag hosting officers corp.

  13. Maj Farooq Rana (R) 2nd SSC says:

    Dear Col Jafri,
    Thoroughly enjoyed this one after a long time. You have a very powerful pen, most eloquently described. Salute to you!!

  14. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I admire Col Jafri’s memory. Unfortunately Army culture has over a period of time declined, which needs revival.

  15. Lt Col Mian Liaquat Shah (Retd) 40th PMA says:

    This brings to mind another incident worth mentioning. During the 70s, our Commanding Officer was Lt Col (later Brig) Khadim Hussain Chengezi (Late). It came to his knowledge that an officer had hired a vehicle to take his wife for an appointment with a doctor in CMH.
    Perfectly in order, because under the rules, an officer not possessing a car was allowed to do so. At that time the mechanical state of vehicles was much below the desired level and the Commanding Officer’s jeep (in combat configuration fitted with wireless paraphernalia called the CO’s Rover) was deputed for the said duty.
    Not wanting to be called a male chauvinist, here is what followed. During tea break next day we were apprised how an unforgivable Faux Pas had been committed by this seemingly innocent act.
    Our Commanding Officer said something that struck a deep chord in our minds about the rich and noble traditions of the Army. He said that during combat/war the Commanding Officer in a cavalry regiment commands his unit from his tank or rover but mostly his rover. From his rover he orders his officers and men, into combat with the enemy, even to the peril of their lives.
    How can a woman be allowed to sit on that seat!!!
    He further elaborated that affected officers are at liberty to hire any other vehicle on the inventory of the regiment. Please be advised there were close to a 100 vehicles in an armoured regiment. This of course includes tanks as well!!!

    • Maj Aziz-ur-Rehman (R) 15th War Course says:

      Lt Col Mian Liaqat Shah’s allusion to a woman sitting on a Rover Jeep in 1970s being considered as something degrading because the Commanding Officer of the armour Regiment would direct and still directs his officers in action from the Rover. In implied sense , the sanctity of that (Rover) seat is debased. Again, as Col Shah Alam has said in his comments below that it all depends with what lens is one viewing a situation.
      During that period, the lady wives of armed Forces Officers either used to be house wives or at best, few were lady doctors. During our initial service years, the lady wife of our Commanding Officer, Azhar Altaf Hussain Khan,who also happened to be from 7th PMA, like Col Riaz Jafri, was Capt Dr. (Mrs. Qudsia Altaf Hussain). It was a great honour in those days to be a husband of a serving female officer.
      But fast forward into 2010s and you have lady fighter pilots, lady Para troopers, lady Commercial Pilots in national flag carrier, lady Police Officers and may be in the days to come, we have lady astronauts, like Indian lady Astronaut Ms Chawla, who perished in her journey to the space, a few years back. So, the values, outlook and traditions change with the passage of time. Irrespective of different views of officers class about General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule, stretching over a decade, a vast majority of officers are appreciative of General Zia;s bestowing of Pakistani and Islamic outlook to the Pakistan army. I am reminded of an interesting anecdote of the days gone by. As the story goes, President, Gen Zia-ul-Haq was staying in Ordnance Mess, Lahore. One can imagine the protocol when the President is staying at a particular premises.
      When he went to the bath-room (nowadays wash-room), the water tap or faucet stopped running water, as the overhead tank had exhausted all the water. The President had to come out, bath-towel wrapped around his waist, shouting for a bucket of water. Every body thought that the COO and the PMC would go for a big high jump.
      What happened ! Guess? While departing from the Mess, the President, while shaking hand with the COO, I forget the name of Ordnance Corps Colonel, perhaps it was Col Anwar, said in a lighter vein, “Yeh kabhi kabhi pani bhi check ker liya karo”. That was all the President had reacted in that situation. Nevertheless, the account narrated by Col Riaz Jafri was quite interesting. He had been our Coy Comd in PMA and was highly adored by all the cadets of the course.

  16. Brig Zafar Chaudhry (R), AC, 2nd SSC says:

    Must be disseminated to YOs and seniors alike. Traditions seem to be fading and in some cases dying.

  17. Lt Col Khalid Masood Malik (Retd) 34th PMA says:

    In 1965 as a 2nd Lt I was faced with a similar rebuke from my CO 26 Punjab, Lt Col Ahmed Khan, SJ, when I put a tea spoon of sugar in my Bde Comd’s cup. My CO immediately took me to one side and said “since when have you become a waiter? This is the job of the waiter not yours. Never ever do it again.” God bless his soul!

  18. Brig Ashraf Mahmood (Retd), Signals, 37th PMA says:

    Col Jafri,
    A wonderful memoir, your style and humor continues as was almost half a century back, 40 years in the past and so on. Allah bless you with happiness, Aameen!! Such anecdotes and revelation of history is always interesting reading, It takes you back to the good old days when our country was peaceful heavens, no nonsense was prevailing and a vast majority was happy and contended with what ever they possessed.

  19. Thank you for this moving piece, Colonel Jafri – young officers, take note!

  20. I profusely thank Col Jafri to have shared this. Such incidents describing the values and standards in conduct of officers in the Army till early 60s need to be widely shared. Thank you Colonel once again.

  21. Maj Munir Ahmed (Retd), FF, 2nd SSC says:

    A beautiful write up. Do we have now such type of breed in senior ranks? May Allah bless those souls with peace (Aameen).

  22. Brig Ahmed Salim (R) 34th PMA says:

    What values we had. Any comments on what has bought us down to the state that we are in. Government servants who were public servants have become personal servants. Col Jafri sir, you never shared this episode earlier, may be it would have reformed some of us. Thank you for sharing.

  23. Maj Hasan Jawaid (Retd) 1st SSC, USA says:

    Col Jafri,
    Sir, quite a story. It boils down to core values and integrity that one imbibes before and during various stages of personal and Army life. Army helps a great deal in bringing it out but varies significantly between the individuals which you have witnessed yourself between the two retired officers. May Allah bless their souls. Ameen.

  24. Gh Haidre says:

    This article needs to be disseminated to all YOs. There is a difference in the protocol in the Mess and in public, which this article highlights in a nice manner. I wonder if the book ‘Customs of Service’ is being read/taught in PMA and Army units these days?

  25. Munoo Kayani says:

    Nice article.

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